October 13, 2015
Scripture and Commentary, October 11-17
Daniel 1, Lk. 21
Dan. 2:1-23, 2 Cor. 10
The book of Daniel was written over the course of several decades during the Babylonian Captivity, and into the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians. It records and interprets many of the events of this period, and predicts and interprets the rise and fall of four great empires, between the time of Daniel and the birth of the Messiah.
Daniel was born in Jerusalem and deported around 600 B.C., when Nebuchadnezzar forced Jerusalem to surrender and forcibly moved about ten thousand of her people to various places in his empire, where he thought they could not cause trouble. Daniel was taken to the capital city, Babylon (1-3).
Nebuchadnezzar intended to make Babylonians of his conquered people, thus Daniel and other young men were selected to be educated in the religion and culture of Babylon (4-7). Daniel’s decision in verse 8 is about more than meat and wine. It is a decision to remain true to God and Israel rather than become a Babylonian. The other Jews sided with Daniel. Yet they excelled in learning and skill, and became favourites in the court. Their understanding of times and events far exceeded that of the Babylonian astrologers and religious leaders. Even the king began to favour them (19).
The king’s dream is about the empires between the time of Daniel and the Messiah. By giving Daniel the understanding of the dream God shows His glory to His people, and gives them an incentive to return to Him rather than become assimilated into the pagan culture. Notice that Daniel remained separated from the culture, rather than joining it. This is an important message to Christians who desire to adapt themselves to the pop culture that is rapidly engulfing the world.
Dan. 2:24-49, Lk. 22:1-31
Dan. 3, 2 Cor. 11
The king’s dream is of a fantastic creature, described in verses 31-35. The various parts of the creature represent empires. The first is Babylon. We know this because Daniel identifies it in verse 38. The others include the Persians, Medes, Greeks, and Romans. Some Bible scholars believe the Persians and Medes are represented as one empire. Others believe the Greeks and Romans are represented as one empire, since the Romans considered themselves the heirs of the Greek culture and Empire. Thus the creature could represent the Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, and the Roman Empire. Or it could represent the Babylonian, Medo, Persian, and Greco-Roman empires. I have often thought that the Grecian and Roman Empires are symbolised together in the feet of clay, but I also see how the dream could combine the Medes and Persians. Either way, the Empire of God is established in the Roman era (44).
We all know how this happened. The Messiah was born to a virgin in Bethlehem, and He began to call people into the Kingdom of God. He said that, in Him, the Kingdom of God is at hand, meaning present and able to be entered. Those who know Him by faith have entered His Kingdom, and it will never pass away. The creature does not symbolise current nations, such as China, Russia, or the United States.
Here we have the famous account of the fiery furnace. Most people are familiar with the story, but reading it they miss an important point made in verse 18. The reason these young men were sentenced to be burned to death is their refusal to bow to an idol, according to a law enacted by Nebuchadnezzar. The image and the law are part of Nebuchadnezzar’s attempt to unify his empire. He has already gathered boys from the conquered nations, to raise in the palace, where they were to be instructed and raised in the history, religion, and political system of Babylon. This would have the effect of Babylonianising them. They would then become missionaries of Babylonianism to their people, gradually uniting the entire body of conquered peoples into one. Since the peoples had their own national gods, Nebuchadnezzar wanted one god to be worshiped by all as a unifying factor. He did not require people to stop worshiping their other gods. He only wanted them to worship his idol too. Most had no problem with this because they were already polytheistic, and adding another god to their pantheon was easy. But the Jewish boys, led by Daniel, made a compact not to become Babylonianised, which included not worshiping Babylonian idols. Knowing it will probably cost their lives, they openly refuse to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image, and are brought to the furnace to die.
Before having them burned to death, Nebuchadnezzar gives them a chance to save themselves by worshiping the idol. Their answer is simple and courageous. They will not worship the idol. God may save them from the fire, or He may allow them to suffer a horrible tortuous death. Either way, they will not worship the image.
This is the real heart and message of this chapter. They were faithful, even in the face of death. The message is not that God always delivers people, if they have enough faith. Surely the Apostles had enough faith, yet they died as martyrs for Christ. The message is that the truly faithful remain faithful at all costs, even the cost of their own lives.
Dan. 4, Lk. 22:32-71
Dan. 5, 2 Cor 12
Nebuchadnezzar has another dream, which Daniel interprets for him. He will be cast out of the palace and live like an animal. Even his mind will be deranged during this time, which will last for seven times, meaning seven years (23). All of this happens as Daniel says (28-34).
Because of this experience, Nebuchadnezzar worships the King of Heaven (37). This does not mean he becomes a Jew, which would be the natural result of a true conversion to God. It means he adds the God of Daniel to his collection of religions and gods. He may acknowledge God as the High God and king of all the gods. But he is not, and never seems to become a believer in God alone. This account of the event is given by Nebuchadnezzar after it ends, and it is noteworthy that he says the spirit of the holy gods is in Daniel (8). But Daniel’s inclusion of the account, is not meant to convert Nebuchadnezzar. It is meant to strengthen the faith of the Jews. Most of them probably worshiped the idol Nebuchadnezzar created. They, like the other conquered peoples, simply added the image to the many gods they already worshiped, for idolatry was one of their primary sins. This debasing of the one they believed was the most powerful man in the world, as foretold by Daniel, at least reminds them that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is able to raise up people and nations, and to cast them down at will (35).
We come now to the hand writing on the wall, a passage so familiar it has become proverbial. Nebuchadnezzar has died, and the Empire has passed to his grandson, Belshazzar (verse 11 uses the word “father” to denote an ancestor, in the same way the Jews would call Abraham their father). Belshazzar gives a party, which is nothing more than a pagan, drunken orgy, during which he orders the holy vessels of the Temple of Jerusalem to be brought before him so he can drink from them. This is meant as an extremely arrogant boast, as though he is saying the God of the Jews, if He exists, is too weak or uncaring to do anything to Belshazzar. We see this same attitude in many people in the Bible, even among the Jewish people.
But God proves Belshazzar wrong. A hand supernaturally appears and writes words on the wall that neither Belshazzar, nor any of his wise men understand. The queen reminds him that Daniel was able to help his grandfather, and the king sends for Daniel, who interprets the writing.
The news is not good. Belshazzar’s kingdom will be taken from him. He is murdered that very night and Darius the Mede takes over the empire.
Dan. 6, Lk. 23
Dan. 7. 2 Cor. 13
Daniel again finds himself in the forefront of empire leadership. Darius is a skilled organiser who divides the empire into provinces and appoints governors (princes) to rule them. He also appoints something like a board of supervisors (presidents) over the princes, and Daniel is the first president, or chairman of the board. The others are jealous. No doubt, people being what they are, the presidents and princes would have abused their people and used their power for personal enrichment rather than the benefit of the king and the empire. But Daniel seems to be a diligent and able overseer, ensuring that the rulers do justice. The rulers also want Daniel’s position, so they plot to get him removed (5).
An emperor cult is the heart of their plot. It will unify the empire because it will have all the people worshiping Darius. It will flatter the emperor, and it will trap Daniel, because he will not worship Darius. Forced worship of emperors, kings and queens, and the state or nation, have often been used to unify political entities and persecute minorities. The Romans used it against the Church, and many nations and churches today function as personality cults.
The plot has its desired result, and Daniel is thrown to the lions for praying to God (16, 17). We all know that Daniel was saved by God, and his accusers were fed to the lions. Darius adds Daniel’s God to the pantheon of deities worshiped in the empire, calling God the living God whose kingdom will not end (26).
This passage is not a promise that God will deliver His people from all afflictions in this life, if they have enough faith. Many, with great and steadfast faith have died in lion’s dens, or were otherwise martyred in the cause of Christ. Not even the Apostles live forever on earth. The promise of God is not for peace, health, and prosperity in this life. It is that He is with us in our troubles, and He is preparing a place for us where there are no more troubles, and we will walk with Him in complete fellowship forever.
Daniel 7 takes us back again to the time of Belshazzar when he saw a vision of four beasts, representing four empires which arise and fight over the land of Israel. Each beast rises to great power, only to fall into decay and be conquered by the next. The beasts represent the Babylonian, Medo, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. Here again, either the Medes and Persians, or the Greeks and Romans are symbolised by a single beast.
During the fourth empire, the kingdom of the Ancient of Days will be established (9), and the Son of Man will come forth to establish a Kingdom which will never pass away (13, 14). We know the Son of Man as Jesus our Saviour, born of Mary, crucified under Pilate, risen from the dead, and ascended into Heaven where He reigns until all things are put under His feet.
We should not become distracted by attempts to sort out the empires represented by the beasts. Especially, we should not be mislead by attempts to apply the symbolism to contemporary nations, such as the United States of America and Russia. Instead we should focus on the primary emphasis of the passage, which is the glorious promise of the birth of the Messiah and the establishment of His Church during the reign of the fourth empire. Other empires will come and go. They will be powerful, and often, viciously antagonistic toward God’s people, like the Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans. Their glory will fade and they will pass away. But the Kingdom of the Son of Man will never end, and it will be a Kingdom of grace for people of all nations and tribes to dwell in by faith.
Dan. 8, Lk. 24
Dan. 9, Galatians 1
Still in the days of Belshazzar, Daniel has another vision. A ram is butting at things toward the west, north, and south. One of its horns in larger than the other. The smaller horn represents the Medes; the larger horn is Persia. Thus, the ram is a symbol of the growing Medo-Persian empire. The goat with one horn is Alexander the Great and his army, which conquers the Medo-Persian army and takes possession of their empire.
The goats horn is broken off, signifying the death of Alexander. Four smaller horns grow in its place, representing the division of the Grecian Empire, and one of them waxed exceeding great toward the south east, and toward Israel, which is described as the pleasant land. Thus, Israel came under Grecian rule, which turned to terrible and bloody tyranny after Alexander’s death. Stamping the host of heaven refers to the harsh rule of Israel under the Greeks, and to the destruction of the Temple and murder of the priests in 167 B.C. All of this is explained in verses 15-26.
Daniel is moved to pray while reading Jeremiah’s words (2). During his prayer Gabriel is sent to tell him about the Kingdom of the Messiah (22). In their first application, the angel’s words refer to the destruction of the second Temple. The first was destroyed when Nebuchadnezzar sacked Israel. But the Jews who return to Jerusalem when Cyrus releases them from Babylon rebuild the Temple. It is much smaller and plainer than the original, but it is still the Temple, and many faithful Jews rejoice to worship there. Antiochus, one of the rulers of the Grecian Empire, is especially harsh toward the Jews. He forbids traditional Jewish dress, and many Jewish customs. He especially curtails Biblical worship. When the Jews resist, more out of political than religious concerns, Antiochus crushes Jerusalem and destroys the Temple (26), just as Nebuchadnezzar had done before him.
In their second, and more important application, Gabriel’s words look forward to the work of Christ, who makes reconciliation for iniquity and brings in everlasting righteousness by His death and resurrection (24). Our Lord refers to this chapter when He tells the disciples of the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 (Mt. 24:15, 16). Much of the book of Revelation deals with this same event.
Dan. 10, John 1:1-28
Dan. 11 Gal. 2
Daniel now lives under the rule of the Persian Empire and its king, Cyrus. The vision in this chapter reminds Daniel of the earlier visions, in which the pagan empires wax and wane. Babylon is gone. Persia rules in her place, but Grecia (Greece) will soon conquer the Persians and rule the area (20).
The setting now is in the reign of Darius the Mede. The Medo empire is great and powerful, but a “mighty king,” Alexander the Great of Greece, conquers it and rules it according to his will (3). The Grecian Empire divides after Alexander’s death, and soon falls into internal conflict as the rulers of various areas fight to gain control of the complete empire. How wicked of them to cause such death and devastation, when they could easily have worked together to allow people to live in peace in an empire that stretched from the central Mediterranean to India.
The king of the south (5) is the ruler of Egypt, and the king of the north (6) is the ruler of the Tigris, Euphrates region. Specifically they are former generals in Alexander’s army, Ptolomy and Selucus. The remainder of the chapter foretells the continuing wars of them and their successors, until their bankrupt and demoralised provinces are conquered by, and absorbed into the Roman Empire.
Verses 20-24 are about the Greek control of Israel during this era of war. Specifically, they tell of Antiochus, who gained control of Jerusalem and attempted to turn the Jews into Greeks. When some Jews rebelled, Antiochus sacked the city and demolished the Temple in retaliation.
Dan. 12, Jn. 1:29
Hosea 1, Gal. 3
The vision of this chapter is given to secure the faith of the Jews who will suffer and die in the persecution and destruction rained upon them by Antiochus. It shows that, even in that dark time, God will give His angels charge over them, and even the archangel will stand over them to strengthen and protect Israel from total annihilation. The prophet is shown the distant future, when the Lord will raise the dead and His Kingdom of righteousness will be fully realised upon the earth. All of His enemies will be judged, and His people will inherit the earth.
Christ’s Church has much more light on this subject. Though the nations persecute it, and internal strife divides it, yet it will not be destroyed, even as Israel was not destroyed by Babylon or Greece. Not even mighty Rome can stamp out the faith. Therefore, this vision strengthens the New Testament Israel as surely as it strengthens the Old Testament Israel, by foreshadowing the final victory of God’s Kingdom on earth, and the resurrection of His people into everlasting peace. There is much to be endured. Babylons and Romes will always persecute. People will suffer, and the earth will run with blood. But the enemies of God will be raised to everlasting sorrow. Those who are faithful, even unto death will be raised to new life in His Kingdom.