On Kings, Power, the Kingdom of God, and Daniel 11

I went back through my old notes, the ones I managed to save after the church fired me, and found that I have written two separate sets of daily devotionals on the book of Daniel and and entire series of sermons. Now I have a new project where I am doing preliminary work through the book of Daniel. These blog posts are part of the development of this project and as such represent a prolegomena to the larger study which will manifest itself later.

In his short book The Justification of God, theologian P. T. Forsyth wrote, "It must be something historic which enables us to believe in the last reality, deep rule, and final triumph of goodness in spite of history" (98). He also wrote, "If civilisation collapsed, the Divine Kingdom is yet immune from its doom" (82). Forsyth says many such things in the course of his book and I wish I could spill all of them here in this short post. Forsyth seems to have had a keen eye for noting the differences between this world where we live and kingdom God established in the cross. Yet Forsyth also expresses that this necessarily means the church must be missionary in nature. He insists that the earth has a goal and that there is nothing that can prevent us from arriving at that goal and that God will stop at no historic convulsion to get us to that goal. 

When we read Daniel 11 (and perhaps Daniel 10 should be included here too) we see a fourth major interpretive point for understanding Daniel. The other three (there are two kingdoms, the two kingdoms are at war, and those who hold fast to God will live) are briefly developed in another post. To those three I add a fourth: the kingdom that set itself in opposition to God is violent, aggressive, blasphemous, and destructive in nature. All throughout Daniel's book the reader sees this. Consider:

  • Chapter 1: the kingdom of Babylon invades Jerusalem and takes captive people and articles of the temple.
  • Chapter 3: God's people are thrown into fire for not worshiping a statue.
  • Chapter 5: Belshazzar is a blasphemous king with no respect for God as is evidenced by his drinking from the gold goblets
  • Chapter 6: Daniel is thrown to lions for failing to stop praying to God.

It becomes worse when we read chapters 7 – 11, but essentially those chapters all follow a similar pattern: kingdoms rise; kingdoms fall. While they are empowered, they are violent and blasphemous. Yet every single one of them comes to an end at the hands of another kingdom. This was foreshadowed for the reader in chapter 2: "In the times of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever."

In my opinion, this verse is key to understanding the book of Daniel because this is exactly the pattern we see over and over and over again in the book: kingdoms rise; kingdoms fall. And what we know from this verse is that it is the hand of God that is somehow involved in the wrecking of all these kingdoms. This is especially so when we get to chapter 11 of Daniel.

Chapter 11 is a stellar example of being so concerned with looking at trees that we miss the forest. The problem, I think, with so much of the interpretive energy expended on Daniel is that exegetes work too hard at trying to identify the specific people that the author of Daniel is writing about in chapter 11. Maybe he's talking about Alexander. Maybe he's talking about Antiochus. Maybe he's talking about the Seleucids or some others. My question is: who cares? And my point is: those people are all dead and gone and Daniel must speak to you and me, right here, right now.

Now, to be sure, I'm not saying that the identity of those people Daniel wrote about is historically meaningless. Their identity does serve some purpose in establishing the veracity of the book and the credibility of its author, but as far as the overall point that the author is making, their identities are meaningless because the pattern never changes: kingdoms rise; kingdoms fall. And in truth it does not matter if it was 600 years B.C. or 200 years B.C.: if Daniel matters, it matters now and we who read it now do well to pay attention to the forest: kingdoms rise; kingdoms fall. This pattern never changes; the character of the people running the kingdoms never changes; the position of God's people within those uprisings/downfallings never changes; and God preserves his people despite this constant fluctuation.

Even a cursory look at chapter 11 demonstrates this. I won't list the sketch from my journal, but some general points can be made nonetheless.

First, not one kingdom/king written about in chapter 11 of Daniel survives. Every last one of them meets his/her end. There is no alliance they can make that will save them. There is no tax they can impose that will secure them. There is no war they can wage that will sustain them. From first to last, these kings and their kingdoms will perish from the earth. Proof? Look around. Do you see any of them in existence? So, then, do we have any reason to believe that kings/kingdoms of this present world will end any differently than those described in chapter 11 of Daniel? I think the answer is a clear and resounding No.

Second, not one of these kings or commanders achieves anything righteously. Quickly survey how they get things done:

  • Power through wealth (11:2)
  • Alliance through marriage (11:6,7)
  • Through rage (11:11)
  • Levying of taxes (11:20)
  • Through intrigue (11:21)
  • Through deceit (11:23)
  • Through bribery (11:24)
  • Through lying (11:27; they don't even tell each other the truth!)
  • Through violence against God (and God's people; 11:16,30,31; 36-39)
  • Through flattery (11:32)
  • Through self-exaltation (11:36)
  • These kings do whatever they want (11:36)
  • They blaspheme the God of gods (11:36)

And this isn't even to mention that every single one of them does what they do through violence, aggression, and war. Every king mentioned has blood on his hands. They do what they do through war. Yet we exalt these people and continue to lend them our voices in their attempts to secure power for themselves. How else can we justify the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars during political campaigns? The real question is this: do we have any reason to believe that the leaders of this present world are any different than those described in Daniel 11? I think the answer is a clear and resounding No.

The third point I would make about chapter 11 is this: How are the holy things, the holy people of God treated by these kings, rulers, and commanders in Daniel 11? Read it again and note how the holy things of God are treated in Daniel's book. Chapter 1, the temple vessels are put in the pagan temple and the holy people are taken to a pagan city; chapter 3, holy people are thrown to fire; chapter 5, the blasphemous character and actions of Belshazzar speak volumes about the kings of earth; chapter 6, holy people are thrown to lions; chapter 8, the truth is thrown to the ground; chapter 11, the beautiful land becomes a haunt for pagan rulers (v 16, 41), the temple is desecrated (v 31-32), and just read verses 36-45 to see the nature of one of these rulers. They feign righteousness and speak a pretty word about how they have the best interests of their constituents in mind, but I think it is fairly easy to read Daniel's book and see that neither the kings nor the people they serve have the righteous and holy things of God in mind as they rule.

Thus the question becomes: do we have any reason to believe that this side of the cross that the rulers of this earth are any different than the ones Daniel was specifically writing about in his book? I think the answer is a clear and resounding No. We see all the same such hubris and violence and warmongering as Daniel did. We see the same 'want to power' Daniel did. We see the same intrigue, the same flattery, bribery, and self-glorification as Daniel did. Times have not changed. Only the names.

What's ironic about so much of the interpretation of this chapter is that when we see Jesus speaking of it later on in Matthew's Gospel, we find him making the same (or at least similar) points: Kingdoms of earth rise, kingdoms of earth fall; the kings of earth do not have the righteous things of God in mind; and the holy things/people of God will be the ones who will have to endure their wrath. But also the command is the same and what the Man in Linen in Daniel 12 tells Daniel Jesus tells us in Matthew 24-25: Watch out, hold fast, resurrection awaits: "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (24:46).

Again, this is all preliminary and I have a lot of studying to do yet. This means I have a lot of clarifying to do of some of my major points of exegesis, but at this point I'm sticking with the forest instead of the trees. I get that without trees we won't see a forest, but taking a longer, wider view of the landscape demonstrates to us that sometimes general principles arise that are significantly more important and relevant than trying to dredge of history and match faces to no-names.

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