Posts Tagged ‘Daniel’
This book, Agents of Babylon, contains thirteen different chapters, an epilogue, an appendix, and a couple of other book sections. Each chapter is divided into roughly two sections. In the first section, Jeremiah offers his readers a 'fictional narrative about the subject of the chapter' (x) and in the second section he gives his readers an 'exposition of the Scripture behind the [fictional narrative].' It's a unique approach to a book written about the Bible and one that I did not fully appreciate. I read only the first three chapters of the 'fictional narrative' before skipping each subsequent one and going straight for the 'scripture behind' it. In short, I didn't appreciate the fictional narratives. I think they added too much to the narrative of Daniel, speculated entirely too much, and, to a certain degree, detracted from the narrative of the Book of Daniel.
The Book of Daniel does not need a fictional narrative to help explain its point, to make its point, or to point to its point. Then again, perhaps as justification for writing another book on Daniel this fictional narrative was necessary. I think it could have been eliminated and the book cut from nearly 400 pages, down to about 250 and the substance could have been deeper and better. As it is, however, the fictional narrative is, frankly, out of place. I didn't appreciate it at any level.
With that said, I'm a little uncertain my take on this book. On the one hand, Jeremiah starts out exactly where I would have started: "Daniel 1:2 introduces us to the theme of the entire book: the sovereignty of God" (13). I think this is dead on and correct and throughout the book he touches upon this very point and, at times, does so well for example, "May we live lives of astonishment over how God has broken into human history for our benefit–to give us a future and a hope that is absolutely certain" (219). On the other hand, the book delves into the nether regions of millenial, Antichrist, and physical Israel theology that does nothing to inspire hope or courage and everything to drain me of vitality and strength. It's my opinion that the theological perspective under-girding the majority of this book is misguided and as much fictional as the Fictional Narratives. An example should suffice to make my point.
In chapter 10, The Herald, Jeremiah quotes from Clarence Larkin (1850-1924). Here's the quote:
Daniel's seventieth week (Daniel 9:24-27), Jesus' Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24), and John's seals, trumpets, and vials (Revelation 6:1-18:24) cover the same period, and are Jewish and have no reference to the Christian Church. (257)
I simply cannot comprehend how a respected preacher can quote something so unbelievably wrong with a straight face. But this is the kind of result one gets when a theological system is the lens through which one reads the Bible. There is so much emphasis on the trees in this book that, despite the good beginnings, the forest missed almost entirely. How one can account for saying that three lengthy, significant portions of the Holy Writ have no bearing on the church is stunning. I suppose we may as well excise those portions from our Bibles and throw them away. But here's the point: in order for Millenial theology to work, that is exactly what one must do to Scripture. I don't think I'm the only one who sees the significant problem this creates.
Here's another problem I had with the book. I took a fairly long look at the the Notes section of the book. Considering the type of book this is, and who it is intended for, the notes are fairly detailed and I appreciate that very much. But I also take a look at who is being noted, what works are being quoted, and when the works quoted were written. Aside from Jermiah's own works and a couple of other non-specific titles, the works the author cites as authorities on the Book of Daniel range from Calvin's 1853 commentary to Stortz's 2004 Preaching the Word contribution. Along the way there are citations from 1879 (Seiss), Larkin (1929), Keil (1877), Scofield (1945), Anderson (1909), and others. This is 2015. Are we as readers really supposed to take seriously a book whose author has, apparently, not read anything on Daniel since a 2004 publication whose overall Amazon rank is over 800,000? These other men were great. Sure. Their books are classic and probably somewhat important. Yet there are countless works available from reputable scholars in the last ten years that Jeremiah has, apparently, not even bothered to investigate. This was disappointing. (As also was the absence of a bibliography which a work of this sort should have.)
I appreciated that Jeremiah was not afraid to keep this book in its historical context. There is a great deal of emphasis placed on this book as prophecy and I think that is important given how many writers and scholars write off Daniel as pseudo-prophecy (ex eventu). I appreciated that he didn't skimp when it came to his exegesis of the individual chapters of Daniel but that he took the time to explain concepts and other difficult to understand aspects of the book. I didn't always agree with his conclusions, but I appreciated that he took the time to do the work nonetheless.
There are some helpful charts, graphs, and illustrations that add flavor to the book and help the reader visualize a concept from Daniel. I also appreciated that at the end of each chapter Jeremiah added a brief 'Daniel for Today' section to help the reader make some relevant applications. Again, I'm not buying all his applications, but at minimum they get the reader thinking about the content of Daniel. I would appreciate more depth to these applications, but I can read other books to obtain the depth I desire.
Here's the bottom line, and I'm gonna stop because I can go on all day knocking the theology behind this book and nit-picking every little thing I dislike about it, there's nothing in this book that is entirely 'wrong.' For all I know, Jeremiah and the pre/post-millenialists of the church could be correct. I'm not staking my faith to it, but the truth is that they are, to one degree or another, looking for Jesus. And this gives me some courage. For my money, the system is entirely too clean, it all fits together too neatly, and the dates are all too convenient. I don't think Daniel is about giving us a specific historical timeline about this or that. I think Daniel is about pointing us to Jesus whose Kingdom will come upon us when we are not expecting it, will not find its origins from earth, and which will destroy all the other kingdoms that seek to kill, steal, and destroy. At the end of the day, I'm not looking for a timeline. I'm looking for hope. I'm not looking for a particular evil person (e.g. the so-called 'antichrist') or event; I'm looking for the return of Jesus and the Kingdom that takes over the world, the Kingdom not built by human hands, the Kingdom that belongs to the saints of the Most High.
While we don't know when this world as we know it will come to an end, we know from the prophecies of Daniel and others what will happen: Christ, the invincible Agent, will appear; He will cleanse the world of its evil; and He will set up His perfect Kingdom, which will completely reverse the ravages inflicted on earth by the Fall. (340)
I'm not going to support his methods of dating or the theological overlay that necessarily accompanies this statement, but I will support generally the point he is making: Daniel teaches us about a Kingdom that is coming to earth, whose origins are not here, and whose King is not like the kings of this earth. This I support. And here I agree with the author.
PS-One final aspect of the book that I thoroughly enjoyed and found appropriate was the appendix titled The Agent of Agents. Many books take the approach that the Bible is about 'I' and 'Me'. Agents of Babylon does this a lot too, but I was super impressed with this appendix precisely because the first word of every sentence is 'He', as in YHWH. This was an exquisite addition to the book and one that I wholly embraced. See pages 341-350 for the appendix in question.
Important Book & Author Things
- Where to purchase Agents of Babylon: Amazon ($13.74); Tyndale ($24.99); Christian Book Distributors ($15.49)
- Author: David Jeremiah
- On the Web:
- On Twitter: David Jeremiah
- Academic Webpage:
- Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
- Pages: 361
- Year: 2015
- Audience: christians, prophecy buffs, preachers, general, millenialists
- Reading Level: High School
- Disclaimer: I was provided an advance reader's copy courtesy of Tyndale Publishing's Tyndale Blog Network blog program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.
It appears that I still get visitors to this blog so I have decided to start making the occasional post. To start, I will invite you to visit my google site where I am currently writing and publishing Bible studies on the book of Daniel. Feel free to browse and read and download.
There are also sermon texts, book reviews, and audio.
Thanks for (continuing) to read.
Grounding Text: Daniel 2:44-45; Hebrews 12:28-29
This is part of a sermon I preached from Daniel 2. I think it is still relevant and still carries some weight. If you would like to read the text of the entire sermon, click the link above.
The Kingdom of God will come upon when we least expect it, when we most fear it, when we are least prepared for it. It does not come upon those who have done all things right, prayed all things well, and said all things. It comes upon those who are ignorant and secure. It comes upon those who are sleeping or naked. It comes like a thief in the night or like a bridegroom arriving home to take his bride away. It comes like a seed that is planted small and grows beyond measure. The Kingdom of God—this unshakable, unquenchable, this undeniable Kingdom of God—will come upon those who are indifferent and looking the other way; we do well to keep an eye on the sky.
Walter Kaiser states, in his most emphatic voice: “The Kingdom of God will come into the midst of this world’s kingdoms with irresistible and unstoppable power. It will alter history forever. Christ will come into this world and destroy all kingdoms. He is calling us to action.” We are progressing not in some evolutionary sense of ‘getting betterism’ or ‘improvingism’. We are progressing rather towards the theological goal, the teleological goal, the eschatological Kingdom of God when all things will be enveloped in His power and ruled by his righteousness, when all tongues will confess His Name, when all knees will bow, when people willingly and unwillingly will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that there is none But Him. And what shall be our response? To what action are we called? But what else can we possibly do?
What did Daniel do when the mystery was made known to him? He broke out in a grand doxology. Not some cheap imitation of a praise song that merely extols the feelings and virtues of the hearts of men, but a doxology that cannot contain the truth that fills it: Here is Our King, He rules, He reigns, He does what He wants and asks for no opinion of the way He does it, He is God who is in control and not under the influence of any, He is God to Whom this world is and is going. Daniel, in other words, broke out in praise of God: Daniel Worshiped the Lord because when such information is given, there is, frankly, nothing else we can do, there is no other response, there is no other action that is appropriate. He broke out in wonder at the work of God. This is no action of man: The Rock was cut out by a hand that was not a human hand.
And when Nebuchadnezzar finally heard the truth of what God was doing, what God was revealing in his dreams, what did Nebuchadnezzar do? “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The King said to Daniel, ‘Surely your God is the God of gods, and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.’” What else could Nebuchadnezzar do? When you hear and know and believe in the God whose Kingdom is one of power, one that is undeniably unshakable, when you are convinced of the action and work and providence of God, what other response is humanly possible? You fall prostrate before the God who condescends and reveals to man what He is doing and will do: We fail to worship at our own peril.
The book of Hebrews says: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’”
So we go through all this to make the point that when we come into an awareness of the Work God is doing, the goals of His Providence, and the Majesty of His Kingdom that cannot be shaken, that will last forever, that will not be destroyed, but that lays waste to all other Kingdoms, there is only one response: Worship. Annie Dillard wrote a little book called Teaching a Stone to Talk. In it, she writes about her experiences at worship with a couple of different congregations: a Catholic congregation and Congregational congregation. She compares worship of a Holy God to an expedition to the arctic pole. She writes,
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does not one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” (58-59)
“In my hand I discover a tambourine. Ahead as far as the bright horizon, I see icebergs among the floes. I see tabular bergs and floe-bergs and dark cracks in the water between them. Low overhead on the underside of the thickening cloud cover are dark colorless stripes reflecting pools of open water in the distance. I am banging on the tambourine, and singing whatever the piano player plays; now it is ‘On Top of Old Smokey.’ I am banging the tambourine and belting the song so loudly that people are edging away. But how can any of us tone it down? For we are nearing the Pole.” (70)
We worship the King without fear because we belong to a Kingdom that will not fail, that will not falter, that will not be unseated or defeated. We belong to Him: Let us worship with the sort of reckless abandon that is required of the subjects of a Kingdom such as this!
[I wrote this a few years ago for a blog I have long since deleted. I don't recall what exactly was going on that particular day, but for some reason, at that point in my life, God's sovereignty and my free will were on my mind. Lately, I have been studying the book of Daniel with my Bible school class at church and when I 'accidentally' stumbled on this short post in an old file on my laptop, I thought maybe revisiting it would be a good idea. Here it is in its original form with only spelling corrected.–JLH]
Luke chapters 1 through 3 are instructive if one ever starts feeling like their life has run amuck or gotten out of control or that God has somehow loosed his grip on the events of this world. Looking around daily and seeing and hearing about wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes and suchlike, it is easy to think that God has, somehow or other, forgotten about us.
Or at least given us too much of our desired freedom.
So this morning I had to pray it all over again: God I’m sick of being free. It’s a daily struggle: the desire for freedom, the need for control. I grew up in a tradition that has emphasized freedom and free will. And, frankly, I don’t know that I have heard five sermons about God’s sovereignty, in my life, from preachers in my denomination. That’s a terrible way to grow up, that is, thinking that I have it all under control—that I have to make all the decisions, that I have to be so cunning and wise, that I have to figure out a way to get through this or that sticky situation.
It’s a terrible way to live thinking that, as I have done for the better part of 40 years, my life is dependent upon my freedom. The older I get, the less concerned I am with my own freedom and free will. The older I get, the more I want God to be as Sovereign as some believe. But I continue to kick against the goads of God’s sovereignty and probably because I want his sovereignty to be more than a theological proposition: I want it to be as real as I see it in Luke 1, 2, and 3. The older I get, the more suspicious I grow of my competence, of my uniquely human freedom.
I have other reasons, but one line in particular in Luke 1 caught my attention this morning: “For no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37) In Greek it says it is ‘impossible’ for God’s word to fail. So when I think back on all that God has said, all that is written in the Bible that he said, and all the promises he has made—and the fact that the book of Hebrews says it is impossible for God to lie—I think to myself: I should be trusting God’s word far more than I should be trusting my own ingenuity and intellectual prowess.
I know we all say we trust God’s word, but experience has taught me that we don’t trust it nearly as much as we’d like to believe we do. We still find ways to scheme and plan and devise and concoct ways to survive and get ahead. We all say we trust God because we believe that’s what good Christian folks do. Practically speaking, however, I’m willing to bet that there are far more atheists sitting in pews on Sunday mornings that we are willing to admit. (I have firsthand experience of those atheists and I have, at various times in life, been included in their number.)
So it is impossible for God’s word to fail.
What’s amazing about Luke 1, 2, and 3 is that all these things took place while the kings of the earth slept. In chapter 1:5, ‘the time of Herod king of Judea…’; in chapter 2:1, ‘In those days Caesar Augustus…’; in chapter 3:1, ‘In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanius, Annas and Caiaphas…’ All these things took place right under their noses. They ruled, often forcefully (see 3:19-20), violently, ignorantly and with little regard for anything but their taxes (see 2:1-3). And while they did, prophets spoke (see 2:25ff, 2:36ff, 3:4ff, 1:46ff, 1:67ff.), angels announced (1:11ff, 1:26ff), and the host of heaven sang (2;13-14).
While these rulers ruled God was moving quietly in the backwaters of the House of Bread and in the lives of small, unnoticeable people. While these rulers ruled God was bringing about the promises of his word (notice how many times in chapters 1-3 we are told about Abraham and David, for example). While these rulers slept at night, God was stirring in the hearts of women who couldn’t get pregnant and young girls who wouldn’t get pregnant. While these rulers ruled, God was undoing their rule, waking up the world, subverting the world’s economy, and announcing to all who would listen that it was time for the true king of this world to be born.
God was sovereignly moving, putting all the pieces into place, getting all the right people onto the earth—the fullness of time had come upon the world and the world didn’t even notice: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
It’s kind of amusing that all things were going along rather well until John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, cousin of Jesus, started making speeches about these rulers. When John started subverting their rule, their authority, their sovereignty—then things started getting out of control for them.
So we see God moving. We see God acting. We see God challenging the status quo of this world. The rulers of this world oppress and control. The rulers of this world believe they are the power. Luke 1, 2, and 3 teaches us otherwise. Those poor saps had no idea what even hit them. As I get older, I find myself submitting to God’s sovereignty more and more. I find myself relying on my own strength more and more. I find myself choosing to love him precisely because he is in control and less and less because I feel like I need to demonstrate my own self-sovereignty. You know what I mean, I hope. It’s that attitude that wakes up saying, “I am the master of my life. I am in control. I will worship God because I can.”
I’m done with that sort of life. I want to wake up each day to the God who kept the world from free falling into the sun and who kept Betelgeuse from exploding. I want to wake up to the God whose mercies are new every day. I want to wake up, even now, to the God who takes this world—yes this world, run into the ground by political agendas and want for power—and shakes it, bringing it into continual alignment with his purposes and his will. I’m reminded of a song by Rich Mullins:
From the place where morning gathers
You can look sometimes forever 'til you see
What time may never know
What time may never know
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world
And shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the hope
To run wild with the hope
I cannot run wild with hope that I feel like I have created or mustered up because I have schemed my way to safety. I can run wild with a hope that God has in his wisdom crafted out of the circumstances of hurt and disappointment. I can run wild with the hope that the God who shakes this old world has created and given us in Jesus even while the kings of this earth rule. I can run wild with the hope created by God who subverts this world by sending a baby to grow and live in this world and change it from the inside.
Author: N.T. Wright
I am typically disinclined to give an N.T.Wright book a poor review. I'm not going to start doing so here. That's not to say I have no criticisms; I do. But I really have a difficult time understanding why so many folks get their pants in a wad when it comes to Wright's work.
Every now and again an author comes along on our planet who understands that deep inside the human heart there is a profound emptiness–an emptiness that cannot and will not ever be filled by the things this world has to offer or withhold. What I think N.T. Wright does is points his readers in the direction where that emptiness, that intellectual, spiritual, psychological void, can be filled. But he doesn't do so in the way of so many other authors–where Jesus is a mere helper who teaches folks how to be a good American. Many theologians are just that: therapists or counselors. That is, they have an eye for the great God of the universe, but very little idea of how that great God has effectively taken back this world. Oh, yes, God is sovereign, they say, but only in some sort of strange and controlling way that most folks can scarcely relate to or understand. Thus the stories of the Gospels, the Old Testament, Acts, and the Epistles are merely the stories a good counselor might tell a patient: here's how to pray, here's how to be compassionate, here's how to have a good marriage, or here's what Jesus said about conservative (or liberal!) American politics.
Wright will have none of that. His is the voice not of a counselor or therapist who sics Jesus on a would be patient who is having a bad day or a bad year or a bad life. N.T. Wright is the voice of the prophet crying out in the wilderness: here is your King! So the subtitle, a 'new vision,' is not entirely accurate because what Wright is really doing is pointing us back to what has always been there but what has been covered over by so much encrustation and (wrong) theology in the 2,000 or so years since Jesus walked among us. If Wright is doing anything he is chiseling away the barnacles that have been built up around the Scripture–barnacles I suppose that may have at one time been designed to protect the Bible but that in more recent years have been thickened over in order to protect a theological and/or political system from scrutiny. It is this action of Wright that I suspect lends many folks to label him a theological liberal. To wit:
We have reduced the Kingdom of God to private piety, the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience, and Easter itself to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale. Piety, conscience, and ultimate happiness are important, but not nearly as important as Jesus himself. (5)
This is the point in a nutshell. And sermons that do little more than teach me how to be a good Christian or worse a good American (complete with the requisite 'special worship services' on significant holidays) do nothing for me. I want to hear about Jesus and what he has and is doing to upbraid the world and bring about his rule and reign. This is why I read N.T. Wright over and over and over again. He shows me Jesus. "We want someone to save our souls, not rule our world!" (5) And so right he is.
Wright has a way of making God understandable, but certainly not palatable in the 'I'm now comfortable with this God' kind of way, to everyone and I don't really care if you are reading his lofty theologies or if you are reading his 'made for the popular reader' books. He challenges readers at every step of their presuppositions. He confounds them at every point of their preconceptions. He unravels every blanket of theological safety they believe they have wrapped themselves up into. He does this in such a way that, you might not believe me unless you read it, neither political (or theological) conservatives nor liberals come out unscathed. And, frankly, this is so because Jesus spared no such pain to anyone either. Jesus is the King. God is taking back the world. Get on board or get left behind, but there is nothing anyone can do to stop Jesus from being King and, in Wright's words, 'setting things to rights.'
Simply Jesus is another of Wright's books that does so much the same. He places Jesus firmly in the context of his culture and is quite content to interpret the New Testament within that context. And let me be frank: that's exactly where Jesus ought to be interpreted. Preachers spend far, far too much time trying making Jesus 'relevant.' I say leave Jesus in the first century, understand what his words and actions meant then and there, and then figure out how that works out in words and actions in our own time and place. But here's the key: Jesus' words and actions really have one meaning and purpose. Preachers around about our times have made Jesus far too predictable. "Blessed are those who can see this, who can spot what's going on, who are prepared to go with Jesus rather than with the princelings of the earth, even though what Jesus wasn't what they had expected" (84).
The only quibble I have with Wright, in general (and as it particularly pertains to Simply Jesus), is his take on the event of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent war afterwards. I fully understand that, ultimately, our battle is against the satan. Yes! (See pp 126ff.) With this I find no disagreement. I have no doubt that the satan uses people and powers to his/her own end. Yes! But he writes, "It is the battle against the satan himself. And, though the satan no doubt uses Rome, uses Herod, uses even the chief priests themselves, Jesus keeps his eye on the fact that the satan is not identified with any of these, and that to make such an identification is already to give up, and so to lose the real battle" (126). But Wright appears to mitigate human responsibility when he says such things. Maybe I'm not reading closely enough; maybe I'm reading too closely. I'm not sure.
That is, I'm not sure how to understand Wright when he accuses (!) the U.S. government in power during 9/11 (a conservative government, to be sure; yet a government that passed bi-partisan legislation authorizing the sword) and fails to see what those who might otherwise be labeled 'enemies' did to provoke the U.S. government (and many nations around the world besides, including his own!) He is fond of Romans 8; not so fond of Romans 13. I think this is bothersome. He is fond of criticizing the United States (and not so subtly George W. Bush) but eschews criticism of other governments who were also involved in action against those who attacked the U.S.A on September 11, 2001. Here I think Wright is unable to make the correct theological connection and fails to understand the difference between a secular government charged with responsibility to protect its citizens (Romans 13 and elsewhere) and an ecclesial authority not authorized to use the sword ('put your sword away', Jesus said to Peter).
In my opinion, Wright makes a serious error here. Yes, war is bad. Yes, we should avoid it. But the truth is this: in international politics, in global politics, the ethics of the kingdom of God are not always so neat and tidy or evenly applied or understood or appreciated or cared for. Ask one of the folks who flew an airplane into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 if he cares a lick about what Jesus said about war, turning the other cheek, and loving your enemies. I'm not sure what the answer is; I'm not sure Wright's ongoing criticism of the United States government (he rarely says anything about the current government of Barack Obama) is wholly justified. I do know this: the radicals who continue to kill (women, children), main, murder, and provoke wars in the name of God are not the same as those folks who take up the sword to defend women, children, the weak, and others whose daily goal is simply to live life. Is it fair to apply a biblical standard of ethics (loving enemies, turning the other cheek, etc.) to a secular government?
The reality of this life is this: sometimes evil does have a face. Sometimes evil is more than an invisible being or force. Sometimes evil does have a name and we do well to name it as such. I'm not suggesting I have all this worked out, and at times (like when Jesus looked at Peter and commanded Satan to get behind) I am stretched too thin to wholly justify my position. What I am suggesting is that Wright's position at this point is weak and, in my opinion, mitigates human culpability. Suggesting there are no evil people really fails to understand the full workings of evil and the evil one in this world.
I can go on and on telling you how important this book, along with any other by Wright, is. I could tell you that Wright is at his best when he is engaging the text and tying together all the threads he is remarkably twisted from so much ancient history and text. I could tell you of his masterful understanding and application of Daniel, Isaiah, and Zechariah. I could tell you about his superior interpretation of the historical events from the time of Jesus. But to what end? Those who have read Wright already know and those who haven't will not be disappointed.
I have read enough of Wright's work to see and know that a lot of what is in this book is repetitive. How God Became King is a similar, and in my opinion, superior book by Wright. His monumental Jesus and the Victory of God is a much expanded and academic version of Simply Jesus that may appeal to more detail oriented readers. Simply Jesus kind of distills a lot of what is written in the academic volumes to a more popular level; it is no less potent.
The person who knows Jesus will appreciate very much Wright's work to interpret Jesus within his own context. The historical details Wright brings to our attention, the cultural phenomena of the time, the complexities of would be messiahs, revolutionaries, and temple authorities, and the sophistication and intrigue of secular politics are all woven together nicely and interpreted brilliantly to help the reader see that God's plan has always been the same: to reclaim the earth for himself through his appointed Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Son of God.
And God wins.
4/5 stars (because he has written better versions of these thoughts elsewhere and it gets repetitive, and because I struggle with his interpretation of evil and his seeming inability to distinguish the role of a secular government in protecting innocent people from the forces of evil at play in this world.)
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.
I was in Sunday School this morning and we were talking about something in John's gospel. Somehow or other the conversation drifted to the book of Daniel–a book I am currently making an extended study of for purposes that are my own right now. Nevertheless, we got there (to Daniel) and somehow started talking about Jesus being the Son of God. Or maybe we went there in order to talk about Jesus being the son of God. Frankly, I'm not altogether certain because for some reason the two ideas came together in my head and I started thinking hard about Daniel and from seemingly nowhere the book of Daniel opened up before me and I saw a theme stretched from one end of the book to the other–every 'chapter', every page, it is there. At this point it was only in my head and memory so it was a theory.
So I started checking my idea–throughout the rest of Sunday school and part of the worship time–and sure enough it's there. I had to be safe and double check because I am fully aware that to some the book of Daniel is a prop for a theological system that eminently benefits the Christian publishing houses in America and that looking at things in Daniel a little less finely might be troublesome. Yet that is precisely what I started to do. That is, I started looking at things less finely. In other words, I started to look at the forest instead of the trees. Looking at trees can be daunting when considering the book of Daniel because there are so many trees to look at. For example, trying to take a nice stroll through chapters 10 and 11 is nearly impossible. There are kings and beasts coming at the reader from north and south, land and sea. It's so overwhelming, that it even made Daniel sick most of the time.
And these kings and commanders come and go. They run roughshod over any and all that stand in their way. The decide morality, they collect taxes, they worship war (11:38), and make war wherever they go. What Daniel seems to be telling us is that it makes little difference where these rulers come from, they will have only one thing on their minds: destruction and self-aggrandizement. It seems to matter little, furthermore, when they rule. It might be the first year of a king; it might be the third year of a king; it might be kings who reigned in the past or kings who will reign in the future. They will all collect taxes. They will all blaspheme the Truth and the True King. They will be powerful–of this there can be no doubt. They will hold life and death in the palms of their hands. Nothing in the text of Daniel says, however, that we ought to live in fear or recoil in terror of these men. Nothing. In fact, the book's constant refrain is exactly the opposite: go and live.
From the first chapter to the last, the book of Daniel is about endurance. Consider 1:21: "And Daniel remained there until the first year of Cyrus." Daniel outlived all of them. Now consider 12:13: "As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance." Daniel will live.
I suppose we can read Daniel and see clues to 'unlock prophetic revelation' or we can read Daniel as a book designed to teach us three overarching truths.
First, there are two kingdoms in Daniel's book. The kingdom of man as represented by Nebudchadnezzer, Belshazzar, Darius, Cyrus, shaggy goats, horns, kings of the north and south, and others whom we cannot identify with any real precision. These kingdoms come and go. They are here and gone. But without fail, no matter how monstrous they are at any given point, the refrain is always the same. "Yet he will come to his end…" (11:45) Every kingdom in the book comes to an end at some point. Except one: "His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation" (4:3) a refrain found more than once in Daniel.
Second, these two kingdoms will clash, but both cannot win. Only one will win. Only one will endure. Kings of earth will try and try and try, but they will always fail: "In the time 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" (2:44). And they will continue to clash over and over again throughout history. I don't think that just because Jesus came to earth that the book of Daniel has suddenly ceased to be relevant. Not at all. There are still wars. The wicked continue to be wicked (12:10). Violence is still perpetrated upon the righteous. And kings still do whatever they want (11:36).
Third, there is hope for those who trust in the Lord. I can't help but sense in this book a theme that the righteous will live not because, necessarily, they press on through tough times but because God is there with them. In chapter 1 we see it this way: "And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God." In chapter 3 it looks like this, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." Later in latter chapters, it looks like this: "Then I Daniel looked and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river" (12:5-6). In other words, wherever God's people went, he was with them. He was protecting them. I think Jesus said something similar, "And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
I think Matthew's book is excellent commentary on the book of Daniel. The Emmanuel promise is especially magnificent in Daniel's context. But the point is greater: we need not become unhinged in the face of all these absurd billy goats and many horned monsters who are running around as if they were something special or important. The writing is on the wall for all of them, not just Belshazzar. Yet, I might say the point is even bigger than merely seeing these earthly kingdoms trampled and all things put to rights: We have hope either way. Or: "But at that time your people–everyone whose name is found written in the book–will be delivered" (12:1). And: "Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days" (12:12). God will not leave his people without hope.
I have more to say on this matter, but this post is long enough. In conclusion, I will say this. It is very typical of those who study Daniel to fixate on identifying the who this guy is and who that guy is and to try and tuck them neatly into a historical context. They fixate, in other words, on the trees. And in trying to identify specific people and specific times and specific places they miss the overall point of the book of Daniel which is something like I have sketched above: 1) there are two kingdoms; 2) they are constantly at war and one will ultimately lose; and 3) God's people are not left without hope in the midst of it all. I need to explore this all a lot more and I will be posting my findings periodically. Just remember not to get so hung up on seeing trees that you miss the forest. It sounds cliche; it is. But that does not mean it's not true.
PS–I think it's especially important to understand the concept of Kingdom in this book and to explore the larger implications as they unfold later in the life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus. I also think a good case can be made for the Emmanuel theme in Daniel. I'm convinced the book is teaching us that God went into exile with his people and did not abandon them their to their own devices or wholly to the whims of their pagan captors. In my next post I will show how important Kingdom is in every single chapter of Daniel's book.
I'm doing some research on the Old Testament book of Daniel in preparation for a project I am about to undertake in the not too distant future. I'm taking it slowly. I'm still in chapter 1.
Daniel 1 is an interesting place to begin a book. I mean, Daniel isn't typical prophecy. It has prophetic elements in it as well as some so-called apocalyptic elements too, but it's not typical of a book of prophecy like, say, Isaiah or Jeremiah. There's no long poems or sermons. There's no real sweeping judgments against nations even if there are some heavy judgments against individuals who happen to rule those nations. Daniel is stories and dreams and visions. And that's about it.
With that in mind, I was thinking: why does Daniel begin where it begins? I mean, what's the point of opening a book of prophecy or a book about a prophet, by telling a story about who will eat and what food they will eat? Then I got to thinking that perhaps Daniel 1 isn't really about food or eating after all. Maybe the subtle point Daniel is making is that there is more going on in his life than mere appetite–there is more going on in his life than the king can possibly satisfy with portions from his table.
Several years ago, I wrote something similar in a devotional I had prepared for my congregation. I wrote:
I do not think Daniel and his friends felt they had a mandate to change the Babylonian culture and make it Jewish. What Daniel and his friends did have a mandate to do was to remain faithful to God–at any cost. They resolved not to be dependent on the culture in which they lived by eating food from the king's table. To eat from the king's table was like saying, 'we are going to be dependent upon the king. We will ingratiate ourselves to his providence.'
I think the short and long of it is this: when you eat like the king, you become like the king. Daniel and his friends were ultimately saying: we do not want to be like Nebudchadnezzer, and by not being like him, we will be better and more useful. It seems to me this is a larger story for us too: when we partake of the culture, we become like the culture. The culture of Babylon, in particular the person of the king, started changing because Daniel and friends remained faithful. It's a short road to the compromising of faithfulness. Daniel and his friends want to remain distinctly Hebrew in the context of Babylon. I'm not even certain Daniel's motive had anything to do with seeking God since there are no explicit commands anywhere that prohibit people from eating the king's food in captivity.
There's probably no such specific commands for Christians either. We are free to enjoy life and liberty and, if we choose, to eat from the king's table. Paul did write that all things are permissible. He also wrote, however, that not all things are profitable. So here we are faced with the crazy idea that we have to decide what is and is not compromise here in America where the king's table is so abundantly spread.
Given where Daniel's book begins (1:1): In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebudchadnezzer king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And given where chapter 1 ends (1:21): And Daniel remained there until the first year of king Cyrus. I would say that Daniel's decision not to take his sustenance from the king's table benefited him, and many others besides, well: He outlived them all and provided counsel for many kings and peoples. I would say that his decision to remain unique and distinct among the culture of Babylon was well played.
For those of you who happen to preach or teach and need some extra help in preparation you might find this post helpful. All of the files below are found at box.net and are available for access either by going to the box.net widget below or by clicking the links in this post. The sermons are from the book of Daniel and each one is a full manuscript. I preach expository sermons. I have also including the corresponding Powerpoint presentations when one is available. They can also be downloaded from box.net. If you are some who enjoys reading, these sermons are highly readable. Each sermon reads the entire chapter the sermon is based on and also includes many other Scripture references too. I think you will find these sermons very encouraging and helpful. Later when time proves less of an issue, I will also post them at SermonCentral.com. jerry
Part 1: The Church in Exile, various Scriptures
Part 6: The Once and Future History of Babylon the Great, Daniel 5:1-30
Part 11: The Prayers We Pray & The Answers to the Prayers We Pray, Daniel 9:1-27
Part 12: Concerning the Great War and The End, Daniel 10:1-11:45
Part 13: The End of Daniel’s Gospel: The Resurrection of the Saints, Daniel 12:1-13
Soli Deo Gloria!
A couple of weeks ago, I was preaching my Sunday morning message when I was overcome by an ‘attack’ of kidney stones. It was most unpleasant and I was unable to finish my message that morning. I’m posting the part that I left un-preached here as I believe it was a rather important part of the message.–DG
The Prayers We Pray & End; Daniel 9:24
Daniel saw the Covenant colors the sun and rain have woven against the blue sky. Prayer informed by Scripture will see just such reality. Because here is what I think this is really about: Daniel was unselfish. Daniel was not praying about his own predicament. Daniel was not praying about his own situation or even that of his fellow people: they were all sinners and could do nothing but pray. Daniel was praying to God about God.
Daniel was praying about God’s final vindication, and I think, perhaps, Daniel got more than he bargained for. Gabriel revealed to Daniel that the final vindication would take place at the end, but the end involved a little more than the return of a few thousand exiles to Jerusalem. The end was a comprehensive plan that involved the complete eradication of sin, unrighteousness, opposition to God’s Kingdom, opposition to God, the final defeat of sin, the final sweeping away of transgression and the final exaltation of Truth, Righteousness and Holiness. I think once Gabriel laid these things out for Daniel in verse 24, once Daniel caught a glimpse of what was really going on in God’s plan—for that is what God showed him, not just the end of 70 years of exile, but in fact, a picture of God’s plan clear through to the end—once Daniel saw this, nothing else really mattered–thus, we hear no complaints from Daniel. God has the final word on the answers He gives to the prayers we pray.You see these things in verse 24, these six imperatives, are all things that are in violation of God and His Will, and thus we learn about the nature of the restoration God revealed to Daniel, in answer to Daniel’s prayer, would take place. God the Righteous will set things right. God’s final answer to Daniel, God’s final answer to the World is the complete crushing and defeat of sin. But how? By returning exiles to Jerusalem? Hardly. Scripture shows there is only one way for these things to be brought about: The Cross. PT Forsyth wrote, “The Cross of Christ is God’s last judgment on all sin, for its destruction by a realm of infinite grace and love. It is the last resource of the Almighty Holiness; and His last resource is the end of all things—which is now always at hand in a kingdom both coming and come.” (183)Ronald Wallace too writes: “We have therefore to ask whether there are any cogent reasons why we should not simply acknowledge that this passage describes much more fittingly what happened through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We must remember above all, that this passage does not belong merely to a single book about whose origins scholars disagree. It belongs to a book incorporated within a whole body of Holy Scripture in which all vision and prophet (verse 24) has its seal set on it, not by the suffering of Onias or by the exploits of the Maccabees, but by Jesus Christ…The ordinary Christian cannot possibly read all these phrases without also seriously asking: Does this not refer to what happened during the life and death of Jesus himself? The church has for centuries take this view, and one notable commentator calls this especially a ‘Christ-saturated passage.’”165-166In other words: “Daniel I’m not just going to fix broken Israel, I’m going to redeem the entire world. I’m not just going to deal with your sin and Israel’s sin, but I’m going to deal with the entire enterprise of sin in the world. I’m not just going to bring you back to your land, I’m going to bring the entire world back to My Land.” History and Scripture have born this out that only in Christ has sin been finally and forever crushed beneath the heal and hand of God. John wrote, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the entire world.” (1 John 2:2 NIV).If Daniel did anything ‘wrong’ it’s that his prayer was too small. God corrects this by expanding Daniel’s vision, by expanding his understanding of what He is doing. When Daniel’s understanding was corrected, his prayers could take on new shape.
* * * *
Daniel was praying that God remember His own Word, Daniel was praying unselfishly that God would do what God is going to do regardless of how we feel or think. Daniel, in short, is concerned here that God’s will be done, that His Kingdom come. This is the nature of prayer that is informed by Scripture. I suppose it is true that we get what we pray for.
What are you praying for? Perhaps right now your prayers are too small because you have not fully understood or appreciated what God is doing, because you have not had your vision expanded by God’s Revelation. What consumes the most of your time in your prayer closet? Are you still praying for some vague expression of ‘peace’ in this world? Because peace will not come without violence and judgment in the cross and the wrath of a Holy God who hates the sin that causes un-peace.
Are you still praying for health for yourself or your family or friends? Put that health in the context of God’s plan for this world: Maybe that sickness is designed to bring about Glory for God. Maybe sickness or illness is not really the problem.
Are you still praying for shiny new things? End that prayer. Don’t pray for wealth and happiness and good luck on the lottery. Instead hunker down in the prayer closet and pray the violent prayers of the Psalms or of the Revelation or the Prophets. Don’t allow your prayers to be self-centered, egotistical and anthropocentric. Pray out of the depth of emotion for the Will and Kingdom of God to come upon this earth. Pray for God’s final vindication of Christ to be revealed!
I think we spend too much time in church praying for simple things like: God help America to be a better place to live. God help our leaders. God help. How about we start praying some things strange to our sensibilities like: God overthrow Your Enemies, Not America’s Enemies, but God’s. Or: God, Send Your Messiah to the Earth and usher in Your Kingdom and all Your glory! Or: God, Turn the Church upside down and shake out all of the filth, all the lukewarm (th), all the false prophets and false doctrine. Lord, purify your church because Judgment begins with the House of God. Lord, may your Word spread rapidly in our community! Lord, prepare in us a clean heart. Lord, search us and know if there is any anxious way in us and purge us of our uncleanliness. Lord, Forgive us our Sin for you are merciful and Forgiving. Lord, shake us.
I think it is time in the church for prayers that are properly informed by Scripture to be prayed. It’s time for real prayers to be offered. It’s time for Holy Hands to be uplifted by Men who understand What responsibility God has given them to lead by example, and that He has called Men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer (1 Tim 2:9) and to lead by prayer. It is time for the Church to stop fooling around worrying about the American Stock Exchange and to start worrying about whether or not we are in keeping with God’s will and to start praying that Where He is We May also Be. It’s Time to confess and repent and fast and posture ourselves properly before a righteous and holy God. It’s time for the men of the Church, like Daniel, to search the Scripture and know and understand what God wants us to pray. Enough simple prayers. Enough nonsense prayers. Enough prayers for better days and sunshine. Enough prayers that are meaningless and mundane. Let’s pray prayers that shake heaven so that heaven will shake us. Let’s get serious about prayer that announces to the Lord of Hosts: We Welcome Your Intervention.
And let us prepare ourselves now for the answers God gives so that we will not be shaken with fear, but moved to seek God even more earnestly. Let us not tarry. God have mercy! Let us not tarry any longer! Let us pray prayers that the world can interpret in only one way: Here is a group of people who are praying for the soon return of Christ, for the Exaltation of Christ, for the Vindication of Christ. What are they doing? What do they know?