Friday, November 20, 2015

The Vision of the Nations (Daniel 2 and 7)

We have reached that point in the book of Daniel, where the exposition becomes more difficult. It is also the part where the sovereignty of God is seen more in hindsight than would have been present to the readers of the day. Thus, one might question what the Lord was trying to do by sharing these visions with this audience.

Chapters 2 and 7 parallel each other in the prophecies that they share. This is crucial. It is also interesting to remember that these two chapters from the beginning and the end of the section written in Aramaic. The section that is most likely written to the entire world at the time of Daniel.

It is also interesting to note that Chapter 7 stands out of chronological order. After going through chapter 6 of a story of the Persian ruler Darius after the Persians had taken the kingdom from Babylonian king Belshazzar, we return to see Daniel's dream during the reign of king Belshazzar.

So what do we see in each chapter? Let us begin by looking at the bare bones of what is seen in the visions.

In Chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a statue. We have looked at the events surrounding this dream before, but we deferred discussion until this time today. The dream is recounted in Daniel 2: 31-35,
"Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth."

This is later seen to refer to four kingdoms on the earth that will follow one right after the other.

In Daniel 7, it is Daniel who has a dream. His dream is not about a statue, but rather about four different beasts. The angel of the Lord reveals to Daniel that each of these four beasts also represent the same four kingdoms. Thus, these dreams are prophesying the same thing. Let's look at Daniel's dream in 7:2-14,
"2 Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. 3 And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. 4 The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it. 5 And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh. 6 After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it. 7 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. 8 I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things. 9 I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. 10 A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. 11 I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. 12 As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time. 13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."

Alright, now that we're all clear on what everything here means, why don't we just get on with application! Oh, wait, you have no idea what is being prophesied here. Yeah, I guess that it's still somewhat vague in nature. I guess it's time to look at a history lesson. Because you know, I love history.

The first kingdom discussed (the golden head and the lion with Eagle's wings) represents Babylon. Good ole Babylon which indeed had an idol that was a Lion's body with wings and a human face, making this connection kinda surreal.

But Babylon wouldn't control the world forever, indeed, there would be a second kingdom (the silver breast and arms and the bear with three ribs in his mouth) is Persia who conquered Babylon and reigned through the latter years of Daniel's life. Indeed, it would be Persia who would allow the Israelites to return to rebuild the Temple.

Yet even great and mighty Persia would eventually be usurped as a world power when the Greeks and Macedonians reigned supreme under the legions of Philip and later his son Alexander the Great. This is represented in our dreams by the belly and thighs in bronze and by the winged four-headed leopard.

Relevant to these visions is the fact that Alexander the Great relied heavily on bronze armor, making that choice of material in the statue that much more interesting. Further though, after Alexander's death, his kingdom was divided among his four generals, lending added significance to the four heads of the leopard.

The fourth kingdom is that of Rome which took over the world from the Greeks right before the time of Christ. The iron legions of Rome are represented by the iron legs of the statue and the beast distinct from all the others, with iron teeth.

Here we have gone through the major world powers leading up to the time of Christ and how powerful they all are, but that's not all that is shared here. The Lord has one more thing to say, and that is to prophesy that although these kingdoms do not last, and even seem to fracture into the multipolar world we see today (the ten toes of the statue and the ten horns of the fourth beast), there is a kingdom that will last forever.

In the statue, this future kingdom is manifested primarily by a stone made without hands that shatters all the other kingdoms. The idea that it is made without hands is an implication of divine origin. This stone after shattering all of the kingdoms becomes a great mountain and fills all the earth.

In the dream of the beasts, this future kingdom is seen a little bit more directly. One like the Son of Man comes in and and is given a kingdom by the Ancient of Days so that all of the nations can serve and worship Him forever.

Note that in both instances, there is this idea that the kingdom is universal. It's not just for the Jews, but God's eternal reign will extend to all nations, all people everywhere. I think it's rather unfortunate that we've started to treat the grafting in of the Gentiles as something that the Lord decided to do after the Jews rejected the gospel. It's not. It was His plan all along.

These visions detail how God would ultimately have power over the strong nations of the world by detailing some of the strongest in history. But to the reader, this wouldn't have had that same impact. They would have understood that there were powerful nations being predicted, but they wouldn't have known what they were. Thus, God's sovereignty wouldn't be able to be shown by His exacting and precise prophecies of the kingdoms of the world.

This means there must have been some other reason that the Lord wanted the whole world to hear this story. And it seems that that reason would almost certainly have to be because of the eternal prophecies located therein. It seems that the Lord is trying to not just show His sovereignty to the people of the Lord for His own glory.

Rather, He is showing His glory to them, so that they can come to know Him better and have an opportunity for eternal life. And that's how He decides to both begin and end his narrative in Aramaic. That I believe tells us much of God's heart.

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