Ok friends, we just entered into a major shift in the book of Daniel. Up to this point our author has been using a narrative literary style to communicate his message. But now he is going to use a different literary style called “Apocalyptic.” Biblical apocalyptic literature is usually written to help people deal with intense suffering and persecution. Apocalyptic literature uses odd grotesque imagery to bring the reader into reality. Isn’t that last part shocking?! The goal of the apocalyptic author is not to confuse or bamboozle us. No, the goal of the apocalyptic author is to pull back the curtain of redemptive history and let us see how God sees the course of the world. If that does not get you excited about what we are going to be doing these last few weeks in Daniel than I don’t know what will.
So, before we begin to tackle Daniel 7 I want to take a few moments to remind us of some interpretive principles that will help us better understand Daniel. First, remember the audience Daniel is writing to. I believe the primary audience is Israelites who were taken from their home-land and have been facing religious persecution from tyrannical leaders. They want to know when this suffering will end. The second principle is remember the best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture. When you want to better understand a passage search how words and phrases are used in that book, and then other books of the Bible. Those are two principles I think will help us a great deal.
Theme: In the midst of this sinful chaotic world God gives us glimpses of real hope.
1. God Affirms The Grotesque Chaotic Nature Of Evil —Daniel 7.1-8.
From the beginning of this section we learn something amazing. While Daniel was helping the unbelieving world their struggles, dreams and visions he was having his own—READ Daniel 7.1.
As we explore the figurative language being used here it is telling us to look backwards. Daniel 7.2 uses language that should reminder the reader of Creation. It is here we see, “four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea.” Any good reader of ancient literature knows the sea was a symbol from which evil would arise. They would also know evil brings about chaos, disorder, and suffering. When we face trials this is what it feels like right? We feel like our world is out of control. No matter how much we try we feel powerless. The next few images pick up on this last idea. We begin to see descriptions of powerful looking creatures coming from the sea—READ Daniel 7.3. The author begins to describe each one of these beasts, and what we are supposed to see from these descriptions is something out of order. When we look back at the book of Genesis we see some similarities:
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.—Genesis 1.2
Many times in the OT the Spirit is referred to as “wind” or “breadth.” God was at the beginning making a habitable place for humanity. The heavens and the earth were created but they were not suited for any form of life. God brings order out of the chaos. But here we are seeing the opposite. We are seeing beast with deformities. These descriptions would have reminded an Israelite of the pagan myths of the nations around them. Lions are not supposed to have wings, leopards not supposed to have four heads, and nothing is supposed to be able to morph its appearance. We are not supposed to see a little horn growing out of some things head. An Israelite would have found this language appalling and grotesque.
Can you see how the author is using literary devices to describe the audience’s experience of pain and suffering? This is our suffering feels to us. Pain and suffering, and I mean true suffering, is appalling and grotesque. When I see movies that portray the horrors of war, genocides of people, the western slave trade, or the life, I am disgusted, aren’t you? Isn’t this a wonderful description how it feels? For the Israelites this is one of their people using word pictures to describe what they are going through. But this not the only thing Daniel is doing, and that will become more clear when we look at the latter parts of this Daniel 7.
2. God Promises He Will Destroy Evil And Restore Order—Daniel 7.9-14.
I mentioned earlier that one of the purposes of apocalyptic literature is to show us a glimpse of reality—a way to look at the world the way God does. God shares with us how grotesque and disgusting evil is—it brings chaos and disorder.
But notice what happens next. Notice the literary change—READ Daniel 7.9-10. Look at how the author uses poetic meter to give the reader hope. While God affirms the grotesque chaotic nature of evil, He quickly affirms He will destroy evil, and put the world back into order. God will take all our pain and suffering, and will give us something to sing about. The harsh realities of evil become songs of hope.
Many of the scholars I read this week referred to this as the courtroom scene. The Ancient of Days took his seat in the courtroom as the supreme judge. The Ancient of Days is a reference to God. This is way of saying One who is everlasting. And God is described as ruling from his throne with purity and power through images like wool and fire. God sits there as a just judge with the cases opened in front of him. He is ready to pronounce pure, holy, just, righteous judgments. This is a picture of a God who is not to be trifled with. Daniel 7.11-12 tells us that the personification of evil will be destroyed finally and decisively. Evil nations will be aloud to have seasons where they are aloud to rule, but one day God will put an end to all evil and disorder.
This is not the only glimpse of reality we get, no, we learn something even greater. We learn God will provide One like us to rule—READ Daniel 7.13-14. Daniel sees One will come who is like “a son of man,” but he will ascend into the heavens and be with the Ancient of Days. This “son of man” will be given all the peoples, nations, and languages to rule. He will have an everlasting dominion that will not pass away. Friends, the amazing thing for us is this no longer a mystery. We have seen the “Son of Man” and His name is Jesus Christ. He came and lived a perfect life among us. He went through a grotesque death on a Cross. But He was raised on the third day and ascended to the right hand of the Father, the Ancient of Days.
3. God Provides Us Understanding—Daniel 7.15-28.
Daniel sees all this, and he is anxious and alarmed. In the past Daniel has always seemed like a calm cool cat, but we finally get to see the humanity of Daniel. He was a real guy like you and me. Daniel is confused and perplexed by what he saw, so he asks for help. In the past Daniel was the one who was asked to help the unbelieving world. But Daniel is a representative of his people, so what he is experiencing is what they are experiencing. They have questions about the suffering they are enduring, and like Daniel, they are asking for answers. As God’s people I think there is a theological implication for us here. In the midst our suffering, confusion, anxiety and etc. we should be the type of people that will ask God for help and understanding in the midst of all of that. And we should believe He wants to help us understand our pain and suffering.
Some might be asking who is this person Daniel talks to about this? I don’t think this is extremely important to get the message of here, but I think this is an example of how we can use one of those interpretative principles I mentioned earlier. It would seem to me that the pattern in the book of Daniel is an angel helps him understand all his dreams and visions. As we search across the pages of Scripture we see that is common practice in apocalyptic literature. Therefore, simply put, I think this is an angel interpreting the vision for Daniel.
And what does this angel tell Daniel? I think it can be summarized in a few verses—READ Daniel 7.17-18. As we look back at the description in Daniel 7.2-8 we can see many linguistic similarities to what was described in Daniel 2. As far as I can tell these four beasts represent four kingdoms, and those include: The Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. One example of how I think that is fairly clear is the description of the first beast. All over Babylon one could see their nation was symbolized as a lion with wings. We saw how in Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance he was stripped of his sanity and he lived like a beast, but eventually his sanity was restored and stood like a man once again.
Now the odd thing is this last beast. The description of the last beast is very different than the other 3. Daniel is very intrigued by this fourth beast (Dan 7.19). While I could list off the many theories on who or what this fourth beast is, I do not believe that is vital to our understanding. It seems like this beast can morph into other forms. I think this is a way of the author telling us the fourth beast can take many forms. For instance, we saw from Daniel 2 that it seemed like the fourth beast was probably the Roman empire. But I think the point is the fourth beast can morph into many forms throughout history. Daniel knows this beast is the most terrifying beast of all, and the fourth one will go make war on God and His people. Daniel has to be thinking, “haven’t we been through enough? And God you are telling me we are going to go through more and it will get worse?” What Daniel does not know is that while things got harder for Israel, as God expands His family, the suffering and persecution gets worse. There are world leaders throughout history who have committed many grotesque atrocities against God’s people. And while that is easy to forget the same is still happening today. We have brothers and sisters across the globe who have been wrongly imprisoned, kidnapped, beaten, murdered, and so much more because they choose to worship Jesus Christ.
Daniel 7.19-28 gives us many other details about the exceedingly great power of this fourth beast, but look at these amazing verses—READ Daniel 7.21-22, 25-27. This messenger reassures Daniel the saints will not be consumed by this beast. Why? Because of the Ancient of Days will come. The “Son of Man” in Daniel 7.13 is given dominion over all the peoples—He reigns supreme. As we said earlier the Son of Man is Jesus Christ, and shares His kingdom, His dominion, with us, the Church. For those who are striving to love and treasure Jesus they are counted among the saints.
And what should our response be to all of this? Well, when we really consider what happened here, what Daniel saw, and hopefully what we have seen today, I think we should respond the same way Daniel did. Look throughout the Scriptures, when people have an apocalyptic experience they are “greatly alarmed.” The more Daniel was taught his anxiety got worse. He was alarmed in Daniel 7.15, but in verse 28 he is “greatly” alarmed. While Daniel is greatly alarmed he keeps this matters in his heart. If we have got a glimpse into reality, the world behind our world, then this should alarm us. We must not forget we live during war times. A tactic the fourth beast uses is to make us think there is no war or get caught up in trivial affairs. In one of his book Ed Welch tells us this about our war:
There is something about war that sharpens the senses…You hear a twig snap or the rustling of leaves and you are in attack mode. Someone coughs and you are ready to pull the trigger. Even after days of little or no sleep, war keeps us vigilant.—Ed Welch