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Why All the Fuss?
In your smartphone you probably have the ability to take different sorts of photos. There’s panoramic where you can take a sweeping photo and capture everything from here to here. Then there’s square, portrait, normal and maybe others.
The vision in Daniel ch7 is like the panoramic setting. From the beginning of history to the end of history, this is what the kingdoms of this world are like. Right in the middle stands the rule and reign of King Jesus.
The vision in Daniel ch8 is like the square or zoom option. Let’s focus on a specific part of that history. Which for us is literally ancient history, but for Daniel was well into the future.
We might ask, ‘what’s the point of it then for either us’ It is thousands of years after these events, or even for Daniel hundreds of years before these events. The focus of the vision is of a relatively obscure king from a split-off of the Greek empire. Why bother to spill a chapter’s worth of ink on that? Why all the fuss?
Well let’s look at the vision and see what there is to learn as we go. Notice first of all, there is a ram and it had two horns.
V3, I raised my eyes and saw, and behold, a ram standing on the bank of the canal. It had two horns, and both horns were high, but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last.
Obviously the ram is the Medo-Persian Empire. And you say to me, ‘Where did you get that from?’ I say, ‘By divine revelation’, and you say, ‘Pull the other one’. I then say, ‘Look at v20.’
As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia.
So you don’t have to be a genius, you just have to read the Bible. The ram represents this empire, and the higher horn representing the dominance of Persia.
V4, I saw the ram charging westward and northward and southward.
You read the pages of history and you discover these were the movements of Persia in its day. They were apparently invincible.
V4b, No beast could stand before him, and there was no one who could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great.
There’s a lot of time and geography squeezed into that verse. The details of which are not important, other than to say; this is where it went, this is what it thought of itself, this was how dominant it was.
V4 ending with a picture of invincibility, unfettered greatness.
Verse 5 begins, as I was thinking about this, giving it some thought, behold, a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. And the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes.
Now what is this? V21 will help you.
And the goat is the king of Greece. And the great horn between his eyes is the first king.
In other words, it’s a reference to Alexander the Great. History records it.
This male goat with the conspicuous horn came to the ram with the two horns … and he ran at him in his powerful wrath.
The sight and the sounds of the horns breaking typifies the brittle and ultimately fragile nature of political might. The kingdoms of the world clashing against one another. One superseding the other. One to rise up invincible, and eventually history comes round and he’s gone.
In 1946, after the Nuremberg trials, 14 Nazi celebrities, Hitler’s inner circle, were tried, executed, then cremated. Their cremated remains put together in one large tub, placed on the back of a truck and driven out into the darkness of the countryside in the night and tipped into a muddy ditch.
Months before, they rule the world. Now a drizzle washes their ashes away for people to walk on. Only God’s kingdom stands forever. Only God’s majesty is unfettered majesty. As man continues to believe that we will fix it, we will get it right and so on, but no. Look how the mighty have fallen.
The ram who at the end of v4 was apparently invincible, the Persian Empire, who nobody could rescue from, the king did exactly as he pleased. But now we find that this same ram had no power to stand before the goat. The goat cast him to the ground and trampled on him. And there was no one who could rescue from his power. Then the goat became exceedingly great.
Alexander the Great’s victories have been recorded well in history. In that point in history nobody had been so quick and dramatic in their victories. It was almost as if his feet never touched the ground. Within a decade, when he was still in his 20s, he ruled the world.
He wrote a song about himself: I’m on top of the world looking down on creation, and the only The story of his death is a reminder of how it all ended in utter humiliation.
We’re slow to pay attention to this, aren’t we?
As for man his days are like grass, and the glory of man is like the flower of the field. The grass withers and the flower falls. The wind blows over his place and he remembers it no more. You see, it’s the Ancient of Days who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely are they sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth when he blows on them and they wither and the wind carried them off like stubble.
So Alexander at the height of his confident, self-proclaimed magnificence, is reduced to utter humiliation. Tales of intrigue, and poison surround his death, and apparently they found him dead in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. Here he was, the great man of the day is replaced.
V8, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken,
It’s the story of history. It’s the story of the Bible. It’s the story of how God doesn’t give his glory to anyone else. It doesn’t matter if you’re a politician or a pastor. He doesn’t share it. Why would he share it? He’s God.
Uzziah the great king, 16 years old becomes the great king. Everybody says, “Boy, this guy’s really got it. He’s got it militarily. He’s got it in terms of architecture. He’s got it in terms of the development of social networks within his nation. There’s nobody like Uzziah.”
And his empire grew and he was very, very successful.
Do you know how he died? He was leprous. He died in humiliation. He didn’t die in his palace. He died, as it were, in a gatehouse at the bottom of a field. And the Chronicler tells us why. It says of Uzziah, “He was gloriously helped, until he became strong. When he grew strong, he became proud to his own destruction.”
Alexander believed his magnificence was all of his own.
V8, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns.
When you read history you find that when Alexander the great died, there were four generals under him who took over the stuff he’d been lord over. Out of one of those four, and history records this as well, came a little horn, which grew exceedingly great. To cut a medium story very short, this little horn represents Antiochus Epiphanes. He embodies all the characteristics of man’s rebellion against God. He goes to amazing lengths to oppose God and his people.
V25, By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes. A reference to God himself.
V9-11 suggest that there is nothing that is beyond his defiance. He’s against God’s place. He’s against God’s people, and he’s against God’s rule.
He had coins printed on them with words essentially saying I am god. Not Yahweh of course, but Zeus. If you want to know what Zeus looks like, he said, if you want to know how powerful Zeus is, then simple look at me. Every coin you take out of your pocket reminds you of this.
The Prince of the host himself is challenged by this arrogant, blasphemous individual. Incidentally, arrogant blasphemy is a mark of any man’s opposition to God. In politics, arts, science, sport whenever man exalts himself he falls in line with the activity of this individual.
He establishes himself, v12, the regular burnt offering was taken away.
In other words, he went into the temple, which is what history records, he stole the treasures of the temple, he forbid the Jews to conduct their worship, he built a pagan altar on the place of the altar of God, an altar to Zeus, and in the place where the Jewish people would offer the morning and evening sacrifices, he even brought in a pig to have it sacrificed on the altar of Zeus, to say to everybody involved, this is what I think of your God, this is what I think of your worship, and I want to show you how strong and mighty I am.
More than that, he went in and he took the scrolls of God’s law and shredded them, he had his soldiers shred them and burn them. He said, this is your law, and this is what you want to do? Let me show you what I’m going to do with that. So he takes the Torah and destroys it in front of the people and he sets it on fire. The truth of God is being trampled on the ground.
A horrible day is coming that is going to be terrible for the people of God.
V24, he shall cause fearful destruction … and destroy the people who are the saints.
Is it really necessary to spill all this ink and pay all this attention to someone who really is a pretty minor character on the roster of history? The answer is that he was not so minor.
God’s people had never before faced what they met under Antiochus – a systematic programme designed to eradicate completely every trace of Israel’s faith, worship and life. The day would come when Israel would need this revelation.
That’s the assumption of v26: Daniel is to seal up the vision, to keep it and preserve it, because it will have relevance many days from now.
It’s kindness of God, isn’t it, to prepare his people for what’s coming? The principle’s an easy one to get.
“Not long ago I was walking down the hallway in our home that leads to our bedroom. On my way I passed the doorway to the guest bedroom. Unbeknownst to me, my wife had hidden inside that door and with her ‘Boo!’ scared the wits out of me as I went by. (I wondered if she was trying to collect life insurance proceeds) but what if I happen to see her duck into that room unknown to her? Then I walk down the hall with two options. I can walk by the door, as if unsuspecting, and remain unmoved when she ‘boos’ (which deprives her of pleasure) or I can suddenly jump in front of that door and scare her (which gives me pleasure). The fact that I know what awaits me makes all the difference. So the little horn revelation should settle and steel Israel when the many days arrive.”
Now the illustration doesn’t quite fit. There was no option for Israel to dodge the disaster – this is what was going to happen, but I think we get the point. Here they are in exile. It would be very easy for them, when they return to Jerusalem to think, ‘Great. All our troubled days are behind us’, but they are in for a rude shock.
Calvin: “If this had not been predicted, God’s people would have thought themselves deceived by the splendid promises concerning their return. But when they saw everything occurring according to what had been forewarned, this became no slight comfort in the midst of their woes.”
It’s the same kindness that Jesus extends to his disciples in John 16. Jesus tells his friends of the hatred the world has for him and therefore for them. They will be kicked out of the synagogues and religious leaders will convince themselves that they’re offering service to God by executing them. Jesus explains: “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you and not fall away.” Jesus doesn’t hide stuff in the fine print.
Nobody can accuse Jesus, saying, ‘You didn’t tell me being a Christian was going to be hard!’ Despite the contrary things many preachers out there might say, that’s not what Jesus says. “Following me is the narrow road, not the easy, wide road.” Out of his love and kindness, he forewarns and therefore fore-arms us. In many ways and at many times, God graciously warns his people, “Get ready. Be on guard. When the difficulties come I don’t want you to crumble or doubt, but trust.”
In April 1942, US bombers carried out a raid on Tokyo. They inflicted very little substantial damage, but it sent the people in Tokyo into panic. Why? Because they had been assured that no US bomb would ever strike Japan.
Well, the God of the Bible does not operate like Japanese war propaganda. Although, as I said, there are many people who do.
There is a terrible belief today in some churches that Christians should be living this victorious Christian life, which we gain financial prosperity, and happiness, and health, and be achievers, where the marks of godliness are joy and serenity. You’ve heard that? It’s very seductive isn’t it? It’s exactly what we want to hear.
It’s the deceit of the evil one, v25. It’s the throwing of truth to the ground, v12.
When adversity and hardship comes, what happens? We just crumple into doubt.
Remember the first time Moses went to Pharaoh –.. “ knock, knock, ah excuse me Pharaoh, just wondering if me and the others could apply for extended leave and camp out in the wilderness?” Ha-ha, not on your life old man!
What happens? Moses is emotionally crushed by the apparent failure of his first approach to Pharaoh. He just loses it, “why did you ever send me?” he whines to God, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people?” Now there’s a thing to say. God never promised that Pharaoh will agree straight up, however Moses forgets it and he crumbles.
When things don’t go how we expected, “O Lord why have you done evil to me? My business is not going well, my relationships aren’t going well. O Lord why have you done this evil to me? Ever since I’ve been following Jesus, who I thought was my deliverer, things have become worse rather than better.”
When difficulties come, when we face opposition, when things don’t go how we want or thought, or when we want or thought, we think Jesus hasn’t delivered his end of the bargain. We complain about our lot and we compare what God has given us to others.
God never gives false hope. If we are crushed by unfilled hope, we can’t blame God. What’s to blame is that our hope was in the wrong place. The hope for these Jews was never to be, ultimately, in the physical return to Jerusalem, as good as that might have been. If that’s where their trust ultimately lay, they were going to be bitterly disappointed. Their hope was to be in the Son of Man, the king who was coming, ch7, whose kingdom shall not be destroyed.
God is saying to these Jews, ‘If, when this time comes, you judge according circumstances, or if your trust is in what you can see around you, you won’t survive.’ If we judge according to circumstances or forget what the promises actually are, we’re going to find it pretty hard to rest in the greatness and grace of God the way we should. The way that this chapter wants us to. You see, God is saying, ‘Yep bad things are coming, but look carefully, look behind what can be seen.’
Who is it that’s in control here? Who is it that knows what’s going to happen hundreds of years before it happens? Who is it who causes these kings to rise up in the first place?
V24, His power shall be great – but not by his own power.
Man cannot even lift his fist in defiance against almighty God unless almighty God gives him the strength to lift his fist. What an amazing mystery!
V25b, Antiochus shall even rise up against the Prince of princes. And what’s the result? He shall be broken – but by no human hand.
It’s the living God. God plans it. God begins it. God ends it, and God sets the limit on it.
V14, ‘How long’s this going to last?’ Daniel overhears the angels asking. 2,300 evenings and mornings. Who knows what that means? But it at least means a long time, but a limited time.
The Lord Almighty is running the show. It’s what we’ve seen in just about every chapter of Daniel so far. We’d be pretty silly not to listen to his warnings about life not being a breeze this side of heaven, wouldn’t we? We’d be pretty silly
This is not for my calendar, it’s for my comfort. God knows what’s up, God is at work behind the scenes
The God who looked after his rebellious children 500 centuries BC and gave them all that they needed is the same faithful, sovereign God who will look after his rebellious children 21 centuries AD and give us all that we need.