Friday, 16 October 2015

Daily Reading: Daniel 11v2-45 'The Battle to be King'

Chapter 11 of Daniel is not an easy chapter but in it Daniel is given a glimpse hundreds of years into the future. It is not a guess, God maps out centuries of history before it happens in detail, and it reveals to us the splendour, majesty of sovereignty of God. In fact so accurate is this vision that some scholars say there is no way it could have been written in the 537BC, it must have been written after the events it records as that, they say, is the only way Daniel could have known such detail so precisely.  Except Daniel is not guessing as we have just done, our guesstimates have no weight, Daniel is not guessing God reveals it to him. And God is sovereign, majestic, awesome and to say he can’t know and reveal this is to tame God.

As we come to this chapter the temptation is to be overwhelmed, or bored as in a year 9 history lesson. Actually our response should be amazement. Daniel writes in 537BC about events that take place between 325 and 145BC, it’s as if I was to tell you this morning about the events between 2213 and 2390AD. Our response should be amazement at the God who speaks to us, who holds time in his hands, who reveals himself to us and calls us to know him.

This chapter is not here to bamboozle but to assure and enable. It tells us two things:

1. His people are known by God

Daniel 11 is incredibly detailed as he is told the future after Persia falls (2) and Alexander the Great comes (3). This is a history you can trace in our history books from Alexander’s swift conquest to the battles between two dynasties from the North and the South.  But the real focus here is on what is central, what is between the kings of the North and South. In the middle of the Northern kingdom of Syria and the Southern Kingdom, Egypt, is Israel, God’s promised place, his people and it is the focus of this chapter. In the history books the actions of these powers towards Israel are a footnote here they are the focus, part of the battle Daniel has repeatedly shown us between God and his purposes and the devil.

This chapter reminds Daniel and those who follow that God is sovereign, he reigns, determining the rise and fall of kings and empires. You see it in the “buts” and “it will not” s of the passage. Natural succession, human planning and empire building are all frustrated as God determines the rise and fall of rulers and nations fulfilling his plans and his purposes. Just as he raised up Nebuchadnezzar to discipline Israel by taking them into exile and Cyrus to send his people back to Jerusalem so God will continue to work. 19 different kings are mentioned here, kings whose empires and rule looked permanent but are swept aside. God rules, his reign and kingdom are in stark contrast eternal.

And this great mighty sovereign God cares for his people, v21 and following focus on the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes IV and his dealings with and opposition to God’s people (28) as he attacks (30-32) and desecrates the temple setting up the abomination that causes desolation. God knows what his people face and he cares, he is not indifferent, even this opposition does not challenge God’s throne and God will bring it to an end (35).

One of the features of Daniel’s visions is their kaleidoscopic nature. You remember using a kaleidoscope, you look through and turn it and the images and patterns merge, blur and solidify before merging, blurring and solidifying again. That is what happens with Daniel’s visions they are about events in Israel’s future yet they also contain glimpse of the future far beyond, its seen most clearly in (36-45) as the detail of (1-35) gives way to something less defined. In fact Jesus picks up some of the language of Daniel 11 and uses it to talk about the time just before his return. The encouragement for us is that this kaleidoscopic vision of history is an encouragement for us too not just for Daniel and the Israelites.

God remains sovereign and continues to watch over his people. Nothing is outside of God’s control, he still causes the rising and falling of nations and powers, and he is still working out his purposes so that when he comes, when history is wrapped up his purpose will be complete.

But how do you face such times, how do you face persecution and even death? What difference is this chapter meant to make?

2. A people who know their God

Look at (32) that is what God is calling his people to be, who can stand in the face of such pressures and persecution? “those who know their God will firmly resist him…”  What does knowing God look like? Daniel and his friends have provided a vivid blueprint. Think back to ch1 what does knowing God lead them to do? “Resolved not to defile themselves”, what about in ch3 and 6? Refuse to bow down or stop praying. Why can they do that? Because they entrust themselves to the faithfulness and sovereignty of God.

How do they know God? They have read his word, that’s how they know what pleases God, that’s how they know how to react in each situation. They entrust themselves to God even while feeling the heat of the furnace or hearing the roaring of the lions because they know God has saved his people in the past and he is sovereign over everything. Daniel knows the end of the exile is near and what to pray for because he reads God’s word through Jeremiah.

How do we know God? It is no different, we have to read God’s word, we have to study it, to discuss it, to meet together to work out what it mean. It is written just like this chapter to teach us about God and how to live in the light of what we read. It is what will equip us to react in a godly way in every situation and give us confidence in God that will enable us to resist. 

But here is where I think we often have a problem. We live in the age of the instant don’t we? It is seen in our impatience with the world, we are so used to getting everything straight away that to wait for something is hard. That’s why traffic jams provoke such fury, why slow service is so annoying, why we get irritated if the parcel that should be here in 2 days is here in 3. We also get things easily don’t we, we don’t dig, plant, water, weed, and pick we walk into Asda and buy the strawberries.

We carry that ‘instant ease’ idea across into our thinking that’s why books that tell us shortcuts to success are so popular, even in Christian circles. That’s why maybe this morning you thought ‘yes here comes the 3 step answer to knowing God’ and then we see it is reading God’s word and there is that slight sag of our shoulders. But it takes so long and is so hard to do, why can’t it be like an instant download. You are not alone in that battle, so work with others, encourage one another, talk about it over lunch, ask questions. Why? Because knowing God matters because it enables us to resist, to live for him.

What does resistance look like? It looks like keeping God’s covenant, staying faithful to him no matter what we face. It looks like teaching others (33) how to do the same, it may even mean dying for your faith (35). That is how it looks then what about now? The opposition may be more subtle but it is no less real. We live in a world that calls us to worship things, or family, or sex, or career, or body image all of them idols. We live in a world that call us to compromise on our covenant with God made in Jesus blood to follow him, to worship him alone, where he provides our peace and confidence.

We live in a world that competes for our desires and those of our children in what we watch, what we listen to, what adverts we see. The battle of Daniel still rages, not above us but around us. The encouragement is that God is sovereign and he rules the call is to get to know the sovereign God who gives his son for us so that we can resist and live for God.

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