Monday, 12 October 2015

Daily Reading: Daniel 8 ' A bleak future for the kingdom'

If chapter 7 is an overview of the whole of history calling on us to recognise the sovereignty of God, the cosmic battle we are engaged in and reassuring us that we will share in the victory of Christ when he brings about God’s kingdom. Then chapter 8 narrows down and zooms in to focus on specific events in a specific time frame. But more than that this chapter is concerned with God’s people.

1. God’s people are his treasured possession

Daniel is written in two languages, Hebrew and Aramaic. Chapter 1 is in Hebrew then ch2-7 are in Aramaic before it switches back to Hebrew at the start of chapter 8. Why does this matter? Because I think it gives us a helpful hint about this chapter, chapter 2-7 are in the international language of the day so that all people in the Babylonian empire will grasp what Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius are meant to learn about God:

“For he is the living God
and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
his dominion will never end.”
He rescues and he saves;
he performs signs and wonders
in the heaven and on the earth.”
Daniel 6:26-27

Chapter 8 changes to Hebrew because it specifically concerns God’s chosen people, Israel, and his concern for his treasured possession.  I just want to unpack this vision before we look at what it has to say to us. There are three main characters in the vision:

a. (1-4) The ram with two horns, (20) tell us that this is the empire of the Medes and Persians and the horns are its two kings. Remember Daniel is still serving Belshazzar at this time, this is before the events of chapter 5, Babylon still stands, it is a time of instability and uncertainty and Daniel is told that Babylon will fall, and that even its successor the empire of the Medes and Persians will not last.

b. The shaggy goat (5-8) appears from nowhere and destroys the ram, but its king gives way to 4 horns, then from one of these comes another horn (9-12) which sets itself against God and attacks his people.  (21) Tells us that this shaggy goat is Greece, and the horn is the first king who we now know was Alexander the Great. Daniels vision concerns events in the distant future and the vision is startlingly accurate. The Greek empire under Alexander swept to power, and devastated the Medo-Persian Empire in 334 and 331 BC. And after Alexander the empire he had built was divided up into four regions with four rulers. 

c. the little horn. I guess most of us have heard of Alexander the Great, he is one of the pivotal figures in history, a tactical genius and a great leader. But do you notice how much attention is paid to him here? The focus is not on Alexander. The history books may focus on him but this chapter doesn’t. What is God’s focus on?   The focus is on the little horn, Alexander gets 3 mentions whereas the little horn is focus of the majority of the chapter, why? Look at (9) “Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and to the beautiful land.” 

Why is the little horn the focus? Because this is the history of God’s promises and the little horn stands in opposition to them. Because God’s concern is with his people in his place, the beautiful land.  (10) The “starry hosts” who are attacked are God’s people. Remember back to God’s promise to Abraham “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them… so shall your offspring be.” (24) This king will persecute God’s people and desecrate God’s place.

In 175BC, this king came to power. He called himself ‘Theos Antiochus Epiphanes’ which means the ‘illustrious God’. He took Jerusalem, replaced the high priest and when the Jews rebelled he savaged Jerusalem killing tens of thousands, and taking others into captivity. And as if that wasn’t enough he entered the holy of holies and sacrificed a pig on the altar of burnt offering and defiled the temple. In 168 AD he returned again killing 20,000 as they worshipped on the Sabbath, put a statue of Zeus in the temple and made human sacrifices on the altar.

Do you see why Antiochus Epiphanes is the focus? Because God’s people matter to him, they are his treasured possession. That’s why Daniel is given this vision so that they will not despair when this happens. So that they will know God’s hand has not slipped, that God still has plans for them.  (27) What is Daniel’s reaction to this vision? “I was appalled by the vision…” Even though it is 400 years in the future Daniel is bothered, he is bothered because he shares God’s concern for his people for his kingdom. Because he shares God’s concern for God’s glory seen in his people.

If Daniel’s vision in chapter 8 was true then we can trust the vision of chapter 7, of ongoing conflict between God’s kingdom and people and those of the world. Do we share Daniel’s concern for God’s people? Do we share Daniel’s concern? Or am I too busy being concerned with my little patch?  It is easy to be concerned with what we are involved in, but Daniel 7 and 8 calls us to a kingdom concern. Am I bothered about God’s people in Iraq, or Pakistan? How about closer to home? Will I rejoice with other churches in Doncaster as they grow, and more people come into God’s kingdom or am I tempted to wish it was us? Church planting is not about competition it is about seeing God’s kingdom grow.

God is concerned for his treasured possession, for his kingdom, we are to share that concern.

2. To oppose God’s people is to oppose God.

The vision that Daniel sees is bleak, there seems to be little hope but he is sent an interpreter (16) so that he understands. It’s worth noting he is not given understanding of everything, but he is to understand the nature of the conflict.  “the vision concerns the appointed time of the end” Now in the New Testament that would mean the second coming, but not here, here it refers to the conclusion of the matter, to the end of the oppression of God’s people. Daniel is to understand that this opposition to God is limited, that as this king reigns he opposes God himself as he opposes God’s people and his purpose.  And as chapter 7 showed us across the whole of history that can only have one outcome, “he will be destroyed, but not by human power.”

To oppose God’s people is to oppose the sovereign God and it leads to destruction. This little horn is a picture of unrestrained opposition to God, what the bible calls sin. Sin is always opposition to God and it always ends in judgement. And Antiochus was struck down just as (25) says, he died suddenly of a mysterious and painful disease.  I guess that all seems far away and long ago, its ok for the historians but what about for us?

Do you trust the Bible? Not do you think it is accurate, but do you trust it? How do you know whether you trust something? You trust something if you set your living by it? Does what it tells you, what it promises, affect the actions and decisions you make? That’s how you know you trust the Bible.  If chapter 8 was true then I can trust chapter 7, I am part of a battle between the kingdom of God and the world, I am to expect opposition but to remember that in Christ the victory is already won. It is to affect the way we live. It means that hostility will not take us by surprise, it means that people refusing the gospel will not shock us because it is part of the battle we are engaged in, it means that we live building God’s kingdom now as we go into the office, or staff room or playground.

It is an encouragement to us because God cares for his people. Right from the moment of the fall in the Garden of Eden God has been working to bring people back to him, to create a people for himself, who know him and who are his people in his place living under his rule. He does it supremely in his son who dies in our place so that the penalty for our opposition to God is paid and God’s justice is upheld. As we face battles and struggles this week God knows and he cares for his people.  But that is also a challenge to us, do I share that concern for his kingdom and for his people? Maybe this week you want to widen your horizon when it comes to God’s kingdom. This weeks prayers in your bulletin are for God’s people as they suffer for God’s kingdom around the world – why not use it. Do you want to know what to pray – well why not take the phrase from the Lord’s prayer “Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, your will be done” and use that as you pray for them.

Lastly it tells us that opposition to God’s people is opposition to God himself. As we face opposition it is not opposition to us it is opposition to God.

Daniel 8 reminds us that God’s word is true, that his people are loved and that God deals with those who oppose him. Fix those truths in your mind this morning as you ready yourself for another week.

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