Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Daily Reading: Daniel 9 'Crossing the dismal swamp'

J A Montgomery described Daniel 9 v20-27 as “a Dismal Swamp” and it's easy to see why when you read it.  These are some of the most difficult verses you will find even before you start reading lots of different interpretations.  Does it apply to the period of Antiochus Epiphanies, or to the coming of Christ and then to the events of the end, or does it refer to the coming of Christ and events of AD70?  You can pick various commentators and each will argue for their preference.

I’ll give you mine and the reasons why.  Verse 20-23 tell us that the words given to Daniel are the result of Daniel’s prayer being heard, there must therefore be a connection with what Daniel has been praying for.  Daniel's prayer has been concerned with sin, with God’s people and God’s place – Jerusalem(v16).   It follows therefore that Gabriel's words are concerned with the same things. Verse 24 picks up on that concern “Seventy “sevens” are decreed for your people and your holy city”.  

“7s” – the ESV and TNIV translate it weeks, it is literally “heptads” – a group of seven. Though it is used to mean weeks elsewhere in OT.  Some take it as figuratively meaning years and then argue that the 7x7s are 49 years, 62x7s are 434 years which are the period of silence until the New Testament, the last 7 is Christ’s death and the events of 70AD when temple is destroyed.  But there is nothing in the passage to indicate it should be years, and no scheme fits totally. It also means elongating the last 7 to cover 37-ish years.  This passage is not concerned with chronology.  Apocalyptic literature functions to give hope for now and the future – not detailed chronology.

Chapters 8 and 10-12 concern the events surrounding Antiochus Epiphanes, so it would seem strange for this chapter to be unconcerned with them.  The seventy “sevens” are an overview before the next verses break that period up. They are decreed by God at the end of which six things will have happened each to do with Daniel's people, city and sin.  There will be three periods; 7x7s, 62x7s and final 7.  The first period is 7x7s between the word to rebuild and the coming of the anointed one.

But that raises another question(v25); what is the word that goes out and when is it? Is it Jeremiah's prophecy of rebuilding or fall of Jerusalem, is it of God’s word to Jeremiah, or the decree of Cyrus, Darius, or Artaxerxes, or the decree of Nehemiah 1? Or is it from this word given to Daniel?  We automatically think of anointed one being Jesus, but Cyrus is referred to as God’s anointed (Isaiah 45:1) priests are also anointed, as were kings – so it could also be Zerrubbabel or Joshua (Zech 4:14 – ‘sons of oil’).

And there is another question; is the anointed one in v25 the same as v26. Might it be better if we read it as “an anointed one”. It may be two people? Maybe Cyrus as anointed rebuilder and the high priest of the Antiochene era?

The 2nd Period is of 62x7s and is the period of rebuilding “in time of trouble” – probably during the time of Nehemiah.  (26)In the final 7 the anointed one will be put to death. Under Antiochus the High Priest was killed.  (26-7) Are reminiscent of Ch8 and events we saw there, but it also fits events of Christ and AD70.

My hunch is that there is an element whereby the 7x7s is time between this word to Daniel and the first anointed one is Cyrus, 62x7s are period of rebuilding which we can read something about in Nehemiah. And the final 7 is the time of Antiochus – when abominations happen as we saw in ch8.  But amidst all the complexities and difficulties we mustn't lose sight of the promise, that when all that is past God will put an end to sin.  We need to remember too that Apocalyptic scripture has duel focus. The chapter is allusive – it doesn’t seem to fit one set of events because I’m not sure it does. The answer to Daniel’s prayer is that Christ is coming to deal with sin but not until after the time of trouble he has been made aware of in chapter 8.  Gabriel is a link to Luke 2 and his words announcing and welcoming the coming of the one who will end sin. 

In all it's difficulties this is an answer to Daniel's prayer.  It is holding out hope to Daniel, God's people will return to Jerusalem as God promised and as Daniel has read in scripture.  But that return is not the answer to the problem of sin, yet God is sending the answer.  An answer we know, which we have believed in and we now wait as his people longing for and living in the light of the cross and the salvation won for us their and his return, which we wait for, look for and long for.

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