Advent Hope (Daniel 7)

the_vision_of_prophet__daniel_by_logiconI grew up in a home that strived for fairness – fairness of time watching TV, fairness of the number of presents received on Xmas, fairness of how many French fries were on each plate. Now that I have kids of my own, I am questioning whether or not this is something I want to emphasize w/ my kids. At suppertime at our house we require the older kids to help get ready, by setting the table and, afterwards to help clean up. Inevitably we hear the lament that Silas, the 2 year old, does not have to do chores. It is not fair they say -and to them, they are right. Other times, I require all the kids of the house to clean up the mess of toys on the floor. Inevitably one child complains that they did not make the mess and therefore should not clean it up. It is not fair they say -and they are right. Fairness is something that we all want in our lives, and something most of us think our kids should learn. Fairness can mean many things, including taking turns, sharing with others, playing within the rules, listening to others and seeing the many sides of one issue.[1] But if these are things we should teach our kids, then we should ask if these are these things that govern our lives as grown ups. Do we take turns as we cross the border or navigate our way through Cosco? Are we ready to share our communities to those from war torn countries? Do we take the time to listen to other political perspectives, as we get ready for national elections? We have nuanced answers to all these questions, but in practice we are often not as fair as we could be, or require our kids to be.

 

This reminds me of the story I heard of a teacher trying to placate an angry parent after a field trip to the local swimming pool. The parent believed his child’s towel was 
stolen during the field trip. The parent yelled at the teacher, saying: What kind of 
juvenile delinquents are in class with my child?! The teacher said: I am sure the towel was taken accidentally. What does it look like? The angry dad replied: Its white, and it says Holiday Inn on it.[2] So, is it good to teach fairness to kids, when fairness does not govern our lives. I think so, and as I do it, it calls attention to my own shortcomings and injustices. But that teaching does not mean the world is a fair place. And that is the problem we face. The reality we live in and navigate is that the world is not right – tragedies happen to good people, honest people are taken advantage of, economic systems are in place that exploit the poor and defenseless. The world is not fair. And with this reality we enter into the Advent season again.

 

Advent is a season on the church calendar, which focuses on the coming of the messiah. It is a season of expectation. It is a season of great tradition and symbolism. This year I want to consider that expectation, and look at the latter half of the book of Daniel. Why Daniel? The book relates the episodes and visions of Daniel, a believer trying to remain faithful while living in a foreign land hostile to his faith.[3] Daniel is a book that was written to encourage those living under oppression and fear. It is a book that addresses the reality that the world is not fair. It is a book that holds, in one hand, that the world is not right, and while in the other hand holds the conviction that God, the creator, is present and active in that world. This Christian conviction is summed up in one prophetic word: Immanuel, God with us.[4] It declares that the world is not right, but more importantly declares that God is w/ us in it. And in the latter half of Daniel, we see the results of Gods actions. So this Advent we look forward to His coming, and we ask: Why is His coming good news?

 

Text

And today we will look at Daniel 7. Daniel is the only Apocalyptic book in the OT. Apocalyptic literature is a genre of ancient writing where a writer portrays a vision of Gods future so that people may find comfort hope.[5] And that is what we see in Daniel. It’s a highly symbolic writing style that portrays 2 forces or dominions fighting for supremacy: The kingdom of God and the kingdom of evil. Apocalyptic writings perceive people as victims of violence and oppression, and reveal how Gods intervention brings freedom and peace.[6]

 

Daniel 7 is the 1st of 4 visions given in the book. And, outline of Daniel 7 could look like this:

  1. 1-8: The Condition/Problem
  2. 9-14: The Resolution
  3. 15-28: The Explanation

1st lets look at v. 1-8. As we read this, ask yourself: Why is the coming of the Messiah good news in this context?

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream. 2 Daniel said: In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. 3 Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. 4 The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it. 5 And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told: Get up and eat your fill of flesh! 6 After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. 7 After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast -terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. 8 While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.

In v. 1-8 we see the condition, or problem. It’s a scene of a great and stormy sea, w/ 4 beasts coming out of the sea. The sea in this context and many others represents chaos. These great powers emerge from the chaos of the world. This will be explained in a moment, but these strange beasts represent 4 kingdoms in history. It’s a scene of powers overturning powers. It’s a scene of conquering and oppression, of power and violence. And it is given to Daniel in a time of exile, when his own people were under oppression, having been conquered themselves. This was their condition. This was their problem. They are a people in despair, but hope is on the doorstep and the vision continues.

 

Look at v. 9-14 w/ me, where we see the resolution to the problem

9 As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. 11 Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.) 13 In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

In v. 9-14 we see the resolution to the condition of the world. After seeing the nations fight for power, oppressing the nations, the scene expands and we see the Ancient of Days, God Himself, being seated surrounded by His glory, power emanating out. The beast w/ the little horn, who was so mighty previously, is yapping before God. The books are opened, justice is served, and the beast is slain, never to be seen again. The son of man is lead into the ancient ones presence, given authority over all nations, ruling an eternal and indestructible kingdom. This new king does not come from the abyss below, where the chaos of human power resides, but rather comes from above, with the clouds of heaven. He does not have a beastly appearance, which symbolizes fierce violence, but rather has a friendly face, like a human being.[7]

 

All this confuses Daniel, and so in v. 15-28 an explanation is given.

15 I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this. So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever -yes, for ever and ever. 19 Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws -the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. 20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell -the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom. 23 He gave me this explanation: The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time. 26 But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. 27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him. 28 This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.

In v. 15-28, we receive the visions explanation. Many details are explained. And the angel explains that those who are faithful to the end will receive a kingdom that cannot be destroyed precisely because they are bearers of the dominion of God. Judgment will be passed, authority stripped of the beast, and sovereignty given to the holy one, the son of man. As Bernhard Anderson, an OT scholar says: All this means, in apocalyptic terms, that if there is hope for the future, then it must be grounded in the mystery of Gods kingdom. Liberation comes from beyond this world, from above, not from below. In other words, the victory over tyrannical evil cannot come from any source within the ways of the world. Victory does not come from exerting power, or education, technology, social planning, or social revolution. Victory comes from the seat of God[8]

 

How do you suppose this would have sounded to the Jewish community in exile? Or those living under foreign occupation? Daniels vision displays chaos and injustice, but resolves in peace brought by the power of a good and powerful God, and that’s the good news. The good news is that when God is enthroned evil is displaced. When God is enthroned evil is displaced.

 

Today

We live in world that is not fair. We do not have to look far to see inequality. We do not have to look far to see power and violence and oppression. The world is not right. We long for things to made right in our lives, in the relationships around us, and in our world. Advent is a season of expectation, and we are a people waiting, waiting for the Son of Mans return. And so in Advent we ask: Why is His coming good news? The answer seen in Daniel 7, is that His coming is good news b/c He brings justice against terror, and as we wait He brings hope in this truth. When God is enthroned evil is displaced. We know that things will be made right in the midst of chaos, giving us hope today.

 

So what shall we do? What shall we do in the face of injustice, and the chaos around us? Cling to hope. Hope is powerful in the face of chaos and despair. There’s a true story of a school systems program to help children keep up with their schoolwork during stays in the city’s hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the program that served these kids in the hospital received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child’s name and room number and talked briefly with the child’s regular class teacher. The regular teacher said: We are studying nouns and adverbs in his class now, and I would be grateful if you could help him understand them so he does not fall too far behind. The hospital program teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him: I have been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs. When she left she felt she had not accomplished much.  But the next day, a nurse asked her: What did you do to that boy? The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. No, no, said the nurse: You don’t know what I mean. We have been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He is fighting back, responding to treatment. It is as though he has decided to live. Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until that teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: They would not send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?[9] Hope is powerful.

 

So what shall we do? What shall we do in the face of injustice, and the chaos around us? Like this boy, cling to hope. Specifically, cling to His hope. His hope is powerful, rooted in His sovereignty. And may we rest in the reality that when God is enthroned evil is displaced.

 

Amen.

 

[1]http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/teaching_fairness_to_preschoolers_is_one_more_way_to_build_character

[2] http://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/funny-teacher-stories/3/

[3] Encountering the Old Testament, by Bill Arnold (1999), p. 428

[4] Contours of old testament theology. By Bernhard Anderson. 1999. P. 302

[5] Ibid, 302-303.

[6] Ibid, 304-306.

[7] Ibid, 309-311.

[8] Ibid, 309-311.

[9] http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/h/hope.htm

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