Gleanings from the Bible: Daniel

Daniel is rather like a “Boys Own” adventure. Lots of action and some weird encounters with dreams and angels.

The Date?

The action occurs during the Babylonian/Persian exile. Daniel was one of the first to be carried off from Judea. Many scholars have accepted that it was written about 160 years before Christ in the intertestamental period as an encouragement to the Jews who were at the time being overrun by Syria. Some of the driving force behind this argument is the disbelief that the book could tell the future in the way that it claims and therefore must have been written after the events. I can see that chapter 11 in particular seems to have more detail than is usual for an Old Testament prophecy but, without going into extensive detail, there are still convincing arguments for the earlier date, and there remain outstanding prophecies, which are still not explained away by a later date.

God’s Kingdom

Either way, the message is the same. God’s Kingdom is not only more powerful than any other kingdom, but it is eternal. And its subjects, who remain faithful, will eventually prevail. It is the message of not just Daniel but the whole Bible and we will see it again in Revelation, where God’s people are exhorted to persevere and receive the crown of life.

The evidence of the power of God’s Kingdom is in Daniel’s ability to explain the king’s dream when no one else could; the deliverance of Daniel’s friends unscathed from the furnace; Nebuchadnezzar reduced to madness because of his pride; Daniel’s survival from the lion’s den and the “writing on the wall” preceding the fall of Babylon. In each case the might of Babylon and Media Persia are seen to bend to the foreknowledge and power of Daniel’s God.

A Future for the Jews in Captivity

As well as the “Court Scenes” there are the interpretations of dreams and visions, which have to do with the future of the Jews, scattered by the Exile. In short they acknowledge Babylon, followed by Media Persia, followed by Greece, followed by Rome, during which time God’s Kingdom is established to go on to fill the earth and put an end to all the other kingdoms. The Roman Empire is not mentioned by name but seems to be an obvious conclusion in the dream of the statue (chapter 2) and the vision of the beasts (chapter 7). The angel’s explanation of the future of the Jews in terms of “weeks” (chapter 9) has led to a plethora of interpretations, one of which, by starting with Artaxerxes’ decree to Nehemiah and working with a 360-day year and accounting for leap years, arrives at a date close to Christ’s crucifixion for the establishment of God’s Kingdom. Whether we are meant to take the numbers quite so literally is open to debate but the fact of Christ establishing the Kingdom seems clear enough.

Tantalising Insights.

There are other interesting morsels in Daniel. For example, when the impressive looking man appears to Daniel by the Tigris, he says this…

“ …your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.  But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.  Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”  

This all seems to be going on in the spirit world where nations appear to have angels assigned to them and battles take place, with reference to (and contingent upon?) earthly goings on. This insight into the interaction between the heavens and the earth leaves us wanting to know more and seems to lend weight to the power of prayer. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s observation,

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  (Ephesians 6:12).

The Encouragement of Daniel

Whether you lived under the power of Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome or Syria, or indeed whether you live today under an oppressive regime, which seeks to suppress your Christian faith, the book of Daniel stands as an example of courage, integrity and faith in the face of powerful adverse forces. It says, “Despite your circumstances God is in control. It is he who moulds history and not Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander or Caesar. It is not the USA or Russia or China or North Korea or even powerful multinationals who will determine the future of the world — or your personal circumstances. If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, who has established God’s Kingdom through his life, death and resurrection, then you too shall rise for your reward at the end of days (12:13)”

Gleanings from the Bible: Joshua

Christians have drawn on military metaphors through the ages. Paul exhorts us to put on the “whole armour of God” and writes of the struggle against the “powers of this dark world” in Ephesians. Jesus promised persecution to his followers. Revelation graphically portrays spiritual war. And writers have penned such hymns as, “Onward Christian soldiers.” It would seem that, contrary to some teaching abroad in the world, the Christian life was not meant to be easy!

It is no surprise then, that Christians have often found personal spiritual challenge and encouragement in the words of the book of Joshua.

The Christian, fearfully embarking on a course that he or she knows to be right and ordained by God, has often read four times with renewed hope, “Be strong and very courageous” (1:6, 1:7, 1:9, 1:18) with the affirmation, “for Yahweh your God will be with you wherever you go.”

However, there is a condition to success before God and that is obedience to God’s law including his local, individual instructions to Joshua. Failure to obey incurs disaster and defeat at Ai and deception by the Gibeonites, where the writer notes, “but they did not inquire of Yahweh” (9:14).

The imperative to obey God also forms the challenge to Christian living as it did to those settling into the conquered Promised Land.

Joshua’s stirring words ring across the centuries…

 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” 24:14-15

Other Notes

Joshua is an anglicised form of the Hebrew word for “Saviour”. It is also translated into Greek as “Yesus,” from which we get, “Jesus.” So Jesus could have been known as Joshua Ben Joseph. As Galilee had a large number of Greek speakers and Greek being the universal language of its day, perhaps he was also referred to as Yesus? Anyway the point is that it is possible to make spiritual links between Joshua, the successor of Moses and Jesus, both delivering God’s people to the Land of “Rest,” the first physical, the latter spiritual.

Joshua had a “Moses Experience” (5:13-15) which is intended to confirm that the mantle of leadership had indeed passed to him.

Rahab is an example of one who threw in her lot with Israel and found mercy. It is notable that she becomes an ancestor of King David and Jesus Christ.

It was not wholly unusual for the Jordan to dry up, with land slippages blocking the river upstream. The account is couched to parallel the crossing of the Red Sea by Moses, and the timing is what gives it significance as an affirmation by God of his presence with them. The stopping of the Sun is understood literally by some (ie there were extra hours of daylight) and poetically by others (ie the sun remained cool enough for the battle to continue) though the writer certainly portrays the occurrence as well out of the ordinary and an intervention by God.