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Daniel 7-8

09.07.2010

Starting in chapter 7 of Daniel, we’re entering that second half I’ve been warned about, where things get wacky.  That’s definitely on display in this section.  I’m actually going to take them in reverse order in this post because I think the vision in chapter 8 thematically sets up well the questions I have about the vision in chapter 7.

8 | Daniel sees a ram (the Medo-Persians) dominated by a goat (the Alexander-led Greeks).  The goat’s horn (Alexander) is replaced by four smaller horns (the four kingdom’s that spun out of Alexander’s short-lived empire: Persia, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece).  The one rogue little horn is universally taken to represent Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a Hellenistic ruler over the exiled Jews who will persecute them in pursuit of cultural homogenization.

Daniel’s vision in here is often cited as evidence for claiming that the book of Daniel is not legitimate.  Unlike the complaints about Ezekiel 26 (that the prophecy about Tyre was inaccurate), Daniel 8 is criticized for being too accurate.*  The claim is that the prediction here is too spot on to have come from Daniel (the guy) at the attributed date.  Assuming that the book is legitimate, the prophetic visions display the omniscience that God has irrespective of time. 

7 | Prior to the ram-goat vision, Daniel had another vision about wild beasts representing various nations.**  Here, they represent (probably) Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.  The theme of this vision (and the element of it with which I take no issue) is that despite the uncertain times of upheaval in the world of Daniel’s day, God is in control.  All are ultimately accountable to Him, and His promises to His people still stand.

On a quick theological side note before delving into my questions, I see this as a demonstration to Daniel and the Jewish people of God’s expanded claim to be God over all people, all nations, all creation.  When reading MacCulloch and Michael 5000, I am intrigued by claims that Jewish tradition began with a claim that their national God was better than other national gods.  They see polytheism in the earlier OT scriptures. 

I suppose I do too, but not in an ‘Aha!  Gotcha!’ way.  When God revealed Himself to Abraham, He was choosing Abe’s people as His people.  He was establishing Himself as their God in the way that Baal and Dagon and Ashteroth and Molech were gods of the surrounding people.  If the Hebrews were immersed in a polytheistic world, of course they would interpret their exclusive relationship with God in that way.  That doesn’t surprise me.  In this interpretation, God gradually reveals over the next centuries as being the one true God, creator and Lord over all people, regardless of whom they worship. 

As Lewis notes, God has established a pattern of starting small and expanding to reveal His power and purpose.  I don’t see it as inconsistent that He would claim to be the personal God of Abraham, the national God of Israel, and ultimately the universal God over all creation.

Where I do have questions with Chapter 7, however, is again with this notion of how to read prophecy that hasn’t been established as history.  I can read Daniel 8 and say, ‘Wow.  That’s neat the way God showed Daniel how He would operate and then followed through.’  But when God shows Daniel (or Zeke or John, et al) how He will operate and has yet to follow through, I get very hesitant about tying that prophecy to physical reality that has yet to unfold. 

For example, many commentators consider the many horns on the fourth beast to be either the Roman Caesars or ten post-Roman kingdoms.  The one horn that goes rogue and defies Jesus is often taken to be the antichrist.  Ok…

What do we do with this?  How do we engage a passage like this at more than the platitude level (‘God is in control’) and see what God is revealing about Himself to us here?  If I were bolder, perhaps I could read that and say that Western civilization, essentually continuing the traditions and fundamental ideas of Rome, will produce the antichrist, which means that it won’t collapse in a clash of cultures but will remain dominant until Judgment Day.  I could do that, but then I will have wandered off into the fever swamps of Biblical interpretation and eschatology, disconnected from anything considered either relevant or orthodox. 

So I don’t read things that way.  I can’t assume that the world as I understand it (with Western civilization and post-Cold War culture clashes and the teetering Westphalian nation state legal infrastructure) contains the elements essential to understanding Biblical philosophy.  On the face of this coin is humility, but the reverse side reads, ‘cop out.’ 

————

*Talk about being damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

** He must have had some bad baba ganoush after visiting the zoo or something.

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