Through the Bible in Just Over a Year – Daniel
Once again, apologies for the sudden disappearance of this blog, but today we continue our jaunt right through the Bible in even more over a year with the somewhat strange book of Daniel. It’s a game of two halves really, and most of us seldom get past half-time.
In the first half is the well-known story of a young man and his friends who are exiled to Babylon with the other Israelites, but rather than being set to work with the navvies they are welcomed into the royal court and trained as civil servants. However jealousy causes some of the Babylonian courtiers to manipulate the king such that their continued devotion to their God will get them put to death. Twice there are miraculous escapes, once from lions and also from a furnace, and eventually king Nebuchadnezzar is humbled and broken by God until he comes to be a faithful believer. It’s a great story of the ultimate victory of God in the lives of those who stand firm for him, a story which is challenged in today’s world where we see Christians being killed for their faith in ever-increasing numbers.
But then it all goes funny, as we get our first taste of a new biblical genre: apocalyptic. The word refers to the drawing back of a curtain so that what is hidden may now be seen, hence the name of the book of Revelation, the most famous piece of apocalyptic literature, to which we shall come eventually. So what is apocalyptic, and how should we read it?
It is generally considered to be the next step on from the prophetic literature. The prophets believed in a day when God would come and right all the wrongs in the world, but when things got even worse a new belief arose, that things were past the pint of a mere tweaking, and that God was going to sweep everything away and start again. So apocalyptic literature talks about cosmic upheaval with stars and planets being destroyed, the moon turning to blood, earthquakes, floods and the like, before God recreated the world, hoping that things would be better at the second attempt. And because apocalyptic usually comes out of a period of persecution, it is written in a kind of code, with symbolic images, numbers and so on meant only to be accessible to those in the know.
Now obviously if I, John of Upminster, wrote such a book, people would quite rightly ask who the heck I was and why on earth anyone should listen to me. So if I wanted to get my work out there I would choose a nom-de-plume with a bit more credibility, Hugh of Lincoln, for example. And then, writing in St Hugh’s name, I would ‘predict’ all sorts of stuff yet to come, like two world wars, Margaret Thatcher, the banking crisis and Caroline Flack’s victory in Strictly Come Dancing. By now people are hooked by ‘Hugh’s’ tremendous prophetic gifting, and so they would believe anything he said about the real future without a second thought. Apocalyptic literature is therefore pretty easy to date, because it suddenly becomes vague. Look at the change between chapters 11 and 12: there are very detailed accounts of exactly what the ‘king who exalts himself’ is up to, but suddenly in the next chapter there will merely be ‘a time of distress’. Historians can work out with come certainty (although always with scholarly debate) who this king was, and so date the work at the point at which the detail disappears.
So my view is that Daniel was a real guy, from the exile, to whose wonderful story some apocalyptic was attached to give it credibility. We’ll be looking at more apocalyptic material as we go on, so I won’t say more here, but the fundamental message is that God is ultimately in control, no matter how much the evil rulers try to thwart his purposes. So stand firm, hang on in there, as Daniel did, refuse to compromise, and wait for the salvation of the Lord.