Guests: Brant Berglin and Mathilde Frey
Relevant Verses: Daniel 2, 3, 4, 6
Leading Question: Daniel lived a long time ago. What can he tell us about preparing for the End Time?
In Isaiah 44 to 48, the prophet mocks those foolish and stupid people who craft an idol with their own hands and then bow down to worship it. The sarcasm in 44:9-20 is particularly biting. But this mocking of dead idols contrasts with the heavenly court idea and the concept of national deities as discussed in the first lesson of the quarter. In that world, no one laughs at the other gods, for they are seen as alive and powerful. In some ways that ancient tension is like the modern one between predestinarians and those who advocate free will. One can make a strong biblical case for either by using passages of Scripture selectively.
After addressing the leading question, we must look at both sides of the book: first, as a source of moral examples, second as a source of prophetic proofs.
Question: What can Daniel tell us about preparing for the end of time? Does it have more to do with moral examples, or with prophetic proofs?
Daniel as Moral Example
If one looks at Daniel as a source of moral examples, here are the snapshots of chapters 2, 3, 4, and 6, the ones which are the focus of the lesson:
2. Daniel and the image: Faithful interpreter for Nebuchadnezzar
3. Daniel’s friends on the Plain of Dura: Obedience to God in spite of royal threats
4. Nebuchadnezzar’s loss of sanity and return
6. Daniel and lions: Faithful pray-er in spite of royal decree
Question: Can one find sufficient substance in those four snapshots to say that Daniel, his friends, and Nebuchadnezzar, show us how to face the end of tiime?
Daniel as Prediction and Proof
Speaking of Daniel 2, the official study guide declares that this chapter provides a “revelation” of “God’s foreknowledge” that “presents evidence for God’s existence.” While some may find that perspective helpful, several biblical examples can be cited that would diminish the effectiveness of that argument:
1. Jonah: Failed prediction, but successful prophecy (conditionalism). The book of Jonah provides a remarkable example of a failed prediction, but a successful prophecy.
With no ifs, ands, or buts, Jonah predicted the fall of Ninevah. But when the people repented, God repented and the prophecy was successful: “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity (KJV = “repented of the evil”) that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it” Jonah 3:10 (NRSV). Jonah was angry because he was much more eager to see a successful prediction than a successful prophecy. Remarkably if one uses the KJV as a reference, God repents more often in the Old Testament than anyone else.
2. David and Saul at Keilah (conditionalism). In 1 Samuel 23 we catch a glimpse of how ordinary human behavior can effect God’s intentions. David was on the run from Saul and ended up in Keilah, a small walled city down in Judah. Saul heard that he was there and set out to capture him. David asked the Lord: “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” The Lord said, “They will surrender you” (1 Samuel 23:12, NRSV). So David and his men left Keilah. Scripture reports the results: “When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition.” (1 Samuel 23:13, NRSV). In short in the course of ordinary events, human decisions can affect God’s plans.
3. Multiple applications (conditionalism). One intriguing feature of the “four kingdoms” presented in Daniel’s prophecies, is that nowhere in the book of Daniel is there a composite list of all four kingdoms. Daniel 2 identifies only Babylon as one of the four kingdoms. Daniel 7 identifies none of the four kingdoms by name. Daniel 8 identifies the Medo-Persia and Greece, but without correlating them with the other chapters. That allows real fluidity in interpretation. En route to the settled historicist interpretation of Babylon-Medo/Persia-Greece-Rome, other interpretations were accepted. The identity of the fourth kingdom of Daniel, for example, was most certainly identified as Greece, at least by some Jews, until the Romans came firmly on the scene.
In the Jewish apocalypse, IV Ezra (2 Esdras in the Protestant Apocrypha), written just before the end of the first century AD, the author includes a vision of an eagle. The interpretation of that eagle in IV Ezra is revealing for the history of the interpretation of Daniel’s fourth kingdom:
“This is the interpretation of this vision which you have seen: The eagle which you saw coming up from the sea is the fourth kingdom which appeared in a vision to your brother Daniel. But it was not explained to him as I now explain or have explained it to you (2 Esdras 12:10-12).
Commentaries are unanimous in agreeing that this passage signifies that the “old” interpretation was Greece, the “new” interpretation was Rome. Without these intervening applications leading to the ultimate application and the true “fulfillment” of the historicist pattern, the message would not have stayed alive. The historicist pattern is now fulfilled and remains in place. It is now a part of Christian and Adventist history.
But when we bring in Revelation, the picture becomes even more intriguing, for none of the beasts in Revelation are identified in the book itself. “Babylon” is a codeword for Rome. By describing Babylon, Revelation means to point the finger at Rome. Or, extending that principle to our day, we can point the finger at whatever “beastly power” is acting like Babylon. Such an approach can be called “applied historicism” (see Alden Thompson, Beyond Common Ground ([PPPA, 2009], 194-200). That makes both Daniel and Revelation very practical books: if the shoe fits, put it on. It doesn’t give us absolute certainty, but it encourages is to be always prepared for Jesus’ return wherever we might be and at any time.
Question: If we cannot identify each beast with finality, how does that affect the usefulness of these chapters for believers? Could Daniel be a blessing even if we had no history books to confirm the historical facts?