IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




In Tragic Times

Date: Oct. 15, 2017

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Daniel 8:1-27

Key Verse: Daniel 8:16

“And I heard a man’s voice from the Ulai calling, ‘Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.’”

Welcome back to the book of Daniel. Last week, was a turning point in the book. The first six chapters are a narrative of Daniel and his friends’ lives in captivity in Babylon. Starting in chapter 7, the book shifts to become a series of visions that Daniel receives. Last week, we had that first vision. In that vision, Daniel saw four beasts coming out of the water that represented four kingdoms that would rise and rule. Each beast was more and more horrible than the last and it culminated in a terrifying beast that defied description that had iron teeth and bronze claws. From that beast would arise a boastful horn that would try to oppress the truth and destroy those who believe in God. In that vision, Daniel also saw Jesus, the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. In all that darkness, there was hope in the victory that Jesus would bring.

In this chapter, Daniel has another vision, and, this time, there is a whole lot more detail in what is going on. Our passage starts out, “In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after the one that had already appeared to me.” (1) The vision in this passage takes place about two years after the last vision in Belshazzar’s third year as king. This would put it around 550 BC or about 11 years before the Belshazzar’s death and the Persian conquest of Babylon. This was also the time when Cyrus established the Medo-Persian Empire. The whole world was wondering what Cyrus would do and God gave Daniel this vision to show him what would happen. Daniel would have been around 70 years old at the time of this vision. As Daniel notes, this is the second vision he received.

Daniel begins to describe the vision, “In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam; in the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal.” (2) In the vision, Daniel found himself in the citadel of Susa. This could mean that Daniel was in Babylon, but the vision took him to Susa which was over two hundred miles away. Susa was the capital of the province of Elam and was the home of Esther and Nehemiah. Daniel probably went there many times for official business. The Ulai Canal was a canal that was about 900 feet or three football fields wide. It passed close to Susa on the northeast.

Daniel’s vision had three parts concerning three different time periods. The first part reads, “I looked up, and there before me was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal, and the horns were long. One of the horns was longer than the other but grew up later. I watched the ram as it charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against it, and none could rescue from its power. It did as it pleased and became great.” (3-4) This first part is about a ram. Now a ram is a male sheep that has not been castrated. They typically have a pair of curled horns on their head. Later, it is revealed that the ram is the Medo-Persian Empire (20). This would be a fitting symbol for the empire since the Persian ruler carried the gold head of a ram when leading the army. The ram described here is interesting in that the two horns are not of equal length. One was larger than the other, but the other one grew up later. This is symbolic of the fact that Media was initially more important and larger than Persia, but later in the empire, Persia would gain prominence. Remember, at this time the empire was just barely established, but here the ram charges to the west and the north and the south, which is where the Babylonian Empire existed. The Medo-Persians would come and no one would be able to stop them. They conquered who they pleased and there would be no escape. The Medo-Persian Empire would conquer Babylon, Syria, Asia Minor, Armenia the region around the Caspian, Egypt and Ethiopia. It would become the largest empire to exist by that time. No other empire was that large up to that point.

The second part of the vision reads, “As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between its eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. It came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at it in great rage. I saw it attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering its two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against it; the goat knocked it to the ground and trampled on it, and none could rescue the ram from its power. The goat became very great, but at the height of its power the large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven.” (5-8) This second animal is a goat which is later revealed to be Greece (21). The goat starts off with one prominent horn, which is its first king. This king is Alexander the Great. Alexander was born in 356 BC in Macedonia to Philip of Macedon. Philip had united Greece and Macedonia and Alexander succeeded him when he was twenty in the year 336 BC. A year and a half later, Alexander would begin his attack on Persia. For years, Persia had attacked Greece, but it had never conquered the nation. Under Alexander, Greece would become the aggressor. In just three years after the start of the campaign, Alexander had conquered all the Near East and Persia was completely defeated. In the year 331 BC, after 219 years, the Persian Empire was no more. The swiftness of Alexander’s conquest is noted in the vision as the goat crossed the whole earth without touching the ground. Alexander’s empire covered an area of 1.5 million square miles. To put that into context the United States is 3.8 million square miles. India is the closest modern country in size with 1.3 million square miles.

As the passage says, at the height of his power, Alexander died. On his way back to Babylon, on June 13, 323 BC, at the age of 32, Alexander died after contracting a severe fever from possibly malaria. He had conquered the whole known world by the age of 25, and died just 7 years later. Through this conquest, Alexander had spread the Greek culture and language throughout the world and set the stage for a common language to exist. A language that the gospel and New Testament would be written in. When Alexander died, he had two sons, but even though they were young, they were murdered. They would have been far too young to rule, but no one wanted them to come of age and take over. Instead there was a period of infighting in the Greek Empire and eventually four of the military leaders would rise to power, effectively dividing the kingdom into four pieced, as noted in the vision.

Which brings us to the third part of the vision. In the third part, we see the focus of the vision. It says, “Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land. It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and his sanctuary was thrown down. Because of rebellion, the Lord’s people and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.” (9-12) The third part of the vision is the most horrible part. On the goat, there was a horn that started small, but grew large. This horn is strongly believed to be the eighth rule of the Seleucid Greek Empire Antiochus IV Epiphanes who ruled from 175 – 163 BC. As noted in the explanation of the vision, this horn would be a master of intrigue. Antiochus was not the rightful ruler of the empire, but gained power through bribery and flattery. Antiochus gained more power by expanding the empire into Egypt in the south and Persia, Parthia and Armenia in the east. He also had a sharp focus on the Holy Land, and his significance in the vision is due to the fact that Antiochus was determined to destroy the Jews and their faith.

The empire grew until it reached the host of the heavens, which is a phrase meaning people who believe and follow God. Antiochus persecuted and destroyed the people and this time is considered to be the darkest time in Jewish history until the Holocaust. Antiochus was very proud and he named himself “Epiphanes”, which means “God manifest”. He thought of himself as God and named himself similarly to the Christ who would be called “Immanuel”, which means “God with us”. In December 167 BC, Antiochus would truly set himself against God by erecting and altar to Zeus in the temple and sacrificing pigs on the altar. With that act, he suspended the offering of the Lord. This atrocity would continue until around the time of Antiochus’ death in 163 BC.

Then the last bit of the vision gives a bit of a timetable for these events. “Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, ‘How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the Lord’s people?’ He said to me, ‘It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.’” (13-14) The vision had a timetable. The whole horrible period would last 2,300 mornings and evenings. This refers to the number of sacrifices that were missed because of the temples desecration. There were to be two sacrifices a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. So, the number of days this refers to is 1,150 days, which comes out to being a little over three years, and that matches very well to the timetable of Antiochus’ decree forbidding worship to God. It was during this act that what would become Hanukkah would happen. Antiochus had his army try to destroy Jerusalem, but the Jews outlasted him and won. This happened while he was in the east, in Persia. He died after he received word of his defeat due to accident or illness, which is not by human hands.

When Daniel saw the vision and heard its interpretation, he became physically shaken and appalled by it. He was bed-ridden for days. The vision concerned things that wouldn’t occur for hundreds of years, but they upset Daniel so much because of their implications. God’s people were nearly snuffed out. Their light was almost extinguished at the hands of Antiochus. The terrible acts that he performed actually echo what happened during the Holocaust, two thousand years later. In the Holocaust, six million Jews were executed. With Antiochus, the death toll was smaller. In the course of three days eighty thousand were lost, with forty thousand brutally killed and the same number sold into slavery. If Antiochus succeeded in wiping out the Jewish religion at this time, then there would be no way for the Christ to come and God’s plan of salvation would be lost. The scale of it all is what troubled Daniel. Even though the Jews were in exile at the time, they were in relative peace, but in the time of the vision, there would be great upheaval. It would be a tragedy.

There was another time in Jewish history that the number of believers seemed to dwindle to nothing. During the time of the prophet Elijah, the worship of Baal led by Ahab king of Israel was prominent. Elijah challenged Ahab to a God-off to see who was the one-true-God. The prophets of Baal and Elijah would prepare an offering, but not set fire to it, and whichever God was real, would light the offering on fire. The prophets of Baal tried to get Baal’s attention all day long, but nothing happened. Elijah, then, prayed to God and a column of fire licked everything up. After that victory, Elijah ran away scared. He thought he was the only believer because it looked to bleak. Elijah wanted to die, but instead God told him that the time of Ahab would come to an end and he wasn’t alone, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18) In the times of tragedy there is always hope.

During Daniel’s vision, there is a strange spot in the middle right after the vision and right before its explanation. “While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man. And I heard a man’s voice from the Ulai calling, ‘Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.’” (15-16) Right in the vision there was someone who looked like a man and he told the angel Gabriel to explain things to Daniel. This was someone who was in charge, and based on Daniel’s reaction. I think I know who it is. “As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. ‘Son of man,’ he said to me, ‘understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.’” (17) Daniel was terrified. He had seen the angel Gabriel once before and, at that time, he was not terrified. However, this time he was. The difference is the man who ordered Gabriel to explain the vision to Daniel. Daniel’s reaction is the type of reverent fear that is reserved for God. The man in the vision is probably a preincarnate Jesus and when he referred to Daniel, Daniel was terrified of his holiness and fell down. Not unlike how the soldiers who tried to arrest Jesus fell down when he asked them who they had come capture. What is interesting is not Daniel’s reaction, but the man’s disposition. The vision was a terrible vision that implied the killing of many believers and the possible extinction of the Jewish faith, but the man calmly tells Gabriel to interpret the vision to Daniel. The man was not shaken in the least despite the horrible nature of the vision. This is a testament that God cannot be surprised and that he is in control of everything.

Tragedy is something that seems to be becoming commonplace in our society, especially since September 11, 2001. Nearly 3000 people died in the terrorist attacks that day. I was a student, right here at Illinois Tech. I heard something about a plane striking the World Trade Center in one class, but didn’t think much of it. After that class, I went to another in the auditorium of E1, and on the screen in the room was video of the crash, and while in the room, on that screen, I saw the towers fall to the ground. I was sick to my stomach and it troubled me. It was a tragedy that rocked our nation. After that, came Hurricane Katrina with hit New Orleans in 2005, one of the worst national disasters to hit the nation. Just this year, we have seen Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria devastate this nation, wildfires rage uncontrollably out west and a lone shooter kill 59 people and injure over five hundred in Las Vegas. It seems like a banner year for tragedy and we can wonder what is going on. The island of Puerto Rico is still mostly without power weeks after Maria went through. There is so much suffering going on right now. Then there are the things that are closer to home. In Chicago, for 2017 so far, over 3000 people have been shot and 562 homicides have happened. Then, there are the personal tragedies and struggles that each of us face. There are some that might face massive failure, which could mean being expelled from school or loss of a job. There are some dealing with the torments of the past and others who are dealing with having their hearts broken by family.

In the midst of such things, we can wonder what to do or why it is happening. Why did God let this happen? It is the question that non-believers love to dangle before believers. Why is there evil if God is all-powerful and good? Either he is good but can do nothing about evil or he can do something about evil but chooses not to, which means God is not good. It is a hard thought to have. Recently, my daughter told a lie in school to her teacher. Her class was talking about families and her teacher asked if there were any students with divorced parents and she raised her hand. Now, she might have just not understood what was going on, but she also had this elaborate story about alternating weekends between parents. Viola and I were just dumbfounded by it all. We wondered how could we have raised someone who could lie like that. Honestly, it is not a great tragedy and we might laugh about it later, but it hurt us to the core. We punished her but we really don’t know how to deal with it.

The same goes for any tragedy no matter how great or small. How do we deal with it as Christians? How do we handle the emotion and reality in light of who God is? We shouldn’t minimize tragedy by saying platitudes. If we gloss over the hardships, we will ignore God’s power and make him cold and callous. God does not create tragedies. God is not in the business of making people suffer. The evil in this world and the suffering that people endure are the product of God’s perfection being broken by the power of sin. Tragedy is not necessarily the direct product of sin. Bad things aren’t happening because you sinned, although that is sometimes true, but sin, in general, affects and infects the world around us, twisting it and contorting it, bringing in death and destruction. But, God is a master of taking the bad and using it for good. A common thread in many tragedies is that, after them, people tend to seek God. In hard times, people realize their need for God more than any other time. We set aside our petty differences and begin to focus on what really matters. God knows that and many times, he allows these tragedies to bring people back to him.

Many times, in the Bible, God shows his people the suffering that is going to happen. He gives them foreknowledge to let them know that he is God. Jesus even told his disciples about arrest and death, but he said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus has overcome the world. We will have trouble, but that trouble is not the end of everything. God is good and everything he has in store for us is good, but that does not mean it is painless. The Bible describes being purified is like gold being refined by fire. That refinement is not pleasant, but it is good. The Bible says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) God is good and it is important to always hold on to that when going through tragedy. He trying to get our attention and draw us closer to him. He pokes at us and allows us to be hurt so that we can know how much we need him.

I was reading an article that was written in 2001 that dealt with how we should deal with tragedy. It said that we should respond with being angry toward sin. Sin is the ultimate source of tragedy in a broken world and we should be angry about it, but we also need to be humble toward God. We might not see everything that is going on and miss the big picture. We have to trust in the greater God and praise him for his good. We need to pray for those affected by the tragedies and be able to share Jesus to anyone who needs it. The greatest example of God using tragedy is the gospel itself. It is a tragedy that Jesus died, but God used that death to bring about the salvation of the whole world. We call the day of his death Good Friday, not because of the death of Jesus but because of the death of death. Daniel saw a horrible vision, in which his people would be nearly wiped out, but God was still in charge. Antiochus would die, not by human hands, but God would remain forever. In all of our tragedies, we must remember our God and know his goodness. We should put our focus on him, no matter how we are feeling at the moment. When we look at ourselves, we despair, but when we look at God, we see our comforter and redeemer. We see him who went a greater tragedy than any of us could imagine, but was victorious.

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Luke 2:21-40

Key Verse: 2: 2

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How is the word to be read and heard in order to become effective for salvation?

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