When King Jesus Reigns: “They will pick up snakes”

This second Sunday of Advent, one of the readings was Isaiah 11.1-10 (and the one from which I preached):

11 “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.” (NIV 2011, emphasis added)

In the reign of King Jesus, the promised “shoot” from the “stump of Jesse” and the “root of Jesse”, there would be a full undoing of the present order of existence: injustice and violence as normal parts of life.

The Spirit endowed King would cause even the animal kingdom to align with his reign of life and righteousness over the whole earth. The serpents become not even an enemy whose head would be crushed (see Gen. 3.15) and who would bruise the heel of the ‘seed’ of woman. Instead, the serpent and child live as friends. Seeming eternal enemies playing together. What a strange world indeed! The very image of the toddler with serpent strikes fear into my heart!

snake-and-baby

And the fear I felt sent my thoughts rushing to Mark 16.18* which reports the words of Jesus concerning those whom he was sending out into the world as witnesses of the good news of his reign: “they will pick of up snakes with their hands” without being harmed.

The Messianic Age imagined by the prophet Isaiah appears to be taken up by Mark as the reality of the apostolic witnesses! The King enthroned signaled the end of injustice and violence (even that which was considered “normal” to the order of life as experienced)…the end of the dangers of this age. It was the dawning of a new day…indeed a new creation order! The end was not yet, but was already witnessed in the undoing of injustice and violence at the hands of the apostles, in the undoing of the animosity of serpent and ‘seed’.

King Jesus ascended. His reign commenced. His servants gathered to his banner. He would come again and all of creation would be set to rights. Until that day, the citizens of his kingdom would go out and “pick up snakes with their hands”** as testimony to his soon coming.

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* Despite the later addition of the long ending of Mark this text still offers an intriguing literary and theological intersection with the Isaiah 11 passage.

** I am not here advocating for “snake-handling” as certain within the Pentecostal traditions. In other words, DON’T PICK UP SNAKES! Those who have made this a practice are regularly harmed (and many have died, including the founder of this movement: George Hensley) by doing such. Their experiences actually reveal that the kingdom is not witnessed among them, but offers a deeper understanding of the remaking of creation. I am advocating for the working in light of the reigning King as those who live between worlds and testify to a new heavens and new earth even as we bear the cruciform marks of our Lord Jesus in this world of sin and sorrow.

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Greek Manuscripts, Mark 1 and Nomina Sacra

Teaching the NT in Two Weeks (for 7th Graders)

The New Covenant: The Life of Christ (Matthew-John)

The One Who Comes – The path of the LORD was prepared by the coming of John the Baptizer.  Jesus of Nazareth was born to fulfill the word of the LORD and as such was actually the Word himself.  When John baptized Jesus the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and the Father spoke His blessing from heaven.  (Luke 2:67-79; 3:21-22) DOVE   
The Message – Jesus message was that the kingdom of God was near: the sick were healed, people bothered by demons were set free and those who knew they were sinners could be forgiven.  He not only preached this message, but had lived in the power of the message by his victories over the temptations of the devil.  The message required that anyone who was going to be a part of God’s kingdom must obey God’s word and therefore trust in Jesus.  (Mark 1:12-15; John 5:24)  BROKEN-CHAIN
The Messengers – Jesus specifically chose twelve men to deliver his message to Israel (and later to the world).  One of them he knew would betray him and the others he knew would abandon him at his final hour, but he still chose all of them.  They were to pass on all that Jesus did and said, and to do this in the power of the Spirit.  Others would also share this message as they had received it.  (Matthew 10:1-8; Luke 24:47-49) TWELVE
The Final Week – Jesus was hated for his message because it meant that Jesus is Lord and must be trusted.  This led to him being beaten and crucified by the end of the week of the Jewish Passover.  In Jesus crucifixion, he became the sacrifice for sin for all who would trust in him.  (John 19:16-37; 20:30-31) CROSS
The Resurrection – Jesus truly was dead and remained so for three days in a new tomb.  However, on the third day, just as he had told his disciples, he rose from the dead and taught them over forty days.  He finally ascended to heaven in order to send the Spirit to them ten days later.  (Matthew 16:21; 28:1-10; Luke 24:46-53) EMPTY-TOMB
The New Covenant Community (Acts-Revelation)
Alive with the Spirit (Acts) – Those Jesus sent out received the Spirit for the power necessary to be witnesses about him just as he had promised.  Everywhere they went there were signs and wonders and many people who trusted in Jesus (though many others did not).  Others also joined in the special work of sharing the good news about Jesus in distant places (to the whole world) by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4, 37-47) FIRE  
Paul and the Churches (Romans-Hebrews) – A man named Saul who had first tried to destroy the Church became a follower of Jesus (changed his name to Paul) and gave his life even while suffering and being imprisoned, to establishing the Church throughout the world because Jesus told him to do so.  As he did this, he would write many letters to the churches, pastors and people he knew to encourage them and to remind them of the things they needed to know and do in following Jesus faithfully as Jesus’ community.  (Titus 1:1-3)  ENVELOPE
James, Peter and Jude – Others also wrote letters to different to remind them of the truth about Jesus and how they were to live because of this.  Two of these are considered brothers of Jesus (James and Jude) and one was among Jesus’ closest disciples.  The call was for right living, but also against false teaching and as a result – sinful living (something which Paul and John also mention regularly).  (James 2:14-24; 2 Peter 1:3-15) ENVELOPES
John (1-3 John, Revelation) – John, the last surviving apostle of Jesus, wrote numerous letters concerning the need for faithfulness to the new covenant in Jesus.  He also received a special revelation of Jesus concerning Jesus coming again in victory and the need to be faithful to the end no matter what comes.  (1 John 2:12-14; Revelation 1:1-8) ‘V’ – (FOR ‘VICTORY’)

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The CAPITAL ITALICS are for picture representations of the respective section.  Each section also has a selective Scripture portion as representative. I taught this over two weeks to our youth following the four weeks through the OT for Seventh Graders HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

Daniel 12 – The Vision of the End

11:36-39 – The king who exalts himself.  This king does have certain levels of overlap with Antiochus IV Epiphanes (and many commentators believe that this individual is one and the same), but the description does not fit as it did in the verses prior.  The best explanation seems to be that this king is some yet future king who also exalts himself and of which Antiochus IV was only a type.  He is none other than the “little horn” of Daniel 7 and the “ruler who would come” of Daniel 9:26 (cf. the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thess.2:3-12; the “Antichrist” in 1 Jn.2:18; and the “beast” in Rev.11-20).  This king does “as he pleases” and exalts himself “above every god” and even speaks blasphemies against the one true God (cf. 2 Thess.2:4; Rev.13:12, 14-15).  Note that he will have a certain leeway to do what he plans until the “time of wrath” if fulfilled or “complete”.  What would it mean for him to “show no regard for the gods [the Hebrew could also read “God”, but “gods” is most likely] of his fathers”?  It means that he breaks with those before him and does what would have not been thinkable before.  He also shows no regard for the “desire of women” which some have taken as a reference to unnatural inclinations, others as a rejection of the messianic hope of the Jewish people and still others as the god Tammuz who was likened to such (cf. Eze.8:14).  This last is the most plausible given the context of “gods” before and after.  He regards himself and a god of his own strength as his god and even a “foreign god” as his own.  In the New Testament, this “god” is described as the dragon or Satan, but here we are left to wonder at who or what this might be.  He will give great rewards to those who support him.

11:40-45 – The end of that king.  “At the time of the end” points to the time that was to be completed for this king and thus in some sense to the end of all the kingdoms of this world.  The “king of the South” once again may be referring to Egypt though it may also refer to some alliance considered “south” of Israel while the “north” (rather than only to Syria) may refer to some alliance primarily to the north of Israel.  How these are to be conceived is less important than to consider that this is simply the continuing struggle between kings and kingdoms that fight for control over and in the “Beautiful Land” (the land of Israel; cf. Jer.3:19; Eze.20:6; Dan.8:9; 11:16; Mal.3:12).  Many nations and peoples will fall, but apparently the traditional enemies of Israel (Edom, Moab and the leaders of Ammon – these tribal groups would be in what is now modern Jordan) will not fall to him (contrast Isa.11:14; Mal.1:2-5).  Though he will succeed in his assault against the “king of the south” and many others he will be distraught by news of an impending attack from the east and north and he himself will be at “the beautiful holy mountain” (Jerusalem), but this does not exclude the notion of his forces making their final stand at the valley of Megiddo in what has come to be known as the battle of Armageddon (Rev.16:16).  The end of the king will come and he will not find any help from anywhere – whether his gods or otherwise.  Though he set out to destroy many, he will be destroyed.
12:1-4 – The time of the end.  “At that time” refers to the raging of the last portion of chapter 11 and the raging of the king of the north.  Michael (“Who is like God?”; cf. Dan.10:18, 21; Jude 9; Rev.12:7) the “great prince” is again named and here declared to defend against Israel’s complete annihilation, but not against many being martyred.  The promise of the “time of distress” (Heb. ‘ēt sārâ) is such that there will no other equal for Israel (cf. Matt.24:21 where it appears that Jesus uses the language of the LXX and thus speaks of thlipsis).  According to Zechariah 13:8, only one third of Israel will survive, but it will lead to the ultimate salvation of Israel (cf. Zech.12:10; Rom.11:25-27).  The “deliverance” is not from the first death, but the second death (Rev.2:11; 20:6; 21:8) though this is not at all laid out in Daniel with clarity.  It is notable that only those whose names are “found written in the book” are spared this.  What is this “book”?  According to Goldingay, it would be the citizenry of the “true Jerusalem” (306; cf. Ezra 2; Neh.7; Ps.87:6; Isa.4:3; Eze.13:9); though we might assume this to later be the “book of life” (Ps.69:28; Phil.4:3; Rev.3:5; 20:12, 15; 21:27).  The “multitudes” (Heb. rabbîm) can sometimes mean “all” (cf. Deut.7:1; Isa.2:2), but the typical all inclusive word in Hebrew is kol.  “The emphasis is not upon many as opposed to all, but rather on the numbers involved” (Baldwin 226).  Why are these many said to be sleeping?  The very notion of “sleep” for death implies the reality of the resurrection.  “The words…do not exclude the general resurrection, but rather imply it.  Their emphasis, however, is upon the resurrection of those who died during the period of great distress” (Young 256).  The state of those who “awake”, that is are raised to life, is to either everlasting life or “shame and everlasting contempt”.  Why should these be contrasted and in this manner?  Also, are we to think of a time difference between the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked mentioned here?  (cf. Rev.20:5, 12-13 where it is described in terms as separated by the millennium)
Note the blessing that is given to those who are “wise” (or see the footnote in the NIV “who impart wisdom” which may be the likelier reading).  They are described as shining “like the brightness of the heavens” and “like the stars forever and ever”.  How might this blessing be understood?  It was common to consider celestial beings with the notion of the “stars” (Jud.5:20; Job 38:7; Dan.8:10; 1 Enoch 104), but Paul would later take this up as the promise concerning those who were pure and blameless in a wicked and perverse world (Phil.2:15).  John Goldingay makes note that the angelic beings of Daniel have all been described in very human-like terms and as such he notes the contrast as follows: “As chapter 10 speaks of celestial figures who are the embodiments of earthly institutions, so chap. 11 speaks of earthly figures who are the embodiments of spiritual principles” (317).  What does it mean for Daniel to “close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end”?  It does not pertain to making it a secret since he has already written it down, but instead means that it was to be preserved and protected for the appointed time and the appropriate readership (i.e., the “wise”; see Young 257).  The idea is that only those who are fit to understand this message will do so.  “Many will go here and there to increase knowledge” but they will not discern the times nor the message which was to the wise and discerning (Amos 8:2).  It is notable that Daniel is not included among the prophets in the Hebrew canon, but among the writings and it may very likely be because of his emphasis upon wisdom.  As such this suggests Daniel as a form of wisdom literature, albeit unlike the traditional proverbs or the likes of Ecclesiastes and Job.  Yet, Daniel is intended as wisdom for the future generations who will grapple with hopelessness and despair, but must know that if they will remain faithful they will be raised at the last day and receive their reward despite the terrorizing of the kings of this age and the ages to come.  The end will yet come and the wise know this and live accordingly.
12:5-13 – The end of all these things and of Daniel.  There were two beings, one on either side of the river and one other who hovered over the middle and wore linen and was likely the one from before (Dan.10:5).  Again, Daniel is meant to overhear the conversation.  The question of “How long?” was put to the one hovering over the water who raised both hands which gives special solemnity to the swearing by God (normally only one hand was raised – cf. Gen.14:22; Deut.32:40; Rev.10:5-6) and declares that it will be for “a time, times and half a time” (cf. Dan.7:25; that is for approximately three and a half years).  The time designated was to bring to an end the one who would be destroying the “holy people” (see the NET).  Daniel was still concerned about the outcome of this time that was yet future, but was assured and told that it would be accomplished and would have the effect that was necessary for the wise and the wicked (cf. Rev.22:11).  What should this tell us about applying ourselves to the wisdom of the book of Daniel? 
The final notes about the number of days from the time of the ceasing of daily sacrifices and the abomination of desolation offers a problem to the more simple approximate three and a half years of verse 7.  Instead, 1290 days are first mentioned which would give forty-three months of thirty days each which gives one extra month and also requires thirty day months for the three and half years.  Then the 1335 days for holding out to the end is given which makes for an extra forty-five more days on top of that.  According to John Walvoord, these numbers are necessary for adequate time to deal out judgment and for the establishment of Christ’s millennial kingdom (295-6).  However, it remains rather obscure as to why and without further elaboration elsewhere in Scripture one is left wondering just what was meant (whereas other such issues have had some clarity brought to bear on them by other Scripture).  The best explanation for the days beyond what would be expected seems to be that of Joyce Baldwin: “As in the teaching of Jesus, the emphasis is on endurance to the end (Mark 13:13).  A particular blessing awaits one who goes on expectantly even after the time for the fulfillment of the prophecy is apparently passed, as in the parable of Jesus there is a special blessing for the servant who continues to be faithful even when his master does not come home at the stated time (Matt.24:45-51)” (232).

Daniel 9 – The Vision of the Seventy Sevens

9:1-2 – Understanding the date.  This chapter occurs some time after chapter five and perhaps after chapter six.  If this “Darius” the Mede (which seems likely) is “Cyrus” as explained in earlier notes (6:28) then the year would be 538BC and Daniel would be approximately 82 years old.  The NIV has curiously followed the LXX reading for Darius’ father’s name “Xerxes” instead of the Hebrew reading “Ahasuerus” (both of which appear to be titles rather than proper names according to Miller 240 and Goldingay 239) as most of the English translations do (but see NIV footnote).  In what sense was he “made ruler” over the Babylonian (lit. “Chaldean”) kingdom?  Who might have made him ruler?  The Hebrew is pointed as a Hophal which is passive (he was “made ruler”), but Theodotian, the Syriac and the Vulgate all suppose an active (Hiphil) verb meaning “became ruler” perhaps in order to smooth out the reading. 

Note that Daniel refers to Jeremiah’s book as among the other “Scriptures” (lit. “books” but implying “sacred books”) even though Jeremiah was a near contemporary who wrote his prophecy during Daniel’s youth.  The text Daniel was reading seems to refer to Jeremiah 25:11-12 written in 605BC which was the year Daniel was taken to Babylon and also the Jeremiah 29:10 written in 597BC the year Ezekiel was taken to Babylon (cf. 2 Chron.36:21; and compare Lev.25:8; 26:18).  Daniel read how the desolation of Jerusalem would last only seventy years according to Jeremiah and knew that meant the time was nearing for it to be complete, but he also understood that this did not simply mean that God would accomplish the restoration apart from His people.  How should we understand Daniel taking time to reflect upon the Scriptures in light of his own circumstances and what he felt it required of him?  What might this suggest about the process of the formation of the Scriptures and their early acceptance as authoritative by (at least some of) the community?
9:3-19 – The Prayer of Daniel.  Daniel fully commits himself to humility and sincerity before the Lord as he prays concerning what he has read in Jeremiah about the restoration of Jerusalem.  This prayer finds parallel in the prayer of 1 Kings 8; Ezra 9:6-15; Neh.1:5-11; 9:5-38; Baruch 1:15-38; 1QS 1.22-2.1; 4QWords of the Luminaries.  That he fasted implies this did not happen immediately.  Further, he put on “sackcloth” which was non-traditional clothing that was irritable and was a sign that one was in mourning.  This was also the purpose of the ashes. This is the only chapter in Daniel where LORD (the Hebrew Yahweh) occurs.  There are also many Hebrew manuscripts that read LORD in place of Lord (Heb. ’adōnāy) in verses 3, 15, 16, 17 and 19.  Daniel pleads with the LORD not only as the God of his people, but as his own God.
It is important to note that Daniel begins his prayer with praise and adoration of who God is as well as acclaiming the covenant and the faithful-love (Heb. hesed ; the two should not be read as “covenant of love” like the NIV since they are differentiated in the Hebrew) of God for those who love Him and keep the covenant.  However, Daniel then immediately moves to confession of the failure to live up to the covenant on the part of God’s people and he includes himself in this with the “we”.  He lists six things as confessions: “sin” (Heb. hāttā’) as a general category of disobedience, “wrong” (Heb. ‘āwôn) or crooked, “wicked” (Heb. rāsa‘), “rebelled” (Heb. mārad), turned away from the LORD’s commands and laws and not listened to the LORD’s servants the prophets.  This is quite a litany of charges that Daniel lays out against all of the leadership of his people and, indeed, all of the people themselves including himself.
He ascribes righteousness (Heb. sədāqâ) to the LORD, but justified shame to all of the people who are exiled including the ten tribes of Israel, the people of Judah and specifically His city Jerusalem because of unfaithfulness.  It is because of sin that shame covers them and this is not only shame for themselves but in some sense it is a shame for the LORD whose name they bear.  Daniel moves at times between the second person and third person in his address to the LORD as if to call himself and his people to this joint confession and to faithfulness to the LORD having pleaded with the LORD for his mercy and forgiveness.  Daniel is emphatic about the personal failure of the LORD’s people despite the LORD’s unfailing goodness and despite the clarity of the promise of the covenant concerning the judgment for disobedience (Deut.28:15-68).  In what sense could the disaster brought on Jerusalem be considered worse than that brought on other cities that also were destroyed and/or exiled?  Because Jerusalem was especially chosen of the LORD for His dwelling and personal revelation as opposed to all other cities.  Yet, despite the judgment against their sins there was still no repentance and turning to the truth according to Daniel.  This is not to suggest that there were none who did this, but that the people by and large did not and so as a nation they suffered together under the justified judgment of the LORD.
Daniel reminds the LORD of His deliverance of His people from Egypt which serves as THE sign of the LORD’s faithfulness to His people and of His self-revelation.  He calls on the LORD to hear his prayer for the people, “your city, your holy hill” knowing that the LORD cares and will act according to His own Name.  He prays that the LORD would restore all of this for the sake of the LORD’s name and glory, because the LORD is righteous and merciful and this is the revelation of His very character to the whole world and not because of anything inherently worthy about the people of Israel or the place of Israel or Jerusalem.
9:20-27 – The Vision of the Seventy Sevens.  In the very middle of Daniel’s praying, confessing of sins and concern for the restoration of Jerusalem Gabriel arrives with a message.  The statement about coming to him “in swift flight” in the English suggests that Gabriel flew to him and follows the popular notion of angels with wings despite that this messenger is never described as having wings.  The Hebrew actually may suggest “in my extreme weariness” (Heb. mu‘āp bî‘āp ; see the NASB, NET; Goldingay 228; Miller 250-1) which would fit the context better of one who has been fasting and in intense prayer and given his earlier weariness over revelations from the Lord (cf. Dan.7:28; 8:27; 10:8-9, 16-17). The time of the arrival was the time of the evening sacrifice which places it about 3-4PM even though there would not have been any sacrifices because there was not as yet any rebuilt temple to sacrifice in, but this was a normal time of prayer (Ezra 9:5; Ps.141:2).
The message was released for Daniel as soon as he had begun praying even though he was just now receiving it.  He would receive special insight into what he had been praying about because the LORD considered him “highly esteemed”.  What might constitute this estimation by the LORD?  Whereas Daniel understood correctly that the seventy years were upon him for the end of the exile, yet there were to be seventy ‘sevens’ (that is: 490 years broken into three groups…see the notes below) in order to deal with the sins of Israel completely (“finish…”, “put an end…” and “atone…”) and to fulfill all righteousness (“to bring in…”, “to seal up…” and “to anoint…”).
The decree to “restore and rebuild Jerusalem” could either be the one to Ezra in 458BC (Ezra 7:11-26) or to Nehemiah in 445BC (Neh.2:1ff) and would then be the first seven sevens (49 years) to approximately 409BC or 396BC when the project was completed, but in “times of trouble” (cf. Neh.4:1ff; 9:36-37).  The sixty-two sevens to the “Anointed one, the ruler” would be 434 years or approximately (Jesus baptism in) 26AD or (Palm Sunday) 32/33AD.  Though precision of dating the latter in such matters depends upon the highly questionable 360 day Jewish prophetic calendar with a thirteenth month included occasionally to offset for the lack of days that results.  Just who is the “anointed one” which lacks the definite article in the Hebrew as does the “ruler”?  While this could just as easily refer to any king or priest it seems most likely to refer to Jesus as our dating suggests.  Especially since this “anointed one” will be “cut off” that is to say that he will be killed or die and be left with nothing some time after the allotted years noted above.  So who are the “people of the ruler who will come” that destroys the city and the sanctuary?  The antecedent would almost seem to be whomever this “anointed one” was and his “people”, but rather than taking this “ruler” with the “anointed one” that precedes it would seem best to take it with the individual that follows who makes a seven year covenant with Israel and breaks it midway and sets up abominations of desolation until his end.  Between these two rulers there appears to be wars and desolations. 
While it was not readily apparent in Daniel’s day that there would be a gap of time between the last ‘seven’ and the other sixty-nine sevens history suggests otherwise and Jesus own interpretation of the abomination causing desolation suggests otherwise (Matt.24:15; Mark 13:14).  In other words, there appears to still be a future date where the last ‘seven’ years will be accomplished by one who makes and breaks covenant with Israel, putting an end to the sacrifices and offerings three and half years into the covenant and setting up abominations that causes desolation (“on a wing of the temple” should not be read with the NIV, but should read “on the wing of abominations”) until his end.  This means that the temple must still be rebuilt at some time in the future and the sacrifices be reinstituted and Israel will wrongfully make covenant with one who will not be faithful just as they were unfaithful and who will be abominable just as they were abominable.  But the LORD is faithful and merciful and He will use this to bring Israel back to Himself and bring an end to sin as has already now been done through our Lord Jesus Christ, but shall be fulfilled at his glorious appearing from heaven.

Daniel 8 – The Vision of the Ram and the Goat

Vision de Daniel à Suze
By: Stephanus Garsia (11th Century)

8:1-2 – Daniel has a vision three years after the dream of chapter seven (approximately 550BC) while Belshazzar was still in Babylon (and his father, Nabonidus, still king of all Babylon)Perhaps the reason he repeats the “vision” three times is because it was so disturbing to him (8:27).  Daniel was taken (much like Ezekiel) in this vision to the “citadel of Susa” (another name for the “city”) located 220 miles east of Babylon and 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf.  This city was later to become one of the royal cities of Medo-Persia acting as a winter palace (cf. Est.1:2; Neh.1:1; 2:1).  The location is important as it had not yet become a location of prominence again having been destroyed some years before and the Medo-Persians having not yet rebuilt it for full use yet at the time of Daniel’s vision.

8:3-4 – A Ram Appears.  The ram has two horns, one longer than the other, but the shorter growing longer than the former.  According to one fourth century AD writer (Ammianus Marcellinus 10:1 – see Goldingay 208) the Medo-Persians always carried a golden head of a ram into battle with them as their symbol.  More importantly this ram is later interpreted as Medo-Persia and it can be surmised that the initially longer horn was Media which was the initially predominant power of the two, until Persia became the more powerful.  The charging of the ram is to the west, north and south following essentially the path of Medo-Persia in her conquests of Babylon, Lydia, Asia Minor, and Egypt.  There appeared to be none that could stop this empire.  In what sense might the kingdoms of this world all be understood as “animals” in light of the implications of verse 4?  What does this suggest about all worldly kingdoms even though they be ordained of the LORD?
8:5-8 – A Goat Appears.  This goat is described with a “prominent horn between his eyes” suggesting a single ruler and kingdom (Alexander the Great of Macedon as the interpretation of Dan.8:21 declares).  The ram notably charges across the earth “without touching the ground” in a similar manner to the four-headed leapord-like creature of Dan.7:6 that suggested Greece as well.  The enraged goat destroyed the ram and the two horns.  However, the “large horn” before it could become even greater than it had already become was “broken off” and replaced by “four” (again the connection to Dan.7:6).  Alexander’s untimely death off in Babylon (323BC) left his empire shattered and ten years later it was divided among four of his generals.
8:9-12 – A Small Horn.  From among one of the four horns of the goat there appeared a small horn initially that grew in the south, east and toward the “Beautiful Land” (Heb. sebî : that is toward “Jerusalem”; cf. Dan.11: 16, 41; Jer.3:19; Eze.20:6, 15)  On this occurring see 1 Macc.1 and 2 Macc.5-6.  Who is this “small horn” that grew?  History now tells us it was Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175BC-163BC) of Syria who assassinated the high priest Onias III in 170BC replacing him with another priest, ended the sacrifices and desecrated the temples setting up an altar to Zeus and sacrificing a swine on the altar in 167BC, that the temple was restored and dedicated December 14, 164BC (Hanukkah), while he died shortly thereafter in 163BC.  But who are the “host of heaven” that he threw down to the earth and trampled?  Certainly not angels.  More likely this refers to the faithful of Israel (cf. Dan.12:3; see also Gen.15:5; 22:17; Deut.17:3; Enoch 46:7; Mt.13:43; Phil.2:15; Rev.12:4).  Further, he set himself up against the “Prince” of the host…which suggests God Himself.  This is done by his taking away the “daily sacrifice” (Heb. tāmîd “continually”; cf. Exo.29:38-42; Num.28:3-8) and desecrating the temple.  Why would the LORD allow it to prosper in everything it did and truth to be “thrown to the ground”?  Does the LORD have a greater purpose than the immediate or temporary?
8:13-14 – The Conversation.  Daniel is meant to overhear a conversation among some of the “holy ones” (angels?).  It seems that even they are concerned with the question of humanity, “How long?” (cf. Ps.6:3; Isa.6:11; Zech.1:12)  The two speaking are concerned with how long it will take for all of the declared to happen to actually occur.  The answer is declared to Daniel (though the LXX and Syriac read that the answer was given to the other holy one) that it will take “2300 evenings and mornings”.  How should we understand this?  As 1500 days or as 2300 days?  The latter seems preferable given the manner in which Hebrew chooses to express the form for the numbers with mornings and evenings.  Thus this would be about seven years time from beginning to end.  In other words, there is a definite limit set to the wickedness of this king and his kingdom.  There is no reason to automatically assume that this “horn” is to be identified with the “horn” of chapter seven since that one belonged to the fourth beast (rather than the third which was Greece) and came from one of the four horns as opposed to that fourth beasts little horn that came up among the ten horns and displaced three.  While both chapters speak of little horns, they are distinguished considerably even while both being arrogant and prideful and opposing the LORD and the saints.
8:15-18 – Gabriel Arrives.  While Daniel was contemplating all that he had seen and heard he received a messenger like “a man” (Heb. gāber) who would explain the vision.  There are only two angels ever named in Scripture and this is the first occasion where one is named.  “Gabriel” appears again at the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth (Luke 1:19) and Jesus birth (Luke 1:26).  “Michael” is the other angel named in Scripture (Dan.10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev.12:7); though in the approximately second-third century BC apocryphal work of 1 Enoch there are several others named as well: Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Saraqqel and Remiel (1 Enoch 9:1; 20:1-8).  Gabriel task appears always to be that of messenger in the Scripture (thus “angel” is a fitting name though he is not called that here in Daniel).  Daniel kept falling in fear before Gabriel and actually may have passed out, but Gabriel lifted him up.  The message Gabriel had for Daniel was that these things pertained to “the time of the end”, but the “end” of what?  The end of that era or the end of all things?  The former seems more likely if one postulates the historical interpretation at all, but if one still holds to any future sense then there must be also something remaining of the actual “end” of this world and the reign of the LORD. 
There are actually four main views for interpreting Daniel 8: (1) Historical – All of Daniel 8 was historical and has been fulfilled; (2) Futuristic – All is still in the future; (3) Dual Fulfillment – The chapter referred both to what happened historically now and what will happen at the Second Coming; (4) Typological – The chapter refers to historical fulfillment but also things typical of that which points to the end of the age (see Walvoord 192-196).
8:19-27 – The Interpretation.  Gabriel interprets the vision for Daniel (who earlier in the book had been the interpreter for others) and explains that the ram was Medo-Persia and the goat was Greece and specifically the horn was the first king of Greece.  What Daniel has seen up to this point is over two hundred years in the future from his time.  He is told that the kingdom of Greece will be divided into four kingdoms none of which will come close to the power of Greece and from one of those will be raised up a particular king (this actually foretells what will occur 350 years in the future).  It is noteworthy that this king is raised up when wickedness is complete (cf. Gen.15:16; 1 Th.2:16).  The king is noted for his appearance, intelligence, and unknown source of power; and though everything he does even against the LORD and the saints seems to succeed it will only be temporary until the LORD Himself destroys him.  What does it mean for Daniel to “seal up” (Heb. sātam) the vision?  This term when “applied to a book is not strictly ‘seal’ but rather ‘guard from use’ and therefore from misuse (cf. 12:3)” (Baldwin 179).  Why should the LORD have told Daniel any of this and not saved such matters for another more near to the time of the incidents?  What was the purpose of revealing this in the third year of Belshazzar?  Also, does this not point ahead beyond Antiochus IV Epiphanes to one who like him will do much the same even as it would appear that almost similar sorts of calamity overtook Judea in the latter part of the first century (cf. Matt.24; Mark 13; Luke 21:5ff), but still point ahead to “the end”?

Daniel 4 – The God Who Rules

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4:1-3 – The opening address by Nebuchadnezzar.  This chapter opens with a personal address to all peoples everywhere and announces the power and majesty of the God of Israel as the Most High God.  The confession that he makes here is no small confession coming from a man who ruled the known world and had all things at his personal disposal.  This is an announcement that is written after what follows, but also precedes it.  Nebuchadnezzar speaks in the first person until verse 19, where the account shifts to Daniel’s interpretation of the dream and to the state of insanity.  Then the account returns to the first person once Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity is restored again in verses 34 and following.
4:4-8 – Another dream and another call for interpretation.  Nebuchadnezzar opens by describing himself as “contented” (Aram. šělěh “at ease/rest”) and “prosperous” (Aram. ra‘ănān “flourishing/luxuriant”; a term used in Biblical Hebrew to refer to trees which prepares us for the dream that follows; cf. Ps.92:15).  In the very place where he felt most secure suddenly he was gripped by fear.  His dream, now troubling him as he was awake, needed interpretation, but as before none but Daniel could give the interpretation.  This despite the fact that here he actually shares the dream with those who should have been able to interpret it for him and this dream was certainly not difficult to understand the figures, so it appears that somehow the others were kept from the interpretation.  The Babylonian name of Daniel is given (Belteshazzar) because that is the name he was best known by among the Babylonians, but still Nebuchadnezzar recognized that it was not per se “his god” that had anything to do with helping Daniel, but “the spirit of the holy gods” that was “in him.”  The reference to the spirit by Nebuchadnezzar is a confession “of a real presence of God that contrasts with the spurious presence that the statue of chap. 3 claimed to bring” (Goldingay 87).  The spirit of the “gods” (Aram. ‘ĕlāhîn) that Nebuchadnezzar refers to could still be taken in a singular sense (much as the name of the one true God is) even though grammatically it is plural (interestingly Theodotion has the singular theou), however it seems more likely that it is still a plural for Nebuchadnezzar given his use of the plural adjective for “holy” (Aram. qādîšîn) that is included with the noun. 
4:9-18 – The Dream of the Tree.  Nebuchadnezzar recognized that Belteshazzar had what the others of his kingdom did not and could interpret mysteries beyond understanding.  The dream was as follows:  he saw a great tree (cf. Ps.92; Eze.17; 19:10-14; 28; 31) that stood in the middle of the earth and reached to the heavens themselves.  This tree provided was magnificent and provided shelter and food for all of the creatures.  However, suddenly, in the dream a “messenger, a holy one coming down out of heaven” (this refers in Nebuchadnezzar’s own language to what we might call an “angel” which is a transliteration of the LXX here, whereas Theodotion has “watcher” following the Aramaic îr which literally means “one who is awake”—see Miller 133—and thus they are just like their Lord—see Ps.121:4; also Karl Barth—Church Dogmatics III.3 pp.460-463—proposes that the true ministry of angels  is to be witnesses to God’s word and work, and to the God who alone is Lord of all).  The command is given to chop the tree down and strip it of everything, but to leave the stump.  Actually, the stump was to be “bound with iron and bronze.”  Are we to understand this in a positive or a negative way?  This is actually a word of ultimate hope to Nebuchadnezzar since he is the tree.  The bands on the stump refer to God’s allowing Nebuchadnezzar to “retain control of his kingdom” and let him know that God will eventually restore it to him “after he comes back to his senses” (Walvoord 106).  In a time when any sign of weakness could mean a sudden overthrow and assassination, this was no time for insanity.  It would actually require divine intervention for Nebuchadnezzar to be spared and restored.  Suddenly the image shifts from a bound stump to one who will be forced to live as the animals though he had at one time provided for all of the animals.  The time frame of “seven times” was set for the duration of this insanity, but does this refer to years or seasons?  Miller (134-5) and Walvoord (103) think it likely it refers to years because of its relation to Dan.7:12, 25 and also the LXX translation as “years,” however Goldingay (81) and Baldwin (125) understand it to simply refer to “seasons” following the Theodotion translation and the more vague use of the same term outside of this chapter in Dan. 2:8, 9, 21; 3:5, 15.  While the sense of “times” may be debated, perhaps also the sense of “seven” should be understood to refer to the fullness of the time for him.  Perhaps this is too vague, but it also lends itself to understanding that God’s timing is always right on time.  John Goldingay notes that the first reason we are given for the felling of the tree is not pride, but simply to “show that God rules” (93).  It is only noted as secondarily a matter of humility.  The interpretation would seem to be apparent, but for whatever reason the interpretation was not forthcoming from all those in the kingdom who should have interpreted and so Belteshazzar was called upon for the interpretation.
4:19-27 – The interpretation of the dream.  Daniel, for obvious and perhaps not as obvious reasons, was reticent to provide the interpretation.  He also was greatly bothered by the dream and the meaning.  It would appear though that Daniel’s concern has less to do with his own self-preservation over giving the king a negative interpretation than to do with a genuine concern for the benefit of the king and therefore of the kingdom.  Daniel’s concern for Nebuchadnezzar “invites us to care about people in power, even people who abuse power, to appeal to their humanness not their sinfulness, and to treat them as people given a responsibility by God and people who may respond to an appeal to right and wrong” (Goldingay 94).  After describing the tree again to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel declares “You, O king, are that tree!” (cf. Nathan’s very similar words to David “You are the man” – 2 Sam.12:7).  Note the parallels and contrast between the tree that is Nebuchadnezzar and the description Jesus gave of the Kingdom of God in Mark 4:30-32.  Daniel emphatically tells the king that the “Most High” had issued a “decree” against him that he would live like a wild animal for “seven times” until he acknowledged “Heaven rules” (this is the only place in the OT where “heaven” stands for the name of God, but this became more common by the inter-testamental period and was particularly used by Matthew in his many—31 verses to be precise—references to the “kingdom of heaven” where the other Gospel accounts have a preference for “kingdom of God”)  The acknowledgment that “Heaven rules” was an acknowledgment that the Most High was sovereign over everything and everyone.  Nebuchadnezzar was informed that there was mercy in this for him.  The Most High would preserve him until he acknowledges this, but he did not have to necessarily even face this suffering (though that would be left to the mercy of God).  He could have followed the advice of Daniel and renounced his sins by doing right and also caring for the oppressed.  “Nebuchadnezzar might not have been treating others cruelly but he probably did what many people do today, practiced an indulgent lifestyle and simply ignored the misfortunes of others” (Miller 139; cf. Isa.1:17).
4:28-33 – The fulfillment of the dream.  Approximately one year after the dream and interpretation everything happens just as it had been predicted.  It began with Nebuchadnezzar walking on the roof of one of his palaces (there were several in Babylon) and glorying in the majesty of “the great Babylon” (cf. Rev.14:8; 18:2) that he believed himself to have built by his own doing.  Babylon was, of course, one of the most magnificent cities of the ancient world.  Walls forty feet high wide enough for chariots to ride upon with gates that were renowned for their magnificence.  He also built the hanging gardens for his wife that the Greeks labeled one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  Perhaps it was even there that looked out upon that vast city and was in awe of the dozens of temples and the numerous palaces and mighty walls.  A truly awe-inspiring spectacle, but just as the words were “still on his lips” suddenly “a voice came from heaven” with the decree that had been given in the dream.  God not only was capable of giving all of Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar but of taking it from him, making him insane and keeping him from death in that state of insanity for seven times until he should be humbled and restored.  “Perhaps one should say that the true insanity belongs to the Nebuchadnezzar who had earlier been talking as if he were the eternal king and God did not exist.  His outward madness is the external expression of a delusion he has already been the tragic victim of” (Goldingay 96).  The illness of Nebuchadnezzar finds allusion in the 2nd century BC Abydenus (Eusebius Praeparatio Evangelico 9.41.1) and the 3rd century BC Babylonian priest Berosus (Josephus Against Apion 1.20).  Interestingly the LXX has added that his madness happened in his eighteenth year which would be the very year he destroyed Jerusalem (586BC), but the Theodotion Greek does not include this time note and neither does the Aramaic and it seems very unlikely (the LXX having a text that is ¼ longer in chapter four than the Aramaic; despite the fact that the LXX does not have 4:6-10a solving the dilemma of Daniel’s absence that the Theodotion did not have an issue with including).  Stephen Miller proposes that it likely happened no later than 571BC which seems probable (128).  According to Jewish legend, his son Amūl-Marduk ruled in his stead until his sanity was restored (Baldwin 128).  Is it possible that Daniel may have actually cared for Nebuchadnezzar in this state?  Somehow he was cared for and kept from the public so that he eventually could be restored.  That alone speaks of God’s grace and mercy.
4:34-37 – The insanity ends and sanity begins.  Nebuchadnezzar again writes whereas in his previous state he could not and it had to be told in the third person.  Now he tells us that he looked to heaven and he was restored.  What praise belongs to God who restores us when our profession can be as little as a crazed man who lifts his eyes finally to acknowledge the God who is sovereign over all?  Nebuchadnezzar makes a profession of faith in God as sovereign over all, but how much a saving faith is perhaps beyond what we should conjecture.  What does Nebuchadnezzar’s profession of faith teach us?  Why did God choose to restore Nebuchadnezzar who had been given a chance earlier to do what was right and didn’t?  Can we profess trust in a God that we know little about and it be sufficient?  What can we learn about the kingdoms and authorities of this world through this account? 
John Goldingay comments that though Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the tree between heaven and earth that was glorified and then shamed ends, there would “eventually be a very different tree, one which more effectively links earth and heaven and displays itself—or rather displays the one it bears—before earth and heaven; a tree which, moreover, also has to become a tree of shame—but not for its own shortcomings—before it can be a tree of glory.  That tree will offer life, security, and provision in fuller senses—though the fuller sense must not exclude the physical senses which are this vision’s concern, and which are God’s own concern” (91-2).