Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Daniel 11 'God knows his history'

When Rico Tice was twenty-three he served as a student-worker at a church in Bristol.  One Sunday, after the morning service, a psychiatrist, who was a part of that church, spoke to him: 'Listen to me, Rico.  I want you to come and see me in your late thirties.  You'll be fine until then. But in fifteen years come see me.'

Fifteen years later Rico did need to talk to this man.  He had been engaged but it did not work out.  The broken relationship had exposed some personal issues to Rico.  Given that the psychiatrist had seen patterns of behaviour and character in him that would inevitably lead a sense of crisis in his late thirties Rico decided that he would go to this man for help.

It is impressive that this psychiatrist understood Rico so well as to make such an accurate prediction.  But God's knowledge of the future is far greater.  In the book of Daniel there are a whopping one hundred and thirty five predictions that were fulfilled in the subsequent four hundred years.  After we take a quick look at the prophesy in this chapter we will see what God's predictions reveal about his character.

A vision of future events

We saw at the beginning of chapter ten that in the third year of Cyrus, the Persian king, God sent a messenger to Daniel.  This messenger now gives Daniel a vision of future events.  At the time that the vision is given the Jews had returned to Palestine, the promised land, from exile.  But they are not free.  They are the subjects of the Persians.  Indeed things are going to continue to be difficult for them.

In verse two we see that after Cyrus there are four more kings of Persia and that the fourth king would invade Greece.  The invasion is a disaster and results in defeat at the Battle of Salamis (480 BC).

Then a period of one hundred and thirty years passes before the next major king.  He is Alexander the Great, of Greece.  Verse four shows how Alexander dies shortly after establishing his massive empire.  His power is divided between four of his generals.

One of those generals is called Ptolemy and he rules from Egypt.  His dynasty is referred to in these verses as 'the King of the South'.  One of the other generals is Seleucid, and he rules from Syria.  His dynasty is referred to as 'the King of the North'.

What follows, until verse twenty one, is a prediction of the conflict that rages between these two dynasties.  Twice we see an attempt at treaty through marriage, both ending in disaster.

In verse six we see that the daughter of the king of the south (Egypt) marries the king of the north.  That king, Antiochus the second, is already married.  He plans to divorce his wife and have a child who would rule over both kingdoms.  But his wife has both himself and his new wife poisoned.  Fulfilling the words referring to the king and his new wife, 'she will not retain her power, and he and his power will not last' (6).

In verse seventeen the king of the north, Syria, gives a daughter in marriage to the king of the south (Egypt).  But this treaty does not work because the woman, Cleopatra, sides with her husband against her father.

In between these two warning dynasties, centred on Egypt and Syria, lies Palestine, the promised land of the Old Testament.  We see that God's people become a victim of the warring parties.

In verse fourteen there is reference to 'the violent among your own people'.  This refers to a rebellion of some Jews who attempted, unsuccessfully, to overthrow their Egyptian rulers.

In verse twenty-one we read of a contemptible person.  This is Antiochus Epiphanes, of the Seleucid dynasty (the king of the north, Syria).  We have met this man before.  He is referred to as 'the little horn' in chapter eight.  He is a terrible oppressor of God's people.

In verse twenty-eight, after plundering Egypt, Antiochus returns to Syria through Palestine.  As he does so he deals ruthlessly with the Jews, killing eighty thousand men, women and children.  This prompts a full scale revolt referred to as the Maccabean revolt.

In verses twenty-nine and thirty we see that Antiochus invades Egypt again.  This time he suffers a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Romans.  He retreats into Palestine and takes his anger out on the Jews.  We read, 'he will turn back and vent his fury against the holy covenant' (30).  He sends his chief tax-collector to Jerusalem, who begins killing the people and plundering the city.  He rewards those Jews who betrayed their people and supported him.

Later Antiochus's Syrian forces return to Jerusalem to suppress Jewish religious practices.  They stop the burnt offerings in the temple, set up an alter to the god Zeus, and sacrifice animals that the Jews considered unclean (like pigs) on the temple's alter.  This is referred to as 'the abomination that causes desolation' (31).

In both Matthew (24:15) and Mark (13:14) Jesus uses this term 'the abomination that causes desolation'.  Jesus uses this phrase to refer to the destruction of the temple by the Roman's in AD 70 and as a reference to events that will take place just before his return.  Indeed, the closing verses (36-46) seem to go beyond a description of Antiochus and have been thought to refer to the final greater oppressor of God's people, the antichrist, who will appear in the final days.

So what lessons do we learn from the prophesies of this chapter?

1.  We learn that God is God.

The book of Daniel contains one hundred and thirty five predictions that were fulfilled in the four hundred years that followed and as the prophecies of this chapter came to be God's people were being taught that their God is real and living.  In Isaiah the foolishness of idolatry is mocked, 'tell us, you idols, what is going to happen ... tell us what the future holds, so that we may know you are gods' (41:22-23).  In John's gospel Jesus predicts Judas's betrayal and then says, 'I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am' (John 13:19).

Fulfilled prophecy reveals the truth about God.  Liberal commentators have to say that the Bible is a deceitful book that inserted these prophesies into the story after they had happened because they cannot accept that God would reveal events before their time.  But one student in Oxford came to faith when an American Christian showed him how Bible prophesies were fulfilled.  It is interesting that the Quran contains no examples of prophesies that are later fulfilled.

2.  We learn that God is committed to his people

One commentator said that he saw little in this chapter that could be used for preaching.  But we need these words, for they are a warning that life for God's people is going to be tough in this world.  If we only read the opening half of Daniel we would think that God's people are always delivered from the furnace unharmed and the lions' den without a paw laid on them.  But here we read of faithful people who suffer for their faith.  In 2009 there were one hundred and sixty seven thousand Christians martyred.  Some of the children in this church may grow up to serve God in lands where they are imprisoned or tortured for Christ.  Even our own Cculture shows a growing intolerance towards people who are faithful to Jesus.

In verse thirty five we see that this suffering has a refining effect.  It strengthens God's people and reveals those whose faith is merely superficial.  In verse thirty we read about those who forsake the covenant but in verse thirty-two we see those who know their God and hold firm.  Not all who are called by God's name are actually a part of his family.  Those who truly love Jesus may stumble but they will not finally fall.  Jude tells us of him who is able to keep you from falling (24).  In Matthew, Jesus speaks of a time when, 'false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect' (24:24).  Notice the words, 'if possible' - you see Jesus is saying that it is not possible for his people to be ultimately devieved.  He will keep us going until the end.  Make your election and calling sure as you learn obedience in the small things and the good times so that you will be found to be a genuine follower of Jesus when it becomes difficult to be called by his name.

3.  We learn that God rules.

Finally, we learn that God rules.  Nine times we read the word 'but'.  For example, the daughter of the king of the south makes an alliance with the king of the north, 'but she will not retain her power, and he and his power will not last' (6); speaking of Antiochus the third (the father of Antiochus Epiphanes) we read, 'he will turn back toward the fortresses of his own country but will stumble and fall, to be seen no more (19); of Antiochus Epiphanes we read, 'he will plot the overthrow of fortresses—but only for a time' (24); 'At the appointed time he will invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different from what it was before' (29).

The word 'but' in this context and the word 'appointed' remind us that God is the one in ultimate control.  That is the major theme of the book of Daniel, God is in control of history.  All power is ultimately subject to his power.  No rule is exempt from his rule.  He works history towards his ends.  All things happen for his glory and the good of his people.

But can we say that history works for the good of his people when some of his people are tortured and killed at the hands of cruel tyrants?  This is where we need to take a sneak preview at the next chapter.  For there we receive one of the clearest accounts of the Old Testament's teaching on external life.  The life of faith must be lived in the light of eternity.  'Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever' (12:2-3).


History is moving towards an end.  An end when all will see that Jesus wins.  An end where the people he has drawn to himself, and preserved in this world, will celebrate his goodness and glory forever.  There is much that will be confusing as we await his return.  He warned us that in this world we will face many troubles.  But he is faithful to his people and he makes his people faithful to him.  The reality of his power in our lives will be seen as we overcome.  See the reality of your faith as you depend on him to overcome in the face of the temptations that you face every day.  When you stumble and fall remember his forgiveness and depend afresh on his transforming grace.  In all this you are showing that you will not be ultimately defeated.  Be confident that your God is the God of all history.

Rico Tice went for help to a godly physiatrist who demonstrated that he knew something about him.  As we face the trials of this life we go to a God who knit us together in our mother's womb, who knows the hairs of our head, who knows our thoughts before we think them, who drew us into relationship with himself (if we are living with Jesus as our king), who invites his people to cast all our anxieties upon him because he cares for us, and who knows every detail of what lies ahead!

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