Seeing the Blossom
Background Scripture: Daniel 8:19-26.
Devotional Reading: Psalms 91:1-12.
Two weeks ago, we were introduced to Daniel in Daniel 7. Last week, we met him again in a prayer for his people and nation.
This week in Chapter 8, Daniel describes a revelatory vision. Again, he uses a period in Israel’s history (6th century B.C.) to speak code about a contemporary crisis (2nd century B.C.) — The desecration of the Jerusalem temple by the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV, who is represented in the imagery of a “little horn.”
I believe there is tongue-in-cheek humor here because Antiochus IV certainly did not see himself as a “little horn.” He preferred to be known as “Antiochus Epiphanes meaning “the Manifest God.”
In Daniel Chapter 7, the kingdoms were represented as wild animals. In Daniel 8, they are represented by a goat and ram and their horns.
He pictures two “holy ones” (possibly angels) who are giving him a formula to provide an answer to the real question: How long will Antiochus Epiphanes’ degradation of the temple last?
Daniel encounters the Angel Gabriel who says to him: “Listen, and I will tell you what will take place later in the period of wrath, for it refers to the appointed time of the end” (8:18-20).
Does he mean the “end” of time, or the “end” of the era of Antiochus?
We don’t know.
What we do know is that Daniel’s vision is telling him that this “king of bold countenance will conquer all in his path.”
“His power shall be great, and he shall cause fearful destruction, and shall succeed in what he does, and destroy mighty men and the people of the saints” (8:24).
This king shall be not only powerful but also evil: “By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall magnify himself.”
Hearing this, Daniel fainted and became ill. The vision, however, comes to him again: “But by no human hand he shall be broken” (8:25).
In other words, God will break the power of Antiochus Epiphanes and all powers, kingdoms, empires must eventually fall to God’s eternal purpose.
That is Daniel’s good news to us and all generations of humankind. It is God’s assurance that “This, too, shall pass.” God alone will prevail.
Keep the Vision
“As for you,” the angel tells Daniel, “seal up the vision, for it refers for many days from now.”
Daniel was dismayed by the vision because he could not understand it. But I think it is apparent to us from the viewpoint of the 21st century that the vision tells us that even the most powerful of rulers and nations will not prevail, because only God alone will accomplish that.
As students of history, this is what history teaches us. As disciples of Jesus Christ this is our hope: A view into the future that is in God’s hands.
But how can we prove that God’s kingdom will someday come in all its fullness?
The answer: We cannot prove it. At the same time, neither can anyone disprove it. All any of us can do is to live as if we trust our expectation, one way or the other.
Still, despite our lack of access to proof, there is evidence available and the persuasion that trusting in God’s kingdom makes life immeasurably better. And I am comforted by the assurance that God knows.
History and Prophecy
It greatly frees us to be assured that in God’s time the Hitlers, Mussolinis and Stalins will not prevail. Whenever we fear that the tyrants are here to stay, we must remember Daniel’s prophecy: “But he shall be broken, and not by human hands” (8:25).
A newspaper editor during the French Revolution who was about to be beheaded, commented wryly: “It is too bad that I will lose my head; I wanted to see how this thing was coming out.”
But I am convinced that we all will see, hear and know how this thing, this world will come out in God’s time.
It was St. Augustine who found in the Christian faith a radically new outlook on time: History and prophecy are linked to the Creator.
Neither history nor prophecy are just accidents happening along the way. Both are directed toward one ultimate goal.
One day, a group of tourists was admiring an English garden on a country estate in Norfolk and happened upon a grounds man caring for a century plant. Beaming, he explained that his father had made the planting some 40 years earlier: “He never saw the blossom, but he tended this plant with great care. I shall never see the blossom either; but if I do my work well, perhaps my son someday will.”
But with the kingdom of God, while we may not see the blossom on this side of life, we will on the other side.