I sang Frank Sinatra’s “Makin’ Whoopee” to guests at my parents’ dinner party when I was two. I didn’t understand why they were so delighted, but I was happy to sing it again and again when they prompted me. I stored that detail in my memories of things to ponder, and when I was 12, I knew exactly why the men elbow ribbed each other and why my mother shot a glance at my dad. He had taught me the song. “Another bride, another June, another sunny honeymoon. Another season, another reason, for makin’ whoopee.” I can still hear them laughing.
This is something like understanding prophecy in the Bible. We can read it for what we think it means now, but what it really means won’t be clear until later.
I’ve been sitting here most of the morning, trying to understand this chapter, and I finally realize that what Daniel says about it makes the most sense: “I, Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding,” Da 8:27.
This is how Daniel felt–that his dream couldn’t be understood–even after the angel Gabriel explained it to him. Before one pastor preached on this chapter, he told his congregation that Daniel 8 is “a preacher’s nightmare,” (Deffinbaugh, http://bible.org/seriespage/9-ram-goat-and-horn-daniel-81-27). I want to say “amen” to that. I wish I had some urgent “king’s business” to attend to myself.
If you’re as tired of prophecy as I am, let me assure you, I won’t spend a lot of time here. I’m wanting to paint this picture with broad strokes, not zero in on details. The gist of this dream is this: there’s a mighty ram who throws his weight around but gets taken out by a billy goat who’s even tougher. The large horn on the goat’s head is broken off, and he grows four more. From one of those four horns, another horn grows up and reaches “the host of the heavens,” and it threw some of the “starry host” to the earth and trampled them. Then he sets himself up to be as great as God himself, Da 8:3-11.
That’s about as far as I’ve gotten.
I certainly can’t make more sense of it than Daniel could, but with the perspective of 2500 years of history between us, some of it can be explained. The angel told Daniel that the ram in the story is Medo-Persia and the goat is Greece, Da 8:20-21. Commentaries I read said that Antiochus IV Epiphanes fulfilled the “little horn” of the goat that grows up to defy God and defile the temple, though some of the things written about the horn would also be fulfilled by the Antichrist. Martin Luther agrees that this chapter points to two kinds of fulfillments, both an “already” and a “not yet,” (http://bible.org/seriespage/daniel-8; and enduringword.com/bible-commentary/daniel-8/).
The bottom line for us is that like the little horn, the Antichrist who is yet to come, will be savvy and persuasive, seemingly successful, and will set himself up to directly defy God and oppress his people, Da 8:23-25.
I’m beginning to understand why prophets weren’t well liked in their day. Who wants to ponder events shrouded in mystery and mayhem? Not me. I want God’s word to tell me good things, happily-ever-after things, things I want to hear, not give me news of persecutions and abominations to come.
Maybe seeing it from the perspective of the exiles in Babylon would help give it a context for understanding it. For these people, getting freed from Babylon and going back to their Promised Land was first and foremost in their minds. Everything would be alright if they could just get back to their land and start over. God had said a lot already about how they would be restored to their land after 70 years in exile (for that story, see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/18/november-18/).
When Daniel has this dream, they’ve already been 66 years or so in exile. The time is getting closer. God gives Daniel the dream to let the exiles know that the return to their homeland that’s coming, wonderful as it will be, is not the promised paradise of God’s future for them in heaven. The vision of the beasts yesterday combined with this one today lets them know that troubled times are still ahead, (http://bible.org/seriespage/daniel-8).
So while returning to Israel will be a dream come true, it’s not going to be heaven-on-earth; in fact, it’s going to be the beginning of some periods of serious suffering. Antiochus IV from Syria will come in 360 years and desecrate the temple by offering pig sacrifices and will force the Jews to eat them. He’ll also set up an altar and statue to Zeus in the temple. It’s believed that he killed over 100,000 Jews. God wants the exiles to know there are hard days coming. One day every tear will be dried, but it’s not going to be soon, (http://britannica.com/biography/Antiochus-IV-Epiphanes).
On their side of Antiochus IV, they wouldn’t have known that he was the fulfillment of the “little horn” until it was happening. The prophecy wasn’t given as a warning to do something specifically ahead of time, like stockpile beans and rice. I’m guessing it was in order to let them know that these events were in their future, so they wouldn’t be unduly discouraged when they came.
It’s the same for us. Prophecies of the Antichrist are chilling, but we can’t say we haven’t been warned.
But all of this makes me wonder why God gives us prophecy in such obscure language. What’s the point of telling us something that we won’t understand and can’t do anything about?
I’m guessing it’s because God wants us to know that he has the plan and he controls all the parts. Just because we can’t doesn’t mean it’s beyond him. God’s got a plan and it’s a good one–to save the world–and nothing can stop him, even when it looks like he’s getting beat.
Jesus sure looked beaten by every measurable standard, and yet he rose and was glorified and ascended to heaven where he sits at God’s right hand. Sin, death, and hell couldn’t stop God’s plan to redeem his people then. And it can’t stop his plan to bring us all home one day, no matter what happens. And he doesn’t need our help to bring it about. He lets us help, for sure, but he doesn’t need us.
God’s never told his people what they wanted to hear. He’s always sent his prophets who told them the truth. “Repent and live!” No one wants to hear they’re messing up. The prophets were nearly all killed or mistreated in some way by their own people. Jesus lamented over Jerusalem because it had killed the prophets and stoned those God sent to them to help them, Mt 23:37.
Prophets weren’t the cool people in the popular crowd. They were usually despised, and I’m beginning to understand why. “Would he just shut up with the bad news?”
I kinda feel the same way, myself. I want to move on from Daniel to 1 John 2 and Psalm 120 for today–hightail it outta the Old Testament and see what I can find in the New. But these are God’s words. And I don’t have freedom to pick and choose. I think I’m supposed to eat them and digest them and let them work in me however God wants them to. So I’ve bitten off some of this prophecy today, and here’s what I’m getting out of it. And it’s really just one thing:
God is in control. He’ll use even Satan and the Antichrist along with everything else to bring about his good plan to redeem his people. Who can roll up all the muck and mire of life and produce a rose? God can. Regardless of world events, we can rest in the peace of God’s sovereignty over all people and powers. “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” and he is bringing all the world toward a finale that will knock-our-socks-off. His kingdom will come, and his will be done.
Prophecies can be intriguing, but they can also be disturbing. Their intent is to draw our hearts to God in awe and wonder that even the seemingly random and often dismal events of history don’t happen outside of God’s control or his ability to weave them into his plan and use them for our good. Only God can make something as beautiful as happily-ever-after out of pigs and ashes and horned beasts.
I look around and see how God’s restoration plan is already coming true: I know marriages that are restored, a son employed, healings and answered prayers in meetings, forgiveness trickling from broken hearts, brand new starts, a harsh word spared, unearned kindnesses shared. There’s a lot that’s wrong, but there’s more that’s right and good. We have reason to believe that all the sad things will come untrue.
Jesus said, “Behold, I am making all things new,” Re 21:5.
If you want to read further, here’s what’s been helpful for me: http://bible.org/seriespage/daniel-8;
1 John 2:1-17
John gives us a simple test for knowing if we belong to Jesus Christ:
“This is how we know we are in him: whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did,” v 6.
What does it mean to “walk as Jesus did”?
It means to obey the Father. Everything Jesus did, he did as directed by his Father, God, Jn 5:19, 14:31. The Father tells us what he wants from us in his word, the Bible.
What if we mess up?
John says that while he writes these words so that we won’t sin, if we do sin, all is not lost. God’s provided. We have one who speaks to God for us, in our defense–Jesus.
“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world,” v 1.
John says, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The one who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him,” v 3-5.
The psalmist is weary of verbal abuse. He asks God to save him from “lying lips” and “deceitful tongues.” He says he is a “man of peace,” but when he speaks, “they are for war.”
It’s impossible to make peace with someone whose heart is full of war. There’s no amount of change a person can do that will bring peace to another person’s war-zone heart. Only God can do that.
The heart is his zone–either God rules there or he doesn’t. Either God rules or hate does. If God’s not King in a person’s life, anything and everything else will be, and it all amounts to war and hate, the opposite of peace and love.
It’s especially hard to see one’s own heart in war zone. Only the Spirit can show me.
Many war-zones are cleverly camouflaged with “nice” words and behavior. But you can’t hide a war zone. Things done or said from a heart at war feel like war to another person, no matter what words are used or how loud they are said. A heart at war snarls its way through tones of voice, facial expressions, obsessions, condemnation, and activities that puff up rather than give. Even acts of service from a heart at war feel like an ambush.
The psalmist pours out his pain in this short psalm. He doesn’t go on and on. He simply calls on God, and he says God answers him. He doesn’t end on a high note. Maybe the situation isn’t resolved? But there’s comfort in telling God about it.
In verbally abusive situations, a person can’t make someone else stop being abusive. But they can nearly always remove themselves from the situation. That ends it. It takes two people to verbally abuse: the one who speaks and the one who listens.
Proverbs adds more about war and peace zones:
“The greedy stir up conflict
but those who trust in the Lord will prosper.
Those who trust themselves are fools,
but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe,”
Stir up conflict
Trust in God
Walk in wisdom
It helps me to make lists so I’m not confused. These lists include words from Psalm 120 and Proverbs 28.
My take away today is God is in control. And because God is in control, I can have a heart at rest and at peace. I don’t have to be afraid of what’s happening next week or next year. God is on his throne and nothing happens that he’s not on top of. Even when I don’t understand or like what happens, I can find peace that it’s in his hands.
God is in control. And because he is in control, I can have a heart at peace, even when others around me are at war. I can do what I need to do to be safe, even if it’s just to walk away. I can do what I need to do wherever I go so that peace is always a part of my life.
Because God is in control, I don’t have to settle for war.