Shine the Light: “Facing a Nightmare” – Daniel 7

nightmare1Did you ever feel like the COWARDLY LION? I had a nightmare the other morning, and it startled me. I was asked to speak at a new building that our church just somehow took over, but I lost my notes, my ironed shirt, my car keys, and the iPad I use for my Bible. I was running around the building and the people were not you – they were all different people, and NONE of them seemed to want to help me find my way to my things, and then to the pulpit of this labyrinth style church building. The rooms wound one into another, and I felt frustrated and hopelessly lost. .. I was unnerved, unsure, unprepared and about to become unglued. For me, that was a nightmare. I awoke and prayed the I would have not only my messages ready, but my heart as well, so that I might speak for the Lord with both His heart, and the tenor of His voice.

Did you ever have a terrible nightmare that came back to you even after you awoke? A nightmare can be so thoroughly engaging that you can be CONVINCED you are truly living it, or you may even be able to discern that it is not real, but rather a dream state (even while it is ongoing).

Web MD explains: Nightmares are vividly realistic; disturbing dreams that rattle you awake from a deep sleep. … Because periods of REM sleep become progressively longer as the night progresses, you may find you experience nightmares most often in the early morning hours.

Doctors aren’t completely sure what triggers them, but they offered these thoughts in the same source:

Nightmares in adults are often spontaneous. But they can also be caused by a variety of factors and underlying disorders. Some people have nightmares after having a late-night snack, which can increase metabolism and signal the brain to be more active. …

Hmm…. Now I am trying to recall what I ate before I went to bed the other night… Now as riveting as the story of my personal sleep disorders may be, I didn’t come to share my story today, but rather my Master’s story. Strangely enough, our lesson will be taken from an inspired nightmare. God delivered a message to the prophet Daniel through a nightmare – and it left him troubled and pale. Then God let him do something that was incredibly helpful… He wrote it down for us. He shared it for the generations that followed his ministry, and we have it today. God spoke to Daniel in a way that Daniel would understand – dreams. He had already established, years before under the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II that God worked through him in that way – so God used it in his later life personally.

Remember, when God wants to reveal something, He has many options, and all of them will seem invasive if we don’t know, love and trust him. Daniel DID know God – but even in that state, this was a powerfully difficult message to receive from God… a message about long centuries of godless rulers and powerful pagans that would follow their PASSION FOR POWER rather than an opportunity to PROMOTE THEIR CREATOR. The message scarred Daniel, but it wasn’t given to hurt him. Truth can hurt, but that isn’t its original intention much of the time. This painful truth became clear to Daniel…

Key Principle: The struggle for a righteous kingdom will continue until God establishes His kingdom on earth in place of the works of men.

God has a purpose for telling the story of Who He is in human history, but when injustice is allowed to run rampant in the streets, no believer in immune from feeling the swell of the question inside: “God, why don’t You DO something about this?” Habakkuk cried out his question to God in the face of injustice… it was unbearable. Daniel’s vision was simple: wicked king after wicked king would rule and do wrong – all as part of God’s unfolding drama of human history. It upset Daniel, and it upsets us. I HATE that evil men seem to prevail in so many world conflicts. It is hard not to be beat down by it all! If you have ever felt that, you understand the heart behind the record in chapter seven of Daniel.

It is worth noting that this vision (the second after the one recorded in chapter 2:19-45) was maintained in the ancient manuscript in Aramaic, not Hebrew – so it seems this lesson was for the world of Daniel’s day (and the rulers) to easily comprehend. God wasn’t embarrassed the evil would appear to prevail with such power and unchecked determination.

Sometimes people who are critical of God’s people and God’s Word like to use their seemingly enduring power as evidence of their supremacy, a sort of “might makes right” idea. God included in the text the truth that men who HATE God and His people will have their centuries to rule, but they would not ultimately last… God will end all things in righteousness, firmly held in His control. This is His plan and it was disturbing before he settled into God’s message. Take a look…

First, consider the situation (7:1).

7:1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.

Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, who ruled three years and then left his throne to his son while he devoted himself to the worship of the moon god Sin in a desert oasis – a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts. Belshazzar became co-regent in 553 BCE, and was supposed to attend to Babylon’s defense during his dad’s journey. A few years later, in about 540 BCE, Nabonidus returned when he heard the Persians planned to take the city of Babylon from his son. Nabonidus marched to face Cyrus the Mede, but was defeated and on October 10, 539 BCE, he surrendered to Cyrus. Two days later the Persian armies overthrew the haughty city of Babylon that was engaged in a drunken party as Daniel recorded in our earlier lesson on Daniel 5.

The point of this statement was to share that Belshazzar was a new prince. The young man was new at the job, and as we have seen in a previous lesson, his passions led him. He wasn’t a strong moral ruler, nor did he appear in historical record as a deeply spiritual or reflective man. I cannot prove it, but I have an idea that the prince’s actions in the throne room and banquet hall may have been part of what fed Daniel a nightmare. Daniel evidently wrote the dream to explain the matters within it. The “kept in my heart” reference of 7:28 may refer to his reactions only- It is unclear. What is clear is that the nightmare was painful to behold and scary to contemplate, and then he awoke to Prince “party animal the selfish”. These were days when Daniel really may have questioned what in the world he was doing on this divine assignment. Did you ever do that?

Second, beyond the “situation” that was playing out, by his record Daniel allows us to consider the elements of the vision (7:2-8):

7:2 Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. 3 Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. 4 “The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it. 5 “And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’ 6 “After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. 7 “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. 8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.

Essentially, he saw four beasts (7:4-8). Each beast, according to verse 17 represent kings and their kingdoms:

bald-eaglePerhaps the dream sounds strange to you, picturing different kingdoms by specific animals. Yet, think about it… around the world we use symbols of our country relating to a bald eagle. Let’s see if there are any of the nations on the list of four above that make sense to us:

First, there was a kingdom that is pictured by a lion with wings.

Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian rulers all loved lions. Years before this prophecy King Ashurbanipal II (850’s BCE) had two 15 ton lions of war carved and placed at the entrance of the Temple adjacent to his palace in the Assyrian capital of his day. Each lion was 2.25 meters wide and 2.6 meters high! One was recovered, discovered by Henry Layard in 1849 and now located in the British Museum collection. Persians made royal lion hunts a part of their national pride symbolism. The king of the jungle is a natural for such symbolism. At the same time, none of us have seen lions with wings…unless we traveled to ancient Persia. Such representations are found in Babylon, and all of the Persian Gulf. A lion with wings could easily befit Babylon because she was so swift in conquest of other kingdoms (cp. Jer 49:22; Lam 4:19; Ezek 17:3; Hab 1:6, 8). Like in Daniel 2:19ff, the first kingdom is that of Babylon. It was formerly represented in the Daniel 2 vision as the head of gold.

Second, there was a kingdom pictured as a tilted bear with three ribs hanging from its mouth.

Like the arms and breast of silver from Daniel 2:32, the second kingdom seemed always to be a confederation of TWO THINGS. In the earlier vision it was two arms crossed on the chest, and in this one it is the lopsided bear. The Medes and Persians were such an Empire, unequal partners in confederation – and their king, Cyrus, gobbled up several important cities on their way to taking Babylon as their prize. It is worth noting that early on, it appears that Median influence dominated during the reigns of Cyrus and Cambyses…but in time there appears to have been a drift more toward Persian dominance by the time of Xerxes fifty years later (some suggest that in the phrase from Esther 1:19, “the laws of the Persians and the Medes”).

Third, there was a kingdom pictured as leopard with four heads and four wings.

Greece followed Persia, and the detailed history of the exploits of Alexander the Great’s chasing of Darius III are well known to historians. The leopard corresponds to the “belly and…thighs of bronze” from Daniel 2:32 and 39 – this time the emphasis being placed on the swiftness of the conquests. The four heads, no doubt, refer to the four Diadoche – the generals that took over after the untimely death of Alexander. Donald Campbell adds that… “The expression “dominion was given to it” is most interesting and significant. Did Alexander imagine that it was his military genius alone that enabled him and his small army of 35,000 men to defeat the massive hordes of the Persians numbering, some believe, in the millions? It is true that Alexander was a great leader, but his victories and subsequent dominion over a great empire were his because God, in the execution of His plans, allowed it to happen. Will world rulers ever understand this important fact?” Daniel: God’s Man in a Secular Society by Donald K Campbell.

Fourth, there was a kingdom pictured as terrible monster with ten horns protruding from its head.

Before Daniel saw the last beast, the phrase “after that” may refer only to the sequence of the vision, but appears to suggest the order of the kingdoms themselves. Daniel had no way to make sense of this part of the vision from animal world. It was a beast beyond his experience. Like the hard to describe “iron kingdom” we encountered earlier in Daniel 2:40 – this “terrible beast” was a different kind of kingdom. It appeared to be a conglomerate of things – not one cohesive thing. Finding Rome in this place is not at all difficult, for the might of that Empire stretch from Scotland to Saudi Arabia and changed the face of the world for centuries. Their warfare and killing machinery was without parallel, and the vision made that clear.

Like the end of the Daniel 2 vision had ten toes, so the end of this vision had ten horns. They came out of the system of the fourth kingdom, but seemed to be an interesting separate detail from that system. Look back at the way Daniel was distracted by the horns:

7:7b “…It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. 8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.

The “ten horns” as a specific designation can be seen nine times in Scripture – three in Daniel 7 and six in Revelation 13 and 17. In this passage, it is interesting to note the ten horns refers to a singular kingdom grammatically in Aramaic, which implies that it is a divided single confederation composed of ten rulers, or that there are ten rulers in sequence. The real distraction was the BIG MOUTH on the LITTLE HORN at the end of verse eight.

Now step back for a second, and look at what Daniel recorded. He saw four kingdoms, and the last one had a complicated ending to it – with a variety of rulers and one really boastful individual that couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

Babylon would give way to Persia, and Persia would succumb to Greece. The four Diadoche Kingdoms of Greece would be crushed by the iron treads of Rome. Rome would set a pattern that would build a coalition of ten kings, and a boastful and arrogant politician would arise on the world stage.

Prophecy students LOVE to get tied in the details, but that wasn’t the point of the story – not really.

The third section of the story drew in the movement in Heaven (7:9-14).

One of only a few glimpses the Scriptures give us into the throne room of heaven is found here. There are some striking similarities (as well as a few differences) from this description and the one found in Revelation 4 and 5! Hold on tight, because we are about to pull the curtain back to the very place where God dwells. The physical description represents an unfathomable spiritual world…

7:9 “As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. 11 “Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.) 13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Daniel’s eyes were moved from the boasting horn by a much more impressive vision… that of God’s throne room in Heaven. Think of what he saw! Many thrones were staged as the court of Heaven began to form before him. The Most High God sat down on the highest throne. His visage was beyond compare and his throne was like a moving chariot – with wheels beheld also by the prophet Ezekiel. Look at the God that you serve:

• He is seated on the throne as Judge of all things. Many have opinions, but none are His equal. He is uniquely qualified to discern all things.

• He is clothed in pure white, untainted, unstained, utterly distinct above all. None can compare to the shine of His purity. He is without spot, without blemish, without shadow of turning.

• The hair of His head is white as one with the vast wisdom of all the ages.

• The throne on which he sat was ablaze with a smelter’s fire – for no dross or impurity would ever touch His holy personage.

• His throne was not stationary, but moving and flexible – engaged and ever nimble.

• A flow of fire came from that throne – the heat of holiness combined with the light of truth.

• Thousands of thousands attended Him – all Heaven attentive to His moves and commands.

Don’t forget in all the familiarity of our day that God is not like us. He is not simply our Heavenly buddy or spiritual chum… He is King above all, Majestic and Holy, to be revered, worshiped and adored. There is none like Him!

Ah, this is the special blessing of this passage, but it is ALSO THE PROBLEM OF THE PASSAGE. Look at Daniel’s response in 7:15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me.

Why was Daniel troubled? Why didn’t the sight of Heaven COMFORT him? Because he could see the truth about what God was going to do…and the truth wasn’t pleasant to behold! Keep reading…

To understand, first look at the interpretation of the vision as it was explained first TO him, and then BY him for us:

7:16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this. “So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’ 19 “Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. 20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom. 23 “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time. 26 “ ‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. 27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’

This isn’t difficult to grasp. Look at the sequence:

• There will be four kings and respective kingdoms.
• The last one will have a renewed confederation with ten kings.
• There will arise an especially boastful big mouth – what a shock that politicians could be described that way!
• The big mouth took on God’s people and really whipped them badly until God stepped in.
• Tuning in to the fourth kingdom – it would take over the planet and make a confederation of the world’s rulers for a time.

Look even closer into verses 24-26, because it described in detail a specific period toward the end of all human history:

• Ten kings confederate, and AFTER THEM one arises that knocks out three other leaders.
• His boasting includes defiant blasphemy against God.
• His acts are against God’s people, and he changes the order – redraws the calendar and changes the laws to conform with his own standards.
• He gets cut off. His power is taken away. Heaven acts.
• The Kingdom God replaces the boastful one’s rule with is the EVERLASTING KINGDOM.

Now, here is the statement of Daniel’s feeling, yet again…Daniel 7:28 “This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”

The point of the story…

We have walked through details of kingdoms, but I cannot shake that Daniel is upset. Kings and kingdoms will rise and fall. Armies will march one against another in succession. Bad men will sit atop the pinnacle of power, only to be unseated by other bad men. Evil will reign for generations. God’s people will suffer. Right will be trampled. Fair judgments will be overturned. Votes will be upended by a few who will force the rest of us into their twisted views of what they want. We will watch injustice, and we will feel powerless. We will want to give up. We will want to withdraw. We will feel like there is NO POINT…and we will be WRONG when we think that way. It won’t end in injustice. God isn’t abandoning mankind. It is true…

The struggle for a righteous kingdom will continue until God establishes His kingdom on earth in place of the works of men.

Should I flee to a monastery? Should I grouse at the Heavens? Should I look for hope in the next politician to save us? Should I weep and cry, and feel that God has left the scene? Not at all. I should follow him. I should follow Him where He leads and boldly proclaim WHAT He says. I don’t need to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. I need to be OBEDIENT. Let me close with a story that may help illustrate what I am saying…

Theodorot was a fourth century bishop from Syria, and he wrote a number of commentaries and stories. One of them was the incredible story of a monk named Telemachus…President Ronald Reagan told the story at a Prayer Breakfast in 1984, and since he was a better story teller than I will ever be, I will just quote his version:

[There was a] monk living in a little remote village, spending most of his time in prayer or tending the garden from which he obtained his sustenance – [his name was] Telemachus, [he lived] back in the fourth century. And then one day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome. And believing that he had heard, he set out. And weeks and weeks later, he arrived there, having traveled most of the way on foot. And it was at a time of a festival in Rome. They were celebrating a triumph over the Goths. And he followed a crowd into the Colosseum, and then there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, “We who are about to die salute you.” And he realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. And he cried out, “In the name of Christ, stop!” And his voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Colosseum. And as the games began, he made his way down through the crowd and climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, “In the name of Christ, stop.” And they thought it was part of the entertainment, and at first they were amused. But then, when they realized it wasn’t, they grew belligerent and angry. And as he was pleading with the gladiators, “In the name of Christ, stop,” one of them plunged his sword into his body. And as he fell to the sand of the arena in death, his last words were, “In the name of Christ, stop.” And suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Colosseum. And then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and others began to follow. And in the dead silence, everyone left the Colosseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. Never again did anyone kill or did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd. One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult. “In the name of Christ, stop.”

You don’t know what your voice will do. You follow God. You don’t follow Him only when it is fair and things are going well. You follow Him and do His bidding in your office, in your shop, in your carpool, in your home. You follow, and He will bring the end in His time. Injustice may prevail for a time. Sin may rage in our streets, but Heaven isn’t slack concerning God’s promises. God isn’t impotent, He is patient. When it hurts, keep your eyes fixed on the eastern sky – your redemption draws near!

The struggle for a righteous kingdom will continue until God establishes His kingdom on earth in place of the works of men.