Shine the Light: “Peering into the Darkness” (Daniel 9-12)

bats in cave2I don’t like caves, and I have never been partial to bats… in fact they really creep me out. During my archaeological training, a group of young students in Jerusalem – my roommates and I – decided to go exploring in some caves in Wadi Tekoa – a site in the Judean Wilderness near the ancient home of the Prophet Amos. The caves were not excavated, and still retained all their antiquities, most of which were buried as much as twenty feet below the surface of the current cave floor. What I didn’t know at the time was that much the floor was nothing more than bat dung… several feet of bat dung… old bat dung from hundreds of years of bat relief! The word “disgusting doesn’t ‘scratch the surface’ – if you will forgive the obvious pun!

Worse than the condition of the floor were the residents on the ceiling, lined with an innumerable scene of winged, hanging, hairy rodents. The bats were thick in the cave, and the cave was as dark at pitch, even though outside the cave it was midday and the burning desert sun was relentless. The only thing about the cave experience that was pleasant was the cool air… a very slight breeze that eased out of the cave from deep inside the darkness. What I found most unsettling was that I could not see as we crawled forward. If we used a flashlight, it stirred the bats, and they would pelt us and the light. If we didn’t – there was only a very eerie darkness, and no way to perceive the depth of the cave, nor where we were in relationship to the opening… it was a scary experience I will do my best never to repeat. I have come to realize that I treasure my sight. I love color and visual beauty. I can sit in a gallery and look at a famous Monet for an hour and not realize the time was passing… I hate the thought of not being able to see. My cave experience cemented that fear within…

What is true of physical sight is also true in most of us when we think of the future. We cannot really see where the story that God is crafting is headed on our own. Our nation has made such dramatic changes in our life time, most of us confess we cannot begin to reckon the course of the coming years. We simply cannot peer into the darkness… but we who know God know a secret – there is nothing too dark for His eye. He can see it all. He is weaving the tapestry of history, and He knows where it goes and what story it will reveal when all the threads are in place. Sometimes He decides to share it with a believer, and even better, lets that follower share it with us. The prophecies of an ancient Jew in captivity in Babylon are a record of just those very truths – God shining a light forward in the dark cave of the future of His people…

Key Principle: History is “His” story – and God is never surprised by it. The path of the future is as the path of the past in His eyes – secure, known and unwavering from the Master craftsman’s hand.

Today we glimpse directly into the cave, in a set of prophecies given hundreds of years before Christ, that all but spell out His name before He was born. That peering ahead includes much detail that to Daniel was prophecy, but to us it is history. To God, the past and the future are the same – finished in His mind…. Let’s take a look at the course of the future of the Jewish people as exposed from the shrouded darkness to Daniel.

There are seven parts to the prophecies Daniel received during the first year of Darius the Mede recorded in the book:

Unfortunately, they have been divided into separated chapters in Daniel 9, and then rejoined in Daniel 11 and 12. We will look at the whole picture together, though we cannot tell if Daniel received the whole picture at one time, or over the course of that first year.

Part One: The “big frame” of the future of God’s chosen people was offered. This vision included an overview from rebuilding Jerusalem, Messiah’s coming and departure, and a Period of Great Tribulation (9:24-27).

Part Two: Starting “now”: the immediate future of the Media Kingdom (11:1) was revealed to encourage the Persian ruler.

Part Three: “Buck Goat” rising: the coming rise of the Hellenic Kingdom (Alexander and the Diadoche – 11:2-4) was predicted:

Part Four: Divisions and Strife: the battles of Hellenic Monarchies (Seleucids and Ptolemies) are revealed (11:5-20)

Part Five: Template: a Seleucid ruler shows the pattern of hatred toward God’s people (Antiochus IV-11:21-35).

Part Six: Destroyer: a future ruler – the hateful Antichrist was described (Daniel 11:36-45)

Part Seven: Free at Last: the restoration of the Jewish people was made clear (Daniel 12).

Of this detailed list, we will choose two prophecies to look at with greater intensity – because they are the ones most relevant to the present and future story of God’s move through and in His people… We will examine “Part One” and “Part Six” – the vision of the coming Christ (9:24-27) and the vision of the coming Anti-Christ (11:36-45) with only a quick nod to the stories of the other prophecies.

Look closely at Part One, and watch the entrance and exit of Messiah…

Part One: The “big frame” of the future of God’s chosen people was offered. This vision included an overview from rebuilding Jerusalem, Messiah’s coming and departure, and a Period of Great Tribulation (9:24-27).

Daniel 9:24 “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. 25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty- two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 Then after the sixty- two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 27 And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.

Look closely as this incredibly detailed prophecy was disclosed:

Remember it came through desperate prayer (9:20-21) by a prophet that was holding God to a literal fulfillment of His Word. It was delivered by an angelic messenger (9:22-23). He opened a “decree” from Heaven (9:24-27), and it was about a period of time – some “Seventy Weeks”. The description is VERY SPECIFIC:

• The full extended time was decreed specifically for the Jewish people and Jerusalem (9:24a). God placed a limit on how long everything in their future would continue and closed the plan’s end.

• The end of the time would leave a fully atoned Jewish people, a permanent disposal of all their unrighteousness, an end to all prophecy, and a pure place of worship in the holiest place of the Temple (9:24b). This was not a mere statement that the atonement would be PROVIDED, but rather that the atonement would be EFFECTIVE. Interpreters that reckon this to be a reference to the COMING of Messiah, fail to grasp this prophecy is not only about the availability of the ultimate solution to sin – but the actual resolution of the disobedient people and their defiled worship center!

• The announced time clock commenced with the human decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem – which could have been one of four such times Jerusalem was
“restarted” (9:25):

(1) Cyrus II and the original decree (538/537 BCE).
(2) Darius or Cyaxeres (c. 519 BCE).
(3) Artaxerxes to Ezra (c 458 BCE).
(4) Artaxerxes to Nehemiah (445 BCE, Neh. 1).

The last one appears to be the correct one – because it fits the whole of the narrative’s detail. This is the only decree that is explicit to include the defenses of the city. The walls and gates were still broken down when this decree was given. This decree was given in March of 445 BCE (cp. Neh. 2:1-8). If that is correct, the clock started at that point, and explains the essential nature of why God provided the record of Nehemiah (beyond the fact that it is a great story!).

• The unfolding of time is told in SABBATICAL YEARS–in groups of seven years – just as the people had neglected the celebration of those over a long period of 490 years and now were in captivity for seventy years to correct this specific desecration of the land. 2 Chron. 36:21 says, “The land enjoyed its Sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.” (a reference to Jeremiah 25:11). After 69 blocks of seven years (9:25), Messiah the Prince would come. That left us with a MATH PROBLEM if the sixty nine sevens were consecutive and unbroken – which was not certain in the prophecy. In that case, commencing with decree to restore Jerusalem (plaza and moat) until Messiah the Prince comes was to be 69 x 7, reckoned as 483 years. If we count the time between the decree given in March of 445 BCE (cp. Neh. 2:1-8) in 69 sets of Sabbatical years (seven year blocks), using the 360 day year common to the time, we move forward 173,880 days, ending on or about 32-33 CE with Messiah the Prince. That appears to be in the reference of Jesus’ announcement in Luke 19 at Palm Sunday.

To be clear, I didn’t discover this problem. It was long ago documented by Sir Robert Anderson, who developed the chronology based on March 14, 445 BCE. That date was later corrected by scholars as 444 BCE. The dates of the end of this period have also been carefully studied and debated, as there are a few variables – leap years, the year “0” etc, and the point is that it brings all scholars to a date between 30 CE and 33 CE – the time of Jesus’ appearance in Jerusalem.

• After Messiah entered the scene, according to the prophecy, He will be somehow reduced to “having nothing” in the wake of a Wicked Prince and his people that will destroy the Temple and the City. This appears to be a reference to the Crucifixion, followed by the destruction of the upper city of Jerusalem and her Temple that occurred in 70 CE (9:26).

• A sustained period that includes unending wars and desolations in the region of the Near East (9:26) is detailed, until a political entity appears that can settle the strife with a pleasing treaty that appears to uphold all parties for a period of time (9:27a). The key player in making this treaty will also be the one who violates it after three and one half years (9:27b) as war revives. By the end of that conflict, the treaty maker (and breacher) is slain (9:27b).

The overall frame, then was this:

1) Decree and return from Babylon.
2) Coming of Messiah.
3) Cutting off of Messiah.
4) Destruction of Jerusalem.
5) Near East Wars and Strife.
6) An Eventual Peace Treaty.
7) The Violation of the Treaty by its creator.
8) A time of destruction and warfare.
9) The death of the violator.

Wow, that is clear. Can we prove that Daniel was written as predictive prophecy BEFORE the events it detailed? Sure we can! Cave four of the eleven caves found near Qumran (of the so-called “Dead Sea Scrolls”), seems to indicate that Daniel was a treasured by that community – because so many fragments of that work were found. The “Yahad” community of Qumran lived during a very anxious period and may have thought the end prophecies were being fulfilled in their day. Though it is true that the fragments of 4QDanc, published in November 1989, do not include but a few words from Daniel 9 (scraps from Cave 4 contain “five tiny fragments, all from the prayer in chapter 9 but none with more than one complete word”), and 12 – these have not been yet discerned from the fragments as yet – the rest of the writing was dated to the C2 BCE – allowing us to demonstrate chapter 11 comments of the Hellenistic period of wars as clear, detailed, predictive prophecy! This also forces the date of the original writing back before that time, as copies were clearly being made by the C2 BCE for distribution of a document that internally dates itself to the C6 BCE. (*The most extensively preserved scroll of the book of Daniel from Qumran is 4QDana, which contains large portions of Daniel. Preserved are parts of Daniel 1:16–20; 2:9–11, 19–49; 3:1, 2; 4:29, 30; 5:5–7, 12–14, 16–19; 7:5–7, 25–28; 8:1–5; 10:16–20; 11:13–16. Scroll 4QDanb contains Daniel 5:10–12, 14–16, 19–22; 6:8–22, 27–29; 7:1–6, 11(?), 26–28; 8:1–8, 13–16; and 4QDanc has Daniel 10:5–9, 11–16, 21; 11:1, 2, 13–17, 25–29 (Ulrich 1987:18).

The lesson here is unmistakable. God isn’t “making up the plan” in response to men’s ideas and strategies, nor is He flexing based on the work of His enemy. God has the plan – and God is working it. Men can reject God’s right to do so – but that won’t change anything. The enemy can lie and tell us that God has lost control – but that doesn’t make it so. When God set the plan of human history in place, that was the plan.

When Job asked God about WHY terrible things happened, God answered without any sense of defensiveness and merely replied:

Job 38:2 “Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge?

That doesn’t seem like much of an answer – but the very question implies something that is NOT at all true – that we have the standing to question the Creator. I am not His peer, nor am I able to think on His level. That is the simple fact, regardless of how I feel about it. Professional ball players don’t need tips from amateurs, nor do they truly benefit from the shouted insights of angry fans. The Creator isn’t a Heavenly parent that is desperate to make me happy at the expense of the truth. It may sound harsh, but when I express an arrogant attitude of equality – truth is the right prescription to set me straight.

Part Two: Starting “now”: the immediate future of the Media Kingdom (11:1) was revealed to encourage the Persian ruler.

God not only opened the door to the whole future of the people of Israel, He opened the immediate future of the Median Achaemenid Empire – and explained how it would create its own collapse in the future.

Daniel 11:1 “In the first year of Darius the Mede, I arose to be an encouragement and a protection for him. And now I will tell you the truth. Behold, three more kings are going to arise in Persia. Then a fourth will gain far more riches than all of them; as soon as he becomes strong through his riches.

Daniel offered encouragement to the King Cyaxeres (Darius) about the immediate future of his kingdom, perhaps at some time when Darius thought it was being usurped. The encouragement was this: there shall stand up yet three kings – (Gabriel already spoke of Cyrus) who was now co-reigning; and after him three others should arise. Though not as familiar to many in our day, the Achaemenid Persian Empire (550–330 BC) was the largest kingdom the ancient world had seen to that time, extending from Anatolia and Egypt across western Asia to northern India and Central Asia. The rulers referred to are: 559-530 – Cyrus II the Great, 529-522 – Cambyses (son) who reigned seven years and five months; 521-486 – Darius I, the Great and 485-465 – Xerxes I (son). He was the fourth king that was prophesied to be “far richer” and that was demonstrated in his extended party in Esther 1 (where he was called Ahashverosh). The prophecy that he would “stir up against Grecia” was realized in battle after battle – and loss after loss by the Persians. Money couldn’t buy him victory.

The historian Herodotus, recorded that his army amounted to five million, two hundred and eighty-three thousand, two hundred and twenty men. Three years were invested preparing for the expedition against the Greeks, and Daniel foretold it all…Eight more rulers would follow in the Median Empire, but they would never best Greece, and were eventually overtaken by it… but that is no surprise, because Daniel foretold that as well!

What does this prophecy teach us? There are times a kingdom is not undone by others, but is destroyed by the ambitions of its own rulers. The richest and largest still hungered for more, and their insatiable desire for “just a little more” destroyed them. Greed is a killer force.

Part Three: “Buck Goat” rising: the coming rise of the Hellenic Kingdom (Alexander and the Diadoche – 11:2-4) was predicted:

The details of the Median Kingdom are matched by the prophecy of the rise and fall of Alexander the Great, as the Hellenic Kingdom swallows up the eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.

11:2 “…he will arouse the whole empire against the realm of Greece. 3 And a mighty king will arise, and he will rule with great authority and do as he pleases. 4 But as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom will be broken up and parceled out toward the four points of the compass, though not to his own descendants, nor according to his authority which he wielded, for his sovereignty will be uprooted and given to others besides them.

Swift in conquest, the Greeks swept the world, but their kingdom was quickly divided after the death of Alexander the Great. Don’t miss the lesson here…

The lesson: Even powerful and successful men can be cut down in short order. A lifetime of accomplishment can be washed away as swiftly as a sand castle at the incoming tide. We cannot put trust in accomplishments, awards, fame and power – they are all temporal and fleeting.

Part Four: Divisions and Strife: the battles of Hellenic Monarchies (Seleucids and Ptolemies) are revealed (11:5-20)

A large section of Daniel 11, from 11:5-20 details a long litany of battles and conflicts between two Greek ruling households – one located in Egypt, the other is Syria. One is the noted “king of the south”, the other “king of the north”.

The historical detail can seem overwhelming in the text, but there are a number of insights that are worth considering when looking through this chapter:

The prophecy of Daniel 11 is both LONG and SIMPLE. It reveals the most detailed prophecy in the book and one of the longest in all of the Hebrew Scriptures, yet it is without symbolism.

Daniel 11 is EARTH BOUND. The text presents physical war, peace and treaties– not heavenly conflict.

Daniel 11 is CONFIRMED in history as written before the events:

• The historian Josephus Flavius (a younger contemporary to the Apostle Paul and other Apostles, died c. 100 CE) recorded that Alexander the Great read a copy of Daniel at the time of his annexation of Jerusalem in 332 BCE (Antiquities of the Jews XI, chapter viii, paragraphs 3-5).

• Furthermore, two ancient historical sources record that Ptolemy Philadelphos (308-246 BCE) commissioned the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (called the Septuagint or LXX) in the 3rd century BCE, and Daniel was included in the LXX collection.

• Finally, Daniel is also included among the Dead Sea Scrolls (1Q and 4Q) which date from about C 2nd BCE (the oldest manuscript is 4Q114, dating from the late 2nd Century BCE).

The simple lesson: God will offer just enough evidence to commend believers as He allows us to “uncover” the truth. Don’t ask for PROOF, but don’t think there is NO EVIDENCE either.

Fifth, the Template: a Seleucid ruler shows the pattern of hatred toward God’s people (Antiochus IV-11:21-35).

Daniel 11:21 “In his place a despicable person will arise, on whom the honor of kingship has not been conferred, but he will come in a time of tranquility and seize the kingdom by intrigue. 22 “The overflowing forces will be flooded away before him and shattered, and also the prince of the covenant. 23 “After an alliance is made with him he will practice deception, and he will go up and gain power with a small [force of] people. … 35 “Some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge and make them pure until the end time; because [it is] still [to come] at the appointed time.

Daniel 11:21-35 sets up a TYPE that is later mimicked by an end time villain. Mentioned because of their rabid hatred of the Jewish people, two kings rise up in Israel’s future that will apply pressure on the Jews. The first, Antiochus IV Epiphanes demonstrates an important lesson to God’s people (11:21-35). A second “willful king” (Antichrist, 11:36-45) is exposed for his special cruelty and troubles for the Jewish people.

The lesson: The enemy hates God, and hates anyone God makes promises to. He wants to show that God cannot do what He claimed, and doesn’t deserve the position He holds. He does this in grand scale – but he also does the same in my life. Satan tries to make me think that God doesn’t lead well – and pushes me to show my independence from God. In my arrogance, I can even come to believe I know better than God about y future, my plans and my best path.

Sixth, the Destroyer: a future ruler – the hateful Antichrist was described (Daniel 11:36-45)

1,600 years ago, the Bible scholar Jerome, who translated the Vulgate, wrote: “Those of our persuasion believe all these things are spoken prophetically of the Antichrist who is to arise in the end time.” (Jerome, Romans, p. 129).

This passage offers our first deep glance at four specifics regarding the Antichrist and his system. We know:

1. His time (36): He will be active during “the time of wrath.” As Jesus made clear in Matthew 24. “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ [that can’t refer to Antiochus because that happened 200 years before Jesus spoke these words] spoken of through the prophet Daniel–let the reader understand–For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–and never to be equaled again.” Jesus says the Antichrist will be active during this time of great distress.

2. His temperament (37-39): He will be a charismatic, ambitious, egotistical, arrogant politician– that really narrows it down, doesn’t it? Verse 37 says, “He will show no regard for the gods of his fathers.” That means he will reject his spiritual heritage and worship another kind of god: power, money, and military might. He may begin as a man of peace, but he becomes a vicious and cruel warrior.

The Apostle Paul wrote about the Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:4: “He will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” We should recognize the essence of sin is not atheism; it is self-worship. Basically, he man is a man of violence, a man of war and will be responsible for a renewal of war between parties in the Middle East.

3. His territory (40-44)

Daniel 11:40 suggests he will war in the Near East…in 41 “He will also enter the Beautiful Land, and many [countries] will fall; but these will be rescued out of his hand: Edom, Moab and the foremost of the sons of Ammon. Skip down to verse 45. “He will pitch his royal tents between the seas [the Mediterranean and the Dead Seas] at the beautiful holy mountain [Jerusalem]...” He will ultimately set up his throne affirm some kind of peace treaty between Israel and her neighbors. In order to maintain this “peace” he will set up a residence in Jerusalem.

4. His termination (45)

Daniel 11:45 “…yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him.

During the seven years of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will be the lead dog in the pack. Listen to how John describes this devastating defeat of this demonic demagogue in Revelation 19:20: “But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.”

Here is the truth: God is going to allow some wicked men and women to take advantage of His people – both Jews in the future and believers today. Evil isn’t winning, it is fulfilling its assigned role – and it will end when and how God says it will.

Seventh, Free at Last: the restoration of the Jewish people was made clear (Daniel 12).

We’ll be back here. It is worth noting the story doesn’t end in the rise and fall of evil – but in the promise of God to fulfill His promises to His people… that is the essence of the reason for the glimpse ahead in the first place.

Israel’s future is about His promises. Our lives are about His promises.

  • Do not despair when evil gains – God is in control of the story. His patience is a benefit to my lost friend – not an inability of His strong arm.
  • Do not complain when darkness rises – God will used the dark threads in His needlework just as He uses the bright colors – to show Himself on the tapestry of human history.

Look into the dark cave with confidence. The story is His. The glory is His. The victory is His. The promise is ours… and we celebrate it!