Sermon Notes

January 24th 2018

Thoughts on the Sunday School Lesson January 28th

A Strong Faith / Daniel 10:10-19

9-10 “I heard his voice. At the sound of it I fainted, fell flat on the ground, face in the dirt. A hand touched me and pulled me to my hands and knees.
11 “‘Daniel,’ he said, ‘man of quality, listen carefully to my message. And get up on your feet. Stand at attention. I’ve been sent to bring you news.’ “When he had said this, I stood up, but I was still shaking.

12-14 “‘Relax, Daniel,’ he continued, ‘don’t be afraid. From the moment you decided to humble yourself to receive understanding, your prayer was heard, and I set out to come to you. But I was waylaid by the angel-prince of the kingdom of Persia and was delayed for a good three weeks. But then Michael, one of the chief angel-princes, intervened to help me. I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia. And now I’m here to help you understand what will eventually happen to your people. The vision has to do with what’s ahead.’

15-17 “While he was saying all this, I looked at the ground and said nothing. Then I was surprised by something like a human hand that touched my lips. I opened my mouth and started talking to the messenger: ‘When I saw you, master, I was terror-stricken. My knees turned to water. I couldn’t move. How can I, a lowly servant, speak to you, my master? I’m paralyzed. I can hardly breathe!’

18-19 “Then this humanlike figure touched me again and gave me strength. He said, ‘Don’t be afraid, friend. Peace. Everything is going to be all right. Take courage. Be strong.’ “Even as he spoke, courage surged up within me. I said, ‘Go ahead, let my master speak. You’ve given me courage.’

INTRODUCTION

The final quarterly lesson drawn from the book of Daniel grapples with how God’s people maintain strong faith when worldly events seem at odds with God’s sovereignty. If God is really in control, why is the world out of control? If God is really concerned about the plight of the voiceless, the displaced, the disenfranchised and the oppressed, how long will the masters of this world—the wealthy, social elites, political rulers—prosper at the expense of everyone else? How long will good people suffer at the hands of individual and institutional evil? And, what are good people—Godly people—supposed to do while we wait? In this week’s lesson, Daniel receives an encouraging word from a heavenly messenger that fortifies his resolve to remain strong in his faith while he waits for a vision of God’s plans for future world events.

HISTORICAL AND LITERARY BACKGROUND OF THE TEXT

This lesson is a continuation of the four apocalyptic visions that begin in Daniel 7 and culminate in Daniel 12. As discussed in the introduction to the lesson on Daniel 1, the book of Daniel is comprised of two literary genres. The story genre (also called “court narratives”), is found in chapters 2 – 6 and narrates the various contests and conflicts that exiled Jews Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah encounter while working in the Babylonian administration. The court stories function as a prologue to the other literary genre, apocalyptic visions, which appear in chapters 7-12.

The apocalyptic visions provide detailed predictions of Babylon’s political future while highlighting God’s control of both heavenly and earthly events. Since the book of Daniel is the only apocalypse in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (the New Testament book, Revelation, is the only other biblical example of apocalypse), a brief comment on apocalyptic literature is necessary to grasp the literary and historical context of the printed lesson.

Apocalypse, apocalyptic or apocalypticism is a genre of literature that explores the revelation and interpretation of mysteries. The word comes from the Greek word apokalypsis, which means “revelation.” Biblical scholar John J. Collins offers this definition of the literary genre. “Apocalypse is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework in which a revelation is mediated by an other worldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.” While Daniel and Revelation are the only canonical apocalypses, there are a number of extra-biblical apocalypses such as 1 Enoch (Book of Watchers), 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and the Apocalypse of Abraham which expands Genesis 15.

As a literary genre, apocalyptic literature has several distinguishing traits:
1. It is a narrative (story) presented to a human individual (known as the seer) by a Divine messenger of God.
2. Incorporates a review of history that culminates in an eschatological conflict.
3. Reveals and interprets earthly events and situations through the lens of the supernatural. The supernatural world is spatially seemingly above or below this world, and there is a corresponding relationship between events within earthly and supernatural worlds.
4. Temporally describes the future events (eschatology) and end times (end of days).
5. It is meant to influences the mindset and behavior of the person or community receiving the vision.

In the book of Daniel, the four apocalyptic visions nurture hope in the Lord even though it appears that God’s rule has been destroyed by worldly powers. In Chapter 7, Daniel has a vision of four beasts rising out of the sea representing the Babylonian, Mede, Persian and Alexandrian empires. The Alexandrian empire eventually gives birth to ten Seleucid rulers culminating in Antiochus IV Epiphanes. All of these kingdoms will eventually be judged by God and defeated by the fifth kingdom, which is “one like the son of man.” In the three other visions, information from the first vision is expanded. In Chapter 8, Daniel has a vision of the ram, representing the Medo-Persian empires being conquered by a goat representing Alexander the Great.)

As last week’s expanded lesson text (Daniel 9) recounts, in response to Daniel’s prayer of confession and petition, Daniel receives a third vision and Gabriel warns that the return of the exiles to Canaan will not initiate the eternal kingdom of God. Instead, Israel will endure an extended period of political, social and spiritual upheaval at the hands of Persian, Greek (Alexandrian, Ptolemaic, Seleucid) and Roman rulers. In this week’s lesson, worldly empires once again provide the political and historical backdrop to the spiritual and practical concerns of Daniel and his people. Daniel receives his final vision during the third year of the Persian King Cyrus’s reign after three weeks of mourning and fasting over the fate of Jerusalem.

INTO THE LESSON

9-10 “I heard his voice. At the sound of it I fainted, fell flat on the ground, face in the dirt. A hand touched me and pulled me to my hands and knees. 11 “‘Daniel,’ he said, ‘man of quality, listen carefully to my message. And get up on your feet. Stand at attention. I’ve been sent to bring you news.’ “When he had said this, I stood up, but I was still shaking.
In Daniel 10: 9-12 we pick up the visionary experience while Daniel is on the shores of the Tigris River. He sees a figure dressed in a linen ephod, with a belt of solid gold. The figure’s image is otherworldly—with a body like stone and bronze, eyes like fire, and a voice that sounds like countless voices. Although Daniel singularly witnesses this figure, something about this moment is indeed dreadful, and his companions flee in fear. Like the prophet Isaiah, Daniel is arrested by sheer magnitude of this moment. Now alone, and emotionally and physically overwhelmed by this ominous moment, upon hearing the sound of this figure’s voice, Daniel immediately faints, falling flat on his face. Then, a hand reaches out and pulls Daniel up onto his hands and knees. There are a number of observations that we can glean from Daniel’s experience in these verses:
(1) Daniel is beloved by God for his special relationship with God. The first thing that the messenger (whom we assume is Gabriel) says to Daniel is “man of quality” in the Message, or ish-hamudot “greatly beloved” in the original Hebrew. This reveals God’s special care for Daniel, likely because of his Daniel’s faithfulness under the threat of persecution and death while serving in the Babylonian court. These words serve as comfort to Daniel, who is clearly frightened out of his mind because of this angelic visitation. Further, the words are a confirmation that Daniel’s spiritual posture has been noted by God. This reminds contemporary believers that God takes not of our efforts to remain faithful in the face of difficult circumstances.
(2) This experience is singularly for Daniel. Gabriel says he was sent specifically to Daniel to bring him good news—not to his friends—but to Daniel. Perhaps this is why the companions abandoned Daniel during this frightening experience. They didn’t have the spiritual fortitude to handle the “word” of the Lord. Because Daniel’s faithfulness was noticed by God, then God rewards Daniel with a special word from on high. It is doubtful that Daniel would have received this word if he had not been engaged in systematic prayer, fasting and whole life stewardship consumed by seeking God’s presence and guidance in all aspects of his life.
(3) Daniel’s fear is appropriate given the heavenly status of this messenger. Scripture recounts numerous stories of Divine envoys that are angelic hosts prepared for warfare and destruction. Daniel likely was familiar with these stories, which is why he remained fearful even after Gabriel stands him up on his feet. However, Gabriel comes not to war with Daniel, but to announce victory for Israel because they have one who will fight for them in the future—Michael the Arch-Angel.

12-14 “‘Relax, Daniel,’ he continued, ‘don’t be afraid. From the moment you decided to humble yourself to receive understanding, your prayer was heard, and I set out to come to you. But I was waylaid by the angel-prince of the kingdom of Persia and was delayed for a good three weeks. But then Michael, one of the chief angel-princes, intervened to help me. I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia. And now I’m here to help you understand what will eventually happen to your people. The vision has to do with what’s ahead.’ in us!’
In these verses, although Daniel is still fearful, the Gabriel reassures him that he should not be afraid. Because of Daniel’s humble spiritual posture, and his desire to seek Divine wisdom and understanding, God hears his prayer, and immediately dispatches a heavenly messenger to calm his fears, reveal understanding for this present age, wisdom to know what to do once the vision is received. Daniel is receiving this vision so that he and the Israelite people will know what to do when worldly events begin to unfold. Divine vision is bequeathed for the purpose of preparation and action.
Further, the Gabriel’s command to “fear not” functions as a call to arms in spiritual warfare. When Gabriel says he was delayed by the angel-prince of the kingdom of Persia, this reveals the ancient apocalyptic thought that nations had spiritual counterparts that fought for them within the spiritual realm. There were heavenly counterparts that functioned as patron warriors for each earthly empire. Therefore, earthly conflicts had celestial implications and vice versa. The physical conflicts occurring on earth were also being played out in heaven as spiritual warfare. Further, Gabriel’s announcement that he was fighting the prince of Persian Kingdom underscores the cruel nature of all imperialistic kingdoms. There is no such thing as a “good” imperial Master—they’re still a master.

15-17 “While he was saying all this, I looked at the ground and said nothing. Then I was surprised by something like a human hand that touched my lips. I opened my mouth and started talking to the messenger: ‘When I saw you, master, I was terror-stricken. My knees turned to water. I couldn’t move. How can I, a lowly servant, speak to you, my master? I’m paralyzed. I can hardly breathe!’ 18-19 “Then this humanlike figure touched me again and gave me strength. He said, ‘Don’t be afraid, friend. Peace. Everything is going to be all right. Take courage. Be strong.’ “Even as he spoke, courage surged up within me. I said, ‘Go ahead, let my master speak. You’ve given me courage.’

During Gabriel’s revelation of what will happen at the “end of days” Daniel has remained silent. Then something like a human hand touches his lips and Daniel begins to talk with feverish intensity. He says that he was terror stricken because he recognized how lowly and insignificant he felt in the face of a messenger of God. Paralyzed by fear and dread, Daniel says he could hardly breathe, let alone speak. But for a third time, Gabriel tells lifts Daniel up, encourages him, and strengthened him for the task at hand—understanding what is to come. Gabriel says Shalom—the peace of God—and that everything will be alright. Regardless of what the vision describes, in spite of the looks political carnage that is sure to take place, God’s peace will make everything all right. Daniel is to have faith in God, take courage in the fact that God is in control, and be strong in the face of the turbulent times ahead.

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(1) This definition is quoted in Daniel L. Smith-Christopher’s article, “Introduction, Commentary and Reflections on the Book of Daniel,” in The New Interpreter Bible Commentary Volume VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015) 717. The original citation is from John J. Collins, “Genre, Ideology and Social Movements in Jewish Apocalypticism,” In Mysteries and Revelations, Apocalyptic Studies Since the Uppsala Colliqium, ed. J.J. Collins and J.H. Charlesworth (Sheffield: JSOT, 1991) 19.

(2) For a more in-depth discussion of this genre of biblical literature see Frederick J. Murphy’s, “Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015) 695-711.
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CONCLUSION

In many ways, Daniel’s final vision experience is a call story. Daniel is being called to remain faithful and be strong enough to accept his assignment—to take up arms in spiritual warfare. Daniel is being called, and finally by verse 19 is ready to accept his call. For in the final verse of the printed lesson he says, “Go ahead, let my master speak. You’ve given me courage, and now I’m ready to fight!” As contemporary believers, are we ready to fight on the spiritual battlefield? Are we prepared to “promise Him that I will serve him till I die? Are we on the battlefield for the Lord? If so, like Daniel, we must accept the call to watch, listen and fight!

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