Blogging Towards Sunday, June 16, 2013
Daniel 7:1-18, Matthew 13:24- 43 & 16:13-28
THEODICY. That’s the theological word for the question of why bad things happen to good people; why God doesn’t seem to either be able to stop evil, tragedy and sickness, or doesn’t seem to care enough to do so. It’s part of the root of the challenge of living by faith and into faith: if God loves us so much, then how come…….. (I’ll let you fill in the blank). This week’s chapter from Daniel and readings from the gospel of Matthew flesh out a response that both affirms God’s sovereignty (have you noticed the reoccurring theme in Daniel?) and the promise of one to come who would right all wrongs, wipe away all tears, and bind up all wounds.
This chapter is often regarded as the most important chapter of the book of Daniel. Chapters 1 to 6 are narrative, telling stories, written mostly in Aramaic (simplified Hebrew used as the lingua franca in the Persian Empire). Chapters 8 to 12 are visions, and eschatological prophecies written in Hebrew, spoken primarily – if not only – by the Jews in the Exile and in Israel. Our chapter curiously is in Aramaic and also an eschatological vision. It’s thus both transitional and pivotal. It moves from stories written in a language so that all those oppressed by the Persian Empire can relate to it. Chapter 7 is also a vision destined for those that follow the Ancient of Days – Yahweh – who will send one who looks like, or is in the image, of a human being (v.13). This vision is simultaneously universal and particular, for all the nations of the Earth and for the chosen people of Israel.
Looking closer at the text: – this chapters is a Theophany expressing a eschatological prophecy. What does that mean? What’s it mean for us today?
- Scholars see connections between this vision and the dream told of in Chapter 2, both of which talk about 4 kingdoms to come before God’s judgment.
- Prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a prophet are then communicated to others. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come (cf. divine knowledge) as well as testimonies or repeated revelations.
- Theophany, from the Ancient Greek “theophaneia,” meaning “appearance of god”, refers to the appearance of a deity to a human or other being. For Christians and Jews with respect to the Bible, the words refers to the manifestation of God to humankind; the sensible sign by which the presence of God is revealed. Only a small number of theophanies are found in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. In our chapter the God of Israel appears as the Ancient of Days a figure clothed in brilliant white who has hair as pure as wool and throne of fiery flames.. Biblical writers were cautious about such portrayals, seemingly aware of the danger of making God too human-like. Given this reluctance, the passage invites us to consider what’s at stake in this, and any, portrayal of God.
- This conventional depiction of God as an old man may seem a little unsophisticated, perhaps a little childish at best. At worst, God is petty and arbitrary in looking after human affairs, a little too much like his goofy human subjects. But for Daniel 7, the intention of the passage is to portray God as anything but! The writer of Daniel 7 is, in fact, trying to illuminate the deity’s justice, righteousness, and commitment to God’s people during a time when justice and righteousness seem to be up for grabs, especially when it comes to governing the world.
- Wild Animals: In the verses that come before and after this lectionary passage, the text further contrasts God’s righteous rule with the brutal rule of Belshazzare and/or Antiochus IV (who violently forced the Jews he ruled to convert to Greek belief) and other foreign kings and empires. The biblical writer does this skillfully by depicting these kingdoms as wild, fierce, and predatory animals with unnatural features. They have too many heads, or too many wings, or too many horns. But in contrast, the Ancient of Days resembles a human!
- One like a human: God’s angelic agent and viceroy is also humanlike. The passage describes “one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven” (verse 13) who will govern all peoples, nations, and languages with the Most High’s power. It is not possible to identify with certainty who the ancient Jewish writer had in mind when talking about this being on the clouds — it may have been the archangel Michael, or it may have been a reference to the entire Jewish community. But what is significant is that God’s features and the humanlike one on the clouds are bound up together with humanity — God has not abandoned the faithful community in Jerusalem, but is identified with and allied with the people.
- Is that Jesus?: the Son of Man, one like a human being: Daniel 7 influenced the New Testament enormously. In the gospels, the grammatically indefinite phrase, “one like a human being” becomes the title the “Son of Man” and given new meaning in the person of Jesus Christ. Though the Son of Man suffers now, he is also the chosen one of God who will come again in the future to usher in God’s eternal kingdom (Mark 8:38; 13:26; Matthew 13:24, 37; 16:28; 19:28; 24:30; Luke 12:8-9; see also Revelation 5:11-12).
Questions for wondering and exploring:
- What message do you hear in this chapter? Is it encouraging or discouraging?
- How is the rule of God (and the Son of Man) different than that of the beast king? How do you envision God – how do you understand and look for the purpose, passion and plan of God in Jesus for our universe?; for our city?; for your life?
The Ancient of Days as depicted by William Blake