Understanding Apocalyptic writing – Saturday, 34th Week in ordinary time – Daniel 7:15- 27
Chapters 1-6 of the book of Daniel contained 6 stories of faithfulness. Chapter 7-12 contains 4 visions that Daniel saw. These visions pertain to the religious crisis that the Jews were undergoing in the second century under Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The setting or the background of these visions is still Babylon where Daniel is an official though now advanced in age. Daniel is still the hero of this section as he was in the last section but there are differences.
In the stories previously Daniel was the interpreter of visions now he is the recipient of dreams; he narrates them. In the stories previously, Daniel is spoken of in the third person. Now, Daniel narrates the visions in the first person. In both sections the message is the same; to encourage Jews of the Maccabean age to remain loyal to their religion but the form of the message is communicated differently. Now the form used is not stories, but VISIONS. The author looks forward to the end of the present age.
From this section onwards, the literary form used is Apocalyptic. Apocalyptic thinking and writing arose out of a historical situation consisting of three elements. The problem of evil, the emergence of “righteous remnant” who were loyal to God against the prevailing mood of compromise and the cessation or the end of prophecy at the very time when the people needed a divine explanation for their historical plight.
Apocalyptic thought is always eschatological, focusing on the end times. The eyes of apocalyptist are focused on some future period of time when God will break into this world of time and space to bring the entire present world system to a final judgement. Apocalyptic thought also has signs like cosmic upheaval. Besides this, apocalyptic thought is dualistic; it believes in the existence of two supernatural powers (God and Satan), two worlds (heaven and hell) and two ages.
Apocalyptic thought is also characterised by rigid determinism. According to this thought all events takes place according to God’s predetermined plan and time schedules. Therefore, earthly rulers and powers will not frustrate God’s plan. Therefore, one does not need to worry about why evil prospers. Apocalyptic thought is also extremely pessimistic with regards to the present world. A lot of disillusionment is expressed with the present state of things and a feeling of powerlessness is expressed. As we step into chapters 7-12 look for these elements of apocalyptic thought and identify them.
Chapter 7 deals with the visions of the four beasts. The vision is dated “in the first year of Belshazzar king”. We know that this is not historically true as Belshazzar was not king. Verses 4-8 identify the four beasts. The four beasts are in harmony with the four Empire Theory; Babylon, Medes, Persian and Greeks. The four empires are different from each other. The text of today speaks of Daniels distress and his vision which was interpreted.
In the earlier stories of chapters 1-6 it was the heathen kings who were perplexed by the dreams and visions and it was Daniel who gave the interpretations. Here it is Daniel who is alarmed and he turns to another to interpret the visions. Why does Daniel approach another to interpret? Not because there were certain types of visions which were beyond his skill and could be interpreted only by heavenly beings or that Daniel was old. Such a way of writing was a feature of the literary form that the author was using. In apocalyptic literature when one person has a vision another interprets it. Here the heavenly being (an angel) interprets.
Chapter 7:17-27 is the vision interpreted . The point of the interpretation is to explain that even though the name is not explicitly mentioned, it is Antiochus IV Epiphanes who is referred to; he is the horn of special interest. Not only did Antiochus IV Epiphanes exalt himself (v 24) but he showed contempt towards Yahweh (v 25). He made war with the saints. (v 21).
The all-important question in the mind of the Jews was, when will the persecution of Antiochus end? So a prediction is made in verse 25. This prediction is probably apocalyptic numerology and a reference to an indefinite period of time. Some calculate this as 3 ½ years (this is how long the persecution lasted) from 167 BC to164 BC. In the book of Revelations 11:2 it is 1260 days. However, when the time has run out the heavenly court shall judge and condemn Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Then the “saints” (faithful Jews) will receive the Kingdom. This kingdom is described in vs 27.
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