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Monday, May 15, 2017

Lions, Bears, Leopards, Monsters and More: What Did Daniel See?

It's the end of another Coffee Break Bible Study year, which doesn't seem at all possible. But here we are, back at Daniel, looking at his future that's already our past, before we start with everybody's future in September. Enjoy.

(50) What Daniel Saw

Shortly before the Medo-Persian conquest (i.e. before Cyrus, and before the last parts of Isaiah and Zechariah were being read to the Jews of the return) Daniel, still at the Babylonian court, received some amazing visions. Remembering that prophecy often has three applications – to the time of the prophet, to a time of trials when comfort comes from God, and to a future event – we’re going to look at how Daniel’s visions applied (and were applied) to future of his people – and to the present day (which doesn’t mean this is the end of days – just that this could be one of many future times of trials).
Daniel’s first vision concerns four winds, four beasts, eleven horns, and the Ancient of Days.
1.       Read Daniel 7:1-6 At first thought, what significant might be attached to:
a.       Four winds
b.      The Great Sea.
c.       Lion, bear and leopard
d.      Four wings and four heads (Imagine cartoons – what might these represent?)
2.       Read Daniel 7:15-18 Daniel is told the creatures represent kingdoms. He might have been familiar with two…
a.       Jeremiah and Ezekiel used an eagle to represent Babylon, characterized by fast-moving armies, swift battles). Why might a lion also represent Babylon?
b.      The bear was the symbol of Syria—the Medo-Persians—which conquered Egypt (south), Babylon (west) and Lydia (north-west), characterized by slow steady expansion
c.       The leopard might represent Greece. Alexander the Great conquered swiftly to take over the whole (four-cornered) known world. Interestingly, Alexander’s kingdom split into four under Ptolemy, Seleucus, Philip, and Antigonus—hence four heads (in the future) perhaps?
d.      What animals might be used to represent modern world powers? Why?
3.       Verses 7-8 introduce a fourth kingdom, presumably Rome. Some critics suggest Daniel can’t have predicted Greece and Rome. They conclude the book was written in the style of Daniel to encourage readers. But…
a.       Josephus describes Alexander the Great visiting Jerusalem and being shown the book of Daniel in 322BC (before Greece and Rome became strong). Alexander interpreted this part of the book as God’s blessing and assurance that he would conquer the Medo-Persians. Therefore he didn’t attack Jerusalem.
b.      Copies of the book of Daniel have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s unlikely they’d have gone to such effort to preserve a “recent” fiction.
c.       So, how do you feel at the thought that God knew which kingdoms were coming next, or that he knows about our rulers, or that he lifts our nations from the chaotic Great Sea?
d.      And how do you feel about verse 18?
4.       Read Daniel 7:7-8 What are the usual symbolic meaning of:
a.       Horns
b.      Ten
c.       Eyes
5.       Read Daniel 7:9-10 Who is the Ancient of Days? What is the significance of white?
a.       Where have we read about wheels before? (Read Ezekiel 1:16)
b.      What might ten thousand (10 times 10 to the power 3) times ten thousand (i.e. to power two) mean?
6.       Read Daniel 7:11-14 Who is one like the Son of Man?
7.       Daniel asks the angel to explain. Read Daniel 7:23-27 Of course, we might want to ask the angel to interpret the interpretation…
a.       If ten is a limited/countable number of rulers, do these have to be Roman?
b.      If three is divine intent, what might three horns (rulers, kings, leaders) be? Which three influential groups does Jesus frequently mention in his teaching, and who would they correspond to today?
c.       It seven is the completeness of God’s plan, and three-and-a-half is the half-way mark, what happened after a time (one), times (two), and half a time?
d.      Why might some Christians believe we’re living in the second half rather than the first half of the story (living in the victory, with the kingdoms already given to us, but perhaps not well governed by us)?
Now Daniel drams of a Ram and a Goat.
1.       Read Daniel 8:1-8, 20-23. Daniel probably wasn’t at Susa (the future center of the Medo-Persian empire), just transported there from Babylon in a vision.
a.       Why would Alexander have been pleased to read this?
b.      And why would he have been in a position to read it (invading from the sea, heading toward Babylon)?
c.       How might Alexander have felt about verse 8?
2.       Read Daniel 8:8-11 The Seleucids were one of Alexander’s four successors. Judea was fought over by the Ptolemies (Egypt) and the Seleucids (Syria), ending up under Seleucid control. The Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes tried to solidify his rule with his own version of religion. In 197BC he burned scriptures and sacrificed pigs to Zeus in the Temple. The story is told in Maccabbees and is the foundation for Hannukah. Judea is still fought over by rival nations.
a.       What might stars signify? (Whose descendants were going to be as numerous as stars?)
b.      Do nations still use religion to subdue their enemies?
c.       What else do nations use? What is our nation accused of using to subvert and convert culture?
3.       Read Daniel 8:11-14
a.       A mathematical question. A generic year was 360 days long. How many years is 2,300 days?
b.      There are lots of different interpretations of Daniel’s 2,300 days.
                                                                           i.      One suggests that the Temple will be defiled when the high priest is killed in 171BC, and restored when Antiochus Epiphanes dies in 164BC. Do you think the people would have been encouraged by this interpretation in the time of the Maccabees? Do you think God intends the prophecy to be encouraging or confusing?
                                                                         ii.      Interpreting days as years meant the world was going to end in 1844. Does this remind you of end-times arguments about the millennium?
4.       Daniel looks for an explanation and talks with an angel again. Read Daniel 8:16 Where else do we know Gabriel from? (Read Daniel 9:21, Luke 1:19,26) And who might the one telling him to speak?
a.       Read Daniel 8:17,19 The angel mentions the time of the end. Does this mean the end times, or the end of Israel’s punishment under Antiochus Epiphanes?
b.      Some interpretations use Antiochus as an image or precursor of the anti-Christ. Do you think we’re meant to know for sure, now? Should Christians argue over interpretations?

c.       What general message do you get for difficult times from Daniel’s vision?

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