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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.

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 significance 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. Of course, Daniel wouldn’t be accustomed to seeing it lying down or lopsided. What impression might that image have created for him?
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.      We often represent countries of our own world by animals. What animal is used for our own country?
                                                                                       i.      What does that image represent to us?
                                                                                     ii.      How might God see the same image? Would it be lying down, lopsided, motheaten…?
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. Are there any recent times when Biblical prophecy has been used to influence political results?
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.
                                                                                       i.      What books might our society preserve if we thought our civilization were in danger?
                                                                                     ii.      What would we preserve?
c.       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? (Remember, 10 fingers—10 often represents man’s limited ability to count; 3—the stability of three-sided triangles and the 3-fold nature of the Trinity—3 often represents divine certainty; 2—two genders, two witnesses—2 is often human certainty).
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… When do we feel most compelled to ask God to explain? And how do we feel when we still don’t understand?

a.       If ten is a limited/countable number of rulers, do these have to be Roman rulers?
b.      If three is divine intent, what might three horns (rulers, kings, leaders) be?
                                                                                       i.      Which three influential groups does Jesus frequently mention in his teaching?
                                                                                     ii.      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? (Think Old Testament followed by New Testament)
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)?
                                                                                       i.      Where do you imagine we are living in God’s story?
Now Daniel dreams 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 the Great have been pleased to read this when it was presented to him?
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?

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