Week of March 17: Helps in discovering what the future may hold for us
By HAL BRADY
Lesson for week of March 17
Scripture: Daniel 8:19-26
There was a young boy who was swimming in a pond. His father sat nearby. Suddenly, the boy began to call out to his father, “Help! I’m drowning!” The father couldn’t swim so he ran and grabbed a rope and threw it to the boy. The youngster began pulling himself toward the end of the rope. Momentarily, the boy began to cry to his father saying, “The rope is coming apart!” The father yelled back to his son, “Reach beyond the break and hold on.”
Reach beyond the break and hold on. That’s good advice, not only for that son but for all of us as well. In our world, uncertainty and upheaval and fear and distrust are everywhere. So where can we find help as we seek to discover what the future may hold for us? I want to suggest three pointers.
The first pointer is in the understanding of scripture
Daniel’s vision takes place in the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign. This reference to time anchor’s Daniel’s vision and offers a sense of stability in some terribly unstable conditions. The first thing Daniel sees in his vision is a ram. This ram has two horns and charges with great success in three directions. Then Daniel sees a second animal. It is a goat coming from the west and strangely, he has a single large horn. This goat attacks the ram ferociously and succeeds in shattering its horns. The goat utterly destroys the ram. But not unsurprisingly, the goat’s power is also soon broken. And there is no gradual decline of its power; it is suddenly cut off. At the height of the goat’s power, its prominent horn snaps which results in four other horns. As someone correctly observed, “Mortality is not only a mark of human existence but of empires as well.”
At this point, we are nearing the heart of Daniel’s vision. The destructive rivalry of the four horns comes soon enough as a “little horn” emerges from one of them. As Daniel’s vision unfolds, it is unmistakable that this “little horn” is the most troubling and central concern in his vision. It is also this horn that is most problematic to the later community in which the Book of Daniel was finally recorded (Scholars are divided as to whether the Book of Daniel has a sixth or second century B.C. date).
As you are aware, the symbol of the horn points to a king or kingdom. This “little horn” takes on such gigantic proportions that it even surpasses the human dimension. The violence of this small horn is ultimately directed against God and his hosts. Amazingly, the scripture informs us that this small horn achieved some success against the heavenly hosts, even challenging the leader. The result was considerable harm to the worship life of Israel.
Increasingly, Daniel’s vision is forcing its hearers to connect this symbolic imagery to specific atrocities that were rendered against faithful Jewish worshipers in the middle of the second century B.C.
It is here that the actions of Daniel’s vision abruptly stops. Notice that there is no indication that the forces of God will ever defeat the forces of the small horn. A cry crises, “How long” will these horrible events last? The answer given is more for the comfort of God’s people than its numerical accuracy.
Reflecting on his vision, Daniel is confused. Suddenly God intervenes and sends the angel, Gabriel, to interpret Daniel’s vision. According to Gabriel, the vision concerns the end of time (v. 17); the “time of doom” that is coming suggests times of judgment (v. 19); the two-horned ram represents the kings of Media and Persia (v. 20); the goat with the big horn between its eyes is the first king of Greece, Alexander the Great (v. 21). At Alexander’s early death, his empire divides among four of his generals but they are weak and do not last long (v. 22).
Daniels’s vision then skips about two centuries of history. The focus immediately shifts to the “little horn,” the one described in verses 23-25, who is a Seleucid ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes IV.
Finally, the role of God in the defeat of Antiochus during the time of the Maccabees is stated clearly in verse 25: “But he will be broken and not by a human hand.” Gabriel then confirms that Daniel’s vision is true but must be “sealed up” (kept secret) for the distant future. Scholars are in disagreement about the answer to the question of “how long?”
At any rate, if we understand this apocalyptic scripture lesson (Daniel 8:19-26) correctly we will see that brutal power and oppression may temporarily have its moments, but all such power will run its course. Thus, in spite of difficult times, God remains sovereign.
So where can we find help as we seek to discover what the future may hold for us?
The second pointer is in the wisdom of others
We have to hand it to Daniel. Though he had previously interpreted the dreams of royalty and benefited greatly, he was open to receiving help with his own vision. Not everybody is! Pride often gets in the way when help may be desperately needed.
Have the class call out the characteristics of a Christian friend whom they would most likely consult when they needed help.
The third pointer is in trusting that God is dependable and knows what he is doing
There is no better way to discover what the future holds for us than to trust God and God’s word. In the final analysis, note that Daniel’s vision comes down to a matter of trust—trust in the dependability of God. After all, it is not our understanding of apocalyptic details that gives us assurance but our trust in the faithfulness of God. Therefore, to trust God is to take God into account at all times and therein lies our hope for the present and future.
Invite class members to recall times in their lives when they had an urgent concern about the future. What was the issue? What action did they take?
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues his ministry through Hal Brady Ministries (www.halbradyministries.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.