Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Visions of Jewish Defeat

In the last post I briefly covered what brought me to a view of Biblical prophecies called "preterism" and glossed over several such prophecies before delving into Daniel 2 and 7. The first seven chapters of Daniel are about victory, specifically victory over Babylon and the succession of kingdoms after it. However, for the first time in the book, chapter eight ends ominously, predicting a Greek king that will destroy the holy people. Therefore chapter eight represents a clear turning point in the book. After this point it is all bad news for Daniel.

Although the book of Daniel is not ordered chronologically, Daniel's vision in chapter eight is after the vision in chapter seven. In the chapter eight vision Daniel sees a ram with two horns, one longer than the other, and a goat with one large horn that defeats the ram, coming from the west as if its feet were not touching the ground. In the interpretation Daniel is informed that the ram is the Medo-Persian empire, the first, short horn being the Medes and the second larger horn the Persians. The goat is the kingdom of Greece, and after this horn is broken the kingdom of Greece will split into four kingdoms with lesser power. Then there is a prophecy of a particular king that will arise within the Greek empire who appears to be significant in some way. For instance, "he will destroy mighty men and the holy people" and "he will be broken without human agency".

The passage tells us the goat is Greece, but it does not tell us that the large horn is Alexander the Great. That certainly seems to be the meaning though. As mentioned in the first post, Alexander the Great conquered the entire Persian Empire in roughly ten years and his campaign was stopped not by defeat but only when his men refused to continue. Alexander died at a young age only a few years after that, and the Greek Empire split into four kingdoms presided over by four of Alexander's most powerful generals. Ptolemy was given Egypt and started the Ptolemaic Empire. Seleucas got Syria, Asia Minor, and the East, which became the Seleucid Empire. The other two empires have a more confusing history since there was a lot of political infighting going on, but basically one empire included Alexander's own homeland of Macedon and also classical Greece, and another empire east of there usually called Thrace, what we would now recognize as the area around the borders of Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.

In chapter nine Daniel realizes that the seventy year period of punishment ordained for his people is close to completion, and offers a fervent prayer of repentance and supplication to God, asking for God to show his mercy and relent from his wrath against the Jewish people. The angel Gabriel responds by saying that the restoration of Jerusalem and the temple will occur as promised, and the Messiah will come, however he also tells Daniel that after the Messiah is gone, the city and the temple will be destroyed again. Obviously this is not the sort of answer Daniel had been hoping for.

So in chapter ten Daniel is even more disturbed. He has now received two visions in a row predicting destruction, including a vision of the promised restoration with destruction after that, and now he receives another one after much fasting and praying. This final vision lasts until the end of the book. First he describes a man that he sees, apparently Gabriel again, although some think this may be Jesus Christ Himself, and there is talk of the angel Michael and battles involving Persia and predictions of the coming of Greece. Then in chapter eleven there begins a long narrative involving two kingdoms, each with a king. One is called the king of the North and the other is called the king of the South. I'm not going to go through every last detail in this chapter, but it is very detailed, and I studied some history for awhile and found a remarkable congruence between this sequence of events and a series of wars between the two Greek kingdoms on either side of Israel: the Seleucid Empire to the North and the Ptolemaic Empire to the South. I did this some time ago, but I believe I determined the sequence of events to have begun with Antiochus III of the Seleucid Empire and ended with Antiochus IV Ephiphanes of the same. These are the kings of the North. Antiochus Ephiphanes is quite significant because he sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in 167 B.C. I believe he is also the little horn referred to in chapter eight, as he did enough damage to the Jews to deserve special recognition and he also died of disease, not by human agency.

But wait a minute. Didn't the vision in chapter nine say the temple would be destroyed after the Messiah? If so, then that prophecy could not refer to the destruction by Antiochus Ephiphanes because that event occurred before Christ. Therein lies a major source of confusion when interpreting the book of Daniel correctly. The visions of the destruction of the Jews, found in the latter part of the book starting in chapter seven, actually refer to two different events. The first is the destruction of the temple by the Greek king Antiochus Ephiphanes in 167 B.C. The second is the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. by the Roman general and future emperor Titus in a siege that was begun by his father Vespasian, the tenth emperor of Rome. (More on those two in the final post.) Much confusion lies in the fact that each of these figures is referred to as a "horn" and both destroyed the temple and committed what the Bible calls the "abomination that causes desolation," which has fired the imaginations of so many would be interpreters. In taking the measure of the book of Daniel and especially its impact on the book of Revelation, we have to keep track of which vision refers to which event.

Daniel first becomes alarmed at the end of chapter seven, which includes a vision of destruction perpetrated by a horn. Horns are kings, and beasts are the empires over which they rule. The horn in chapter seven rises on the head of the fourth beast, which in this interpretation must be the Roman Empire. This is also the case with the prophesied destruction after the coming of the Messiah in chapter nine. It also seems to be referred to by Jesus in Matthew 24, since he is talking about the future. These instances must refer to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. during the Roman Empire. The horn in chapter eight and the king of the North in chapter eleven rises during the Greek Empire. These instances must refer to the destruction of the temple in 167 B.C. during the Greek Empire. (Chapter twelve invites some confusion, since it appears seamlessly with chapter eleven which must be the 167 B.C. event. However the reference to the resurrection of the dead at the beginning, the language denoting the final breaking of the holy people, and the reference to "times, time and a half a time", which I will discuss in the next post, suggests that chapter twelve refers to the 70 A.D. event after Christ.) Since we today are so used to thinking chronologically, we must constantly keep all of this in mind if we are to correctly interpret the references to these prophecies in the New Testament, particularly in Revelation.

Daniel is thus rightly alarmed starting in chapter seven because he has correctly discerned that these visions of destruction are predictions about the future of the Jewish people and even the Jewish religion. He is alarmed not only because they are his people, but also because it is his very belief system at stake. If the Jewish people are to be destroyed, and their religion with them, what is he to make of Yahweh and His relation to the world? Without the Jewish temple, where does Yahweh reside on earth? Is he fed up with humanity yet again and resigned to removing His presence from the earth? Has God promised not to destroy the earth again by flood only to simply give up on it, not to mention reneging on his promises to the descendants of Abraham? Will God no longer preside over an earthly kingdom? These visions, which Daniel knows are from God and knows he has rightly interpreted, seem to contradict everything Daniel believes in. This is the abomination that causes desolation, the destruction of God's earthly dwelling and the severing of His relationship with Man, for Man is desolate without God. Thus Daniel is not upset merely by the impending doom prophesied against his people, but by the implication that God will leave the earth to its own devices, wallowing in sin and rebellion, allowing humanity and by extension all of creation to get what it deserves. Thankfully, we know that Daniel was missing important pieces of the picture. He had not yet heard the good news, to which we now turn.

Now that's whack.