Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
February 20, 2022
At the beginning of worship:
I’ve been reading a modern translation of the Norse poems, myths, and legends. It’s a weird world which probably comes from huddling around the fire on those long winter nights in Scandinavia. These stories are often violent and set in a tough world. They could be seen as depressing for everyone and everything dies on their fated day. Neither gods, giants, nor humans are spared. Yet, the stories encourage the reader to be to be brave even if it’s their fated day. Those who are honored have done their duty.
Now, our faith doesn’t condone such violence as in these stories and shuns vengeance. In our tradition, vengeance is saved for God. As we’ve seen in Daniel, (and will see again today), we too live in a world that is often against us. Yet, we are called to do be faithful, to our duty, and to be brave even when things don’t look up. We can do so for we know that God is in control.
Before the Reading of Scripture:
The bulk of the vision Daniel receives by the Tigris River is found between the beginning of Chapter 11 through the fourth verse of chapter 12. I’m not going to read this entire piece, but I encourage you to go home and read it on your own. However, let me say a bit about what’s in it. Daniel, as we’ve seen already in chapter 7 and chapter 8, has had multiple visions that cover what happens in the world between the end of Babylonian dominance and the rise of Rome. This is repeated in chapter 11; however, more details are provided. Daniel speaks of all these kings rising from the various points of the compass, but especially to the north and south.
Ancient Israel is a little like Ukraine. If you look at a map of Europe, you’ll see Ukraine pinched between Russia and its allies to the west, north and south. To the east is Europe. Sadly, the people there have seen horrors from each side—the Soviets who starved four million of them in the 1930s. That caused many of them to welcome Germany when it invaded in World War II. However, the Germans were no better. When you find yourself in a position recalled in the old proverbial saying, “between a rock and hard place,” you become a pawn.
Ancient Israel was also in such a place. Geographically, the country sits between the powers of Egypt and those in the fertile crescent. By the 2nd Century, BC, Israel is pinched between Egypt and Syria.
Daniel doesn’t use names in Chapter 11. However, if you read this entire chapter and have a historical timeline from the 5th to the 2nd century BC, it’s easy to plug in to whom Daniel refers.Daniel’s vision continues to Antiochus Epiphanes IV. He’s not just a bad guy, he’s a really bad guy. He’s evil. He did the unspeakable inside the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
After reading the scripture:
Tonight, if we have clear skies, Orion the Hunter will be visible high in the eastern sky as the light fades. It’s a brilliant constellation and I’m sure most of you can point out the three stars of Orion’s belt. They form a distinct line in the sky. From our perspective here on earth, the stars appear side by side. But they’re not.
Let me tell you a bit about these three stars. I’m probably going to butcher the pronunciation, something I often do with English so you can imagine what I’ll do with the Arabic names of these stars.
The star to the west is Mintalca, which in Arabic means “the belt.” It’s 916 light years away and slightly fainter than the other two stars.
The middle star, Alnilam, means “string of pearls” in Arabic. It’s by far the furthest of these stars from earth, at 1342 light years away. Tonight, you’ll be seeing the star tonight as it was during the Dark Ages of Europe. The star is huge. It’s also the only solo star in the belt, with the one to its west made up of many stars and the one to the east a binary star. But it’s so big, which is why to our eyes it appears as the brightest.
And then the eastern-most star is Alnitalz, which means the girdle. Don’t ask me how it got its name. This is the closest star, only 800 lights years away, which means that tonight we’d be seeing what happened on the star about the time of the crusades.
Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with the price of tea in China, or at least what it has to do with Daniel. Let me continue.
This part of Daniel is set after Babylon’s fall from world power, at a time when Persia ascends in power. Now, there is a disagreement about when it was written, whether in the 5thCentury or 2nd Century, BC, but for understanding the meaning, it doesn’t matter. Daniel wants us to understand the book as being from the 5th Century, and the prophet’s vision looks forward.
It’s as if Daniel has a telescope. From his point of view, Daniel has a good understanding of what happens in the world over the next three centuries. But his view continues afterwards to the final judgment. He doesn’t have as clear of an understanding except to know that in the end, righteousness will be reward and evil punished. And as he looks forward, it all appears closer together, as do the stars in Orion’s belt.
In this manner, Daniel’s vision of the future is a little like us looking at Orion in the sky this evening. The stars all appear to be equal distance from us, but we know that some are closer, and others are further away. Likewise, much of the events Daniel writes about was fulfilled in the centuries between Babylon and Rome, but then there’s the resurrection at the end of time, which hasn’t yet happened.
Daniel vision reaches a pinnacle with a king who becomes an abomination, one who is well known in Jewish history. Antiochus IV, or Antiochus Epiphanes, was a Syrian king who attempted to take over Egypt and parts of Greece. The Romans helped push him back which brought them into this part of the world. But the king is infamous for his disregard of the Jewish temple, as he co-opted it for pagan gods.
While there is no clear transition, it appears that Daniel doesn’t just speak of Antiochus, but at some point, he sees an even larger, more horrific individual, whose evil surpasses Antiochus. The person in Daniel’s vision goes beyond the terror and evil of the Syrian king. Christians have often seen this people as the Antichrist, but as Christ has not yet come, Daniel has no frame of reference for such a being.
Daniel and evil tendencies
What Daniel sees in this vision is a tendency for evil to grow. This happens when we are left on our own and follow only our own desires. You see it in Genesis. Adam and Eve sin, their son Cain kills his brother Abel, and soon there are wars and God decides to do a reset with the flood. Governments and collective groups of people can raise the level of evil to greater heights. Daniel understands this.
Editorial by David Brooks
David Brooks, in a New York Times editorial this week, writes of the change in the world since the 1990s. He suggests that what we’re seeing around the world, with autocratic strong leaders, is business as usual. I think Daniel would agree. The natural way of the world is for the strong to become stronger, evil to become eviler. This doesn’t mean we should give up. Again, the book of Daniel shows us how to remain faithful to our beliefs while living under tyranny.
Hopefully we won’t end up like Daniel. However, for us to avoid such tyranny, according to Brooks, will require hard work as society pulls together for the good of all. It’s a nearly impossible task that the founders of our nation got, at least partly, right.
But as Daniel looks off to the future, he sees hope. The one who amasses so much territory and becomes so powerful is also alone and friendless. He’s defeated. Evil brings death. Those in the orbit of the evil one dies. With no one left to help him, eventually even the evil one dies.
As we move into the 12th Chapter, we see the appearance of Michael, the archangel. Michael, labelled a prince and the protector of Israel, comes on the scene in this final battle. Then there is deliverance. But this true deliverance is not for this life, but for the world to come.
Verse two is the only clear understanding of a double resurrection in the Old Testament. Those who have been wise, but wronged in this life, rise from their graves. The same is true for those who have been abusers and evil in this life. Those shamed in this life find glory in the life to come, while those who found glory at the expense of others in this life rises to eternal contempt.
Daniel vision is for the Jewish people who live in that period between the end of the exile and the coming of the Messiah. Many may have left Babylon for Jerusalem with the hope that Israel’s former glory will return. Daniel dashes such hope. Israel at the end of the exile were hopefully just as we, as David Brooks pointed out, were hopeful in the 1990s at the end of the Cold War. But things change.
We live in a world in which despots use people for their own benefit. We must make the best of the situation, while remaining faithful to God. However, there is always good news, it’s just off in the distance. In the end, goodness prevails. God looks out for his people.
David, in the Psalms, gets it right. “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Amen.
 The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes, Jackson Crawford, translator (Hackett Publishing, 2015).
 Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19.
 For modern commentaries following Daniel with those who rose to power after Babylon, See W. Sibley Towner, Daniel: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), 154-157; Robert A. Anderson, Daniel: Signs and Wonders (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 129-142; and Temper Longman III, Daniel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 271-283. Ancient scholars also understood to whom Daniel speaks. See Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel.
 Longman III, 282.
 Longman III, 280-281; Towner, 164-165.
 David Brooks, “The Dark Century,” New York Times, February 17, 2022.
 See Towner, 166; and Longman III, 284. Longman III suggests they may be other references to the “double resurrection” in the Old Testament, but this is the clearest. An example of another possible reference is Isaiah 26:18
 Psalm 124:8.
Daniel takes a long look into the future