The Conclusion of Daniel: Promised Rest

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
February 27, 2021
Daniel 12:5-12

At the beginning of worship

This week, we have watched in horror what’s happening in the Ukraine. We need to trust that God is in control in the chaos. That’s the message of Daniel. But we also need to strive to do what is right to help those who cannot help themselves. That’s a message found throughout scripture. Let’s open with a prayer for peace: 

Lord Jesus, we long for your kingdom. Isaiah promises it’ll be a place of peace, where the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together.”[1]

But Jesus, our world is filled with bullies and dictators, those who do what they want and ignore the rights and the needs of others. It’s a world where families hide in subways hoping to avoid the explosion of artillery shells. It’s a world where people flee for their lives and where the weak are eaten up by those who are strong. It’s a world where people are used and abused. We know this is not the good world you intended at Creation. We have messed things up.

We long for peace, for the end of this world of violence and the fulfillment of your kingdom. But until then, give us strength to endure. Help us to know right from wrong, good from evil. Help us stand fast with those who suffer in the Ukraine. This we pray in your name, recalling your wiliness to die that we might life, and who lives and promises such to those who believe in you and who follow in your footsteps. Amen. 

Before the reading of Scripture

I was thinking after last week’s text and sermon how the evil one depicted in Daniel’s vision dies alone at the end. It seems to me that when we burn all our bridges and abuse all our friends, loneliness becomes our destiny. It’s a dangerous place. And we don’t have to be as evil as the evil one depicted in Daniel to experience this. 

Relationships are important. There are two dimensions to our faith, just as there are two dimensions to the cross. One is vertical, the other horizonal. One reaches up toward God, the other reaches out toward others. Both are necessary if we’re to have a balanced life as God intends. However, if we behave as the one cited in Daniel 11, our actions will lead to judgment.  

The end of the book of Daniel

Now, we’ve come to the end of Daniel… As I pointed out two Sunday’s ago, the last three chapters of Daniel consist of a single unit with one long vision. Daniel’s vision is now over. He finds himself back on the banks of the river. But there appear to be some heavenly beings still floating around after the vision. Although we are not sure, they could be angels, maybe even Michael and Gabriel,[2] who have been mentioned earlier. Their purpose appears to have a conversation of which Daniel overhears but does not understand. This sets up a nice epilogue for this vision and the entire book of Daniel. 

Remember, as I have often said in these sermons on Daniel, the overall message of this book is that despite the present circumstances (which are quite trying in Daniel’s day as in ours), “God is in charge and will win the day.”[3] Once again, we’re reminded that things will work out and that Daniel needs not to worry.

Read Daniel 12:5-12

After the reading of Scripture

In his novel The Whisper of the River, Ferroll Sam’s protagonist, a college student, has a delightful conversation with a professor about Christian progress. The question is asked by the professor, “How long does it take a man to grow from the whining question of ‘Why me, Lord?’ to the mature dedication of ‘Why not me, Lord?’” The professor went on to explain how each has an accent on “me,” but throw in that “one-syllable negative” and you have “two entirely different philosophies.” One is shallow, the other has spiritual depth.[4]

Daniel, it seems, accepts the second question from the beginning. Spiritually mature, he maintains his relationship with God in a troubling time. He does so even when God appears distant. It would also have been a lot easier to accept the ways of the Babylonians or the Persians. But Daniel stands fast. As believers, we don’t take the easy way out.

The final scene in Daniel

We’ve come to the end of this book. In this final scene, Daniel is back by a stream. We can assume this is the river where the vision began. Daniel sees two beings standing opposite banks of the Tigris River, having a conversation. One asks how long before everything happens. The other provides an enigmatic answer: “A time, two times, and a half a time.” Just what does that mean? 

So, Daniel speaks up and acknowledges he doesn’t understand. “What shall be the outcome of these things?” Daniel asks. Daniel is like us; he wants to know.[5]

The response Daniel receives is rather curt. “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain a secret until the time of the end.” 

Daniel is not about predicting the future

There you have it. If you think you can use Daniel to predict the end of time or the events leading up to it, this epilogue rains on your parade. There are things we are not to know. Nonetheless, there are things we do know. By telling Daniel to “go on your way,” I think he’s being told to not worry about the future and to continue to do what he knows is right. That’s also good advice for us. How we live our lives in the face of evil is the purpose of Daniel, not predicting the future.

We’ll continue to have good and evil people 

The next verse reminds us of the way of things. There are people like Daniel, who strive to live godly lives even within an evil, pagan, or corrupt society. Just because someone else acts bad is no excuse for us to do likewise. Just because we live in an evil world, we’re not to resort to evil. We always take the high ground. To the best of our abilities and, depending on God’s help, we should act nobly. 

And while there will be those who strive to do what is right, the book of Daniel is realistic. There are those continue to act wickedly. Again, throughout Daniel we have seen examples of wicked behavior. The silly laws of kings fly in the face of the Almighty and force believers into disobedience to God if they obey the king.[6] Or other kings who do as they please, as if they’re accountable to no one,[7] and who bring great evil upon the world.[8] Such leaders will be judged. They will be held in eternal contempt.[9]  

Of course, the wicked don’t understanding what’s happening or what’s in store for them, because they have no regard for others, including God.[10] They think they are exempt, or their theology is so bad, that they think they’re a god on earth. Those who are wise understand this differently. 

How long will the abomination last?

Our passage then returns to the abomination in the temple, which occurred under the reign of Antiochus IV, whom we met last week.[11] There are questions here about how the long the sacrifices will be missing from the temple. Is it 1290 days or 1325 days, as listed here? Or as we heard in chapter eight, 2300 evenings and mornings which could be interpreted as 1150 days.[12] And what kind of relationship exist between these days and the time, times, and a half time. By the way, it’s not the first time we’ve seen that formula, either. It appeared in chapter 7?[13]

If this sounds confusing to you, you’re not alone. Even Daniel is confused. Some think the days and the times go together. Time, times and a half time could be 3 and a half years, roughly the same number as the days. But since there are several different sets of “days,” what can we make of this?[14]

We don’t know. Some things are purposely vague.

I think the message at the end of Daniel is this.  When it comes to the future, we don’t know. Only God knows. This is the same thing that Jesus teaches in Mark 13, only the Father in heaven knows when such things happen.[15]

Our text says that those who persevere this period of great evil will be happy or blessed. Then Daniel is sent on his way. He’s told to rest. There’s nothing he can do about the future, and it’s going to happen long after he’s gone. So, Daniel, who is now an old man, having been in exile for nearly 70 years, can rest assured that when the resurrection happens, he’ll rise for his reward. 

Conclusion: promised rest

After a long life of faithfulness, Daniel can rest. That’s good news. For those of us on this side of the resurrection, we have Jesus’ words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Daniel reminds us that things won’t always be easy, and Jesus follows up his comment about promised rest with talk about taking up his yoke. A yoke is a tool for work. The rest Jesus provides, at least in the short term, is for our soul.[16] There’s always work to do. 

As verse 10 reminds us, there is purification, cleansing and refining to be done. So, we roll up our sleeves and trudge on, but our souls do not need to be troubled. We can take solace that God controls the world, that they’ll be times rest, and when it’s over, the faithful will be rewarded. 

While life at times can be overwhelming, we place our hope in the goodness of God, whose love is from everlasting to everlasting.[17] Amen. 

[1] Isaiah 11:6.

[2] Daniel 9:21 and 10:13.

[3] Tremper Longman III, Daniel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 288. 

[4] Ferrol Sams, The Whisper of the River (1984, New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 498-499. 

[5] W. Sibley Towner, Daniel: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), 169.

[6] An example would be Daniel 6, where the king decrees no one can pray to anything but himself for 30 days. See

[7] An example: Belshazzar defaming the holy items from the temple. See

[8] The horrific king in Chapter 11 is an example. See

[9] Daniel 12:2

[10] Proverbs 14:16, Psalm 14:4. 

[11] Daniel 11:31.

[12] Daniel 8:14.

[13] Daniel 7:25, 12:7.

[14] Longman !!!, 287, and Robert A. Anderson, Daniel: Signs and Wonders (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 152-153 provide details on these dates and the issues they raise. 

[15] Mark 13:32.  From my sermon on this passage just before we started exploring the second half of Daniel, see

[16] Matthew 11:28-30.  See also Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Suffers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 21-23.  

[17] Psalm 103:17.

Sunset over Lake Baikal (Siberia, taken 2011)

Daniel foresees the future

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
February 20, 2022
Daniel 11-12:4

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.[1] 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.[2] 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[3] and chapter 8,[4] 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.[5]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.  

Read Daniel 11:36-12:4

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.[6] 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.

Antiochus IV

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.[7] 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.[8] 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. 

Daniel’s hope

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.[9] 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.”[10] Amen.

[1] The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes, Jackson Crawford, translator (Hackett Publishing, 2015). 

[2] Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19.



[5] 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. 

[6] Longman III, 282.

[7] Longman III, 280-281; Towner, 164-165.

[8] David Brooks, “The Dark Century,” New York Times, February 17, 2022. 

[9] 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

[10] Psalm 124:8. 

Daniel takes a long look into the future

Daniel learns of the ongoing cosmic battle

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
February 13, 2022
Daniel 10

Sermon taped at Bluemont on Friday, February 11, 2022.

At the beginning of worship:

I think it was C. S. Lewis who once said we’ll spend half of eternity thanking God for prayers not answered. Think about this for a minute. One of the reasons for prayers not being answered is that we don’t know all that is going on in our lives and in the world. Much is hidden. We don’t know God’s plans. 

As a follower of Jesus, we are called to live by faith. We don’t have all the answers, but we trust God does. It can be exhausting, as we’re going to see with Daniel in our reading this morning. Yet, we’re also shown, God cares of those who humble themselves and trust in what he is doing in the world. 

 Before the Reading of Scripture:

I decided to skip over the ending of Daniel 9 and move on to Daniel 10.[1] Daniel 9, which speaks of 70 weeks and years, has been used in all kinds of ways to do that which we should not do, namely, to predict the future. So far, the predictions haven’t come true. And while this seems to be more of a modern problem, especially in the past two centuries, the root to this issue goes way back. We want to know that which we can’t know. Remember, this got Eve in trouble with the tree of knowledge.[2]

Writing about the end of Daniel 9, referring to the meaning behind the 70 weeks, Jerome, the great Biblical scholar and translator of the 4th century quipped: 

“I realize that this question has been argued over in various ways by people of greatest learning, and each of them has expressed his views according to the capacity of his own genius. And so… I shall leave it to the reader’s judgement as to whose explanation ought to be followed.[3]

Even Jerome didn’t want to go there. I would say that we’re entering territory that angels refuse to tread, except as we’ll see in chapter ten that the angels are treading here. And that’s good news for us. Someone needs to watch our back.

The tenth chapter begins Daniel’s last vision. It’s a long one, with chapter 10 setting the stage for what happens in chapters 11 and 12. 

Read Daniel 10

After the Reading of Scripture

If the knowledge given to Daniel would be presented to us, we too would be overwhelmed and exhausted. Remember, he’s an old man and this is almost more than his heart can bear. 

Opening timestamp

This section begins like many others in Daniel, as we saw even in the ninth chapter, with a time stamp.[4] King Cyrus of Persia is in his third year of his reign. However, there is confusion as to what this means, especially since in the first chapter, we’re told the prophet served through the first year of Cyrus.[5]

Most scholars think the three years refers to the time since Cyrus’ empire seized controlled Babylon. If this is the case, some of the Jews in Babylon have probably begun packing up and moving back to Jerusalem. Otherwise, if the three years refers to the time when Cyrus began his rule over Persia, without Babylon, it would take us back in time.[6]

Role of Cyrus

Also, the title, King Cyrus, isn’t known in other literature.[7] While this might matter in our full understanding of the text, especially as it reflects a Greek understanding (they used such terms), it doesn’t change fact that Daniel receives a major vision of the future, one that causes him to collapse in exhaustion. In his exhaustion, God’s messenger reassures Daniel and cares for him.[8]

Daniel’s weakness

Furthermore, we’re told Daniel has been mourning for the past three weeks and hasn’t eaten anything of substance (as defined as meat and wine). So, he’s been on a light fast. It leaves him weak when he finds himself standing on the banks of Tigris River this a vision.

The appearance of “A Man”

Interestingly, Daniel is the only one who sees this man with a belt of gold. It must have been like a professional wrestler’s belt since it catches his attention first. He goes on to describe the man with a body of beryl, face of lightning, eyes like torches, and arms and legs like burnished bronze. His sight causes Daniel to fall flat. While those with him and cannot see the man, they know something is happening. They flee. So much for his friends. 

But this “man,” a heavenly visitor, ministers to Daniel. He helps Daniel to rise on his hands and knees, and then on his feet. He encourages the prophet, telling him not to fear even though Daniel naturally shakes in his boots. The man offers “celestial first aid” to a troubled prophet.[9]

The Cosmic Battle

As this man begins to speak, we learn of something important. He had been sent to Daniel, but essentially apologizes for his delay. It appears he was ambushed by the Prince of Persia. Obviously, he’s not speaking of a member of Cyrus’ court, but with dark spiritual princes who attempt to control the land. There is a cosmic battle raging. He struggled with this dark prince for 21 days. (It’s intriguing that 21 is divisible by 7, another of Daniel’s favorite numbers.) He is only able to reach Daniel after Michael takes over the battle, which indicates the battle continues. 

The being promises Daniel a vision of the future that includes the fall of Persia, the rise of Greece, and a glimpse on the end of time. 

A message of hope to the Jews

Interestingly, as I pointed out, this vision would have taken place after many of the Jews in Babylon were packing up and preparing to head by to Jerusalem. Isaiah speaks of Cyrus as a deliverer and Israel’s history recalls how God worked through Cyrus to bring the exile to an end.[10] But is there something less than savory about Persia that God’s messengers must engage their spirits in a cosmic battle? But then, one thing is clear in Daniel, human institutions are far from perfect. Yes, God uses Persia to bring about His purposes, but we also have this peak behind the veil to see how cosmic forces of evil at work. 

Evil and the spiritual realm

The struggle is not just between various groups of humanity. What we learn here is that a spiritual battle is ongoing. The Apostle Paul touches on this theme in his writings, warning us in his letter to the Ephesians: 

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.[11]

Does this not mean that Christ has not won the battle?  No, Christ defeated sin and death on the cross and with the resurrection, but the battle persists. One commentator likens this ongoing battle to the time between D-Day and the surrender of Germany. Once we established a beach head in France, there was little Germany could do to stop us. However, the battle continued until Germany surrendered.[12] Yes, Christ has won the battle, but that doesn’t mean Satan or evil is harmless. 

What this ongoing battle means to us

Evil, in this world, still has power. Evil can still destroy and create havoc. Evil can still corrupt, and one of the themes of the last half of Daniel is that human institutions are tainted and corrupt.[13]While we can never create, on our own, a perfect system, void of evil, yet we still must try and do our part. Our hope is that at the end, God will intervene and do away with evil. However, as we’re all sinners, there is a danger here. 

Remember the parable of the weeds in the wheat?[14] One of the truths of Christianity is that we’re all part of the problem. As Paul said, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”[15]For us, it’s not as easy to divide us into the good and the bad as it is in the spiritual realm. And even for those of us who are less evil than others, there will still be a need of cleansing. 

Hope in this passage

The part of this chapter that provides us hope which comes from how these heavenly beings minister to Daniel. In verse 12, we’re told that Daniel, a man who’d lived his adult life in a pagan kingdom, that his words have been heard all along. God doesn’t abandon us! God has been listening to Daniel. Going back to when Daniel first set out to discover God, God was there. We can also take delight in that kind of promise. 

The other part is how this heavenly being administers aid to Daniel. In verse 19, he says, “Do not fear, greatly beloved, you are safe. Be strong and courageous.” God always provided for Daniel’s need, just as God will provide for our need. Daniel, as well as those who have packed up to head back to Jerusalem, will continue to have challenges. But as David reminds us in the 23rd Psalm, the Lord will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death.[16]


Daniel reminds us over and over that there are problems in our world. Nevertheless, we can take heart and trust God, even when things appear challenging. God watches over the faithful.  Amen. 

[1] Last week, I covered the first 20 verses (Daniel’s prayer of confession) from the 9th chapter. See

[2] Genesis 4:4. For more about what we can know of the future, see the sermon I preached on Mark 13 before I began this section of Daniel. Click here:

[3] Jerome, “Commentary on Daniel 9:24-27, in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Old Testament XIII, Ezekiel, Daniel (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008), 266. 

[4] For other timestamps, see Daniel 1:1, 2:1, 7:1, 8:1, 9:1. 

[5] Daniel 1:21. This discrepancy could be due to Daniel is no longer serving in the Babylonian court as he is now at the banks of the Tigris River and Babylon is on the Euphrates River. 

[6] Tremper Longman III, Daniel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 246. For other points of view, see W. Sibley Towner, Daniel: Interpretation, A Bible-Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), 148; and Robert A. Anderson, Daniel: Signs and Wonders (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), 120.

[7] Towner, 148-9, Anderson, 120.

[8] Longman III, 245.

[9] Towner, 152. Towner borrows this term (Celestial First Aid) from Louis F. Hartman and Alexander A. DiLella, The Book of Daniel. The Anchor Bible 23 (Grand City: Doubleday, 1978). 

[10] Isaiah 44:28, 45:1, 13; Ezra 1:1, 2 Chronicles 36:27. 

[11] Ephesians 6:12, KJV. See also Romans 8:38 and Colossians 1:6. 

[12] Longman, III, 258. 

[13] Longman, III, 178-179 lists six major themes in the second half of Daniel (chapters 7-12): 1. Horror of human evil, particularly as it is concentrated in the state; 2. The announcement of a specific time of deliverance; 3. Repentance leads to deliverance; 4. A cosmic war stands behind human conflict; 5. judgement for those who resist God and oppress God’s people; 6. God’s people who are downtrodden in the present will experience new life. 

[14] Matthew 13:24-30. 

[15] Romans 3:23.

[16] Psalm 23:4.

“I was standing on the banks of a great river…” -Daniel 10:4

Daniel 9: The Prophet’s Confession

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
Daniel 9:1-19
February 6, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

It’s good to be back with you. Last weekend, I was on Skidaway Island. Saturday afternoon I officiated at the funeral of my friend, Andy Lohn. I had agreed to help the new pastor of the church with the funeral, but he came down with COVID, so I was left alone. But it was good to be present for Andy’s family. With his leukemia, Andy hadn’t been able to have guests for months. The new pastor hadn’t even meet him in person. Then, as you have probably heard, as I was preparing my homily for Andy, I learned the death of another friend, Todd Williams, from colon cancer. It became a bittersweet trip. 

Today, we’re discussing confession. They say confession is good for the soul. But what should we confess? And how should we confess? That’s the topic we’ll explore today. In the 9th chapter of Daniel, the prophet embarks on a prayer of confess that is enlightening for us. We confess not only for the sins we personally committed. We confess to those things we should have done but

didn’t. Those are sins of omission. And we confess corporately, not just for sins that we have personally committed, but those of our nation and even those of our ancestors. Daniel lays it all out for us today. 

Before reading Scripture:

My reading will be the first 2/3 of the ninth chapter. Next week we’ll look at the conclusion, the discussion of 70 weeks and years. 

We’ve already seen several styles of writings in Daniel. Much of the first six chapters consist of kingdom or court tales, stories of how the young Hebrew men remained faithful in the service of a pagan king. We have also seen a second type of writing, apocalyptic. Such writings use coded language to provide a glimpse as to what is happening in the present and future. Today, we’re looking at a third style—that of a prayer, or as one commentator describes, a mediation.[1] Daniel comes before God confessing sin. 

Read Daniel 9:1-19

After the Reading of Scripture:

Confession is good for the soul, but there may be exceptions… 

Confessing to my grandmother

One of the most embarrassing memories I have with my grandparent’s involved confession. I was staying with them for a couple of weeks, as I often did during the summer. I was probably 13 or 14 years old. One afternoon, after my grandfather came home from work, we didn’t go fishing, like we normally did. Instead, grandma had other plans. 

The three of us headed over to J. B. Coles peach orchard, a pick your own kind of place in West End. Grandma wanted peaches to can in quart jars for winter. In addition, I knew we’d enjoy peaches on cereal with breakfast. I also knew that some peaches would, during the weekend, end up in homemade ice cream. These peaches were so juicy they’d drip down your chin. Such delicious peaches meant we didn’t sacrifice too much as we gave up fishing for an evening.

My grandparents were picking from one tree. I was on the other side of the tree, with my own bushel basket. Suddenly, my grandmother asked if I had cut one. I acted like I didn’t understand. This time she was more forceful, “Jeff, did you cut one?”

My stomach had been squirrelly that evening. I had passed some gas, and at the time, in Jr. High boys’ jargon, that’s what “cutting one” referred to. I couldn’t believe my grandma was using such vulgar language and asking me about something so private. How did she even know or hear from her side of the tree? Humbled, I confessed my transgression. What happened next was shocking.

“You put away that knife,” my grandmother shouted. “These are not our peaches until we pay for them.”  

I’d confessed to a sin I had not committed! But I was also so embarrassed I didn’t tell my grandma about my mistake for decades. Thankfully, didn’t remember and laughed. 

Confession by Daniel

Confession is good for the soul if you’re guilty. But what about when we’re not guilty. Our text is a prayer of confession or penitence. Daniel confesses his sins, but more importantly, he also confesses the sins of his people. 

Time Stamp at the Beginning of the Chapter

Our chapter begins like many in Daniel, with a time stamp.[2] The Chaldeans or Babylonians are not in charge. The Persian empire now rules. Darius, a Mede, oversees Babylon. Daniel knows of Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the Hebrew exile to Babylon, that the exile would last 70 years. He’s been in Babylon for 66 years.[3] With the change of leadership in Babylon, perhaps he reflects on the time being close at hand for the exile population to be freed to return to their homelands. 

So, Daniel, trying to figure it all out, goes to God in prayer. In verse three, we learn of his preparations. He fasts. That’s still a good practice when you’re struggling with something. He also wears sackcloth and sits on a heap of ash, a symbol at the time of deep humility. When we, as mortals, turn to God, humility is appropriate. We don’t have to play in an ash heap, most people would think you’re weird. But we should acknowledge our limitations compared to God’s greatness and goodness.

Interestingly, Daniel doesn’t ask for insight as to when the exile will be over. Throughout this prayer, Daniel constantly acknowledges God’s faithfulness and what God has done in the past. This he compares to Israel’s and her sins. He acknowledges they should know better for God sent prophets to tell them of another way. But they failed to listen or to respond.

For Sins Committed by Others before Daniel’s birth

While Daniel includes himself in this prayer of confession, he also includes his ancestors and those who have gone before him. From what we know of Daniel, he was not personally guilty of a lot of what he confesses. After all, he was exiled as a young man to Babylon, probably when he was in his late teens or at oldest, his early 20s.[4] This means he didn’t have much personally to do with the sins which led to Jerusalem’s punishment in Babylon. Yet, he finds it necessary to confess. 

The Role of the Covenant

The basis of Daniel’s prayer is God’s covenant.[5] A covenant is an agreement in which both parties have responsibilities. There are, as Daniel acknowledges in verse 11, consequences for the failure to live up to your responsibilities. The covenant is not just between us, as individuals, and God. So, Daniel, thinking of the sinfulness of his people, confesses. Yet he also acknowledges that while Israel is experiencing the consequences of her action, God is still faithful. God watches over the calamity known as the Babylonian exile. 

How Do We Confess?

What about us? How do we confess our sins? Do you feel, as some, that we only need to confess the sins we’re responsibility for? If that’s the case, how do you reconcile with Daniel’s confession, which is more about the sins of his people and his ancestors? Some people these days make a big deal about not being responsible for what others have done in the past. Nor do they want to hear about anything that would make them feel bad or guilty. Would Daniel agree?  What does God think? After all, this is God’s word and world 

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, died three weeks ago.[6] He was a major influence on Martin Luther King, who came out against the Vietnam War after meeting him. He also had a great influence on Thomas Merton, a well-known Catholic monk. Thay, as he was known, mostly lived in France, for his ideas on the Vietnam War wasn’t appreciated by any of the sides during war: the North or the South or the Vietcong. 

I had never read any of his books. After hearing of his death, I decided to learn more about his writings, so while I drove back from Savannah on Monday, I listened to a book of his from the early 1990s titled, Peace Is Every Step.[7] The book is primarily about mindfulness and how to be present in every moment. And while I don’t fully agree with his Buddhist ethos of us all being and becoming one, I found he had a lot of good ideas about seeing ourselves as a part of the problems the world faces. Such insight, I think, allows us to pray more faithfully. 

One of his stories involved pirates off the coast of Africa. He encouraged his readers to consider what would have happened had they been born in such a setting. He suggested that if he was born in such a situation, he might have become a pirate. The same is true for the Germans who were stationed at the concentration camps. Would we really be so brave to resist? 

While he didn’t go here, I will. What if we were born a slave owner? Would we have done the right thing? Because we don’t know for sure what we would have done, and because who we are today has to do with what’s happened in the past, we should be gentle and compassionate toward others. As Christians, we should acknowledge such sins and offer them up to God in confession. Daniel, in our passage today, shows us how.

Concluding Charge

Next time you pray the prayer of confession, search your hearts. Yes, even Daniel confessed his own sin. But go deeper. Open yourself up to confess corporate sin. We’re all in this together and in a way often participate unintentionally in that which doesn’t honor God. When we confess such sins, we place ourselves in the hands of a merciful and gracious God. There’s no better place to be. Amen. 

[1] W. Sibley Towner, Daniel: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), 127.  

[2] See Daniel 1:1, 2:1, 7:1, 8:1,  9:1, 10:1, 11:1.

[3] Daniel was taken into exile in 605 BC and it’s now the year 539 BC. See Temper Longman III, Daniel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 218.

[4] I covered his age in my first sermon on Daniel. See

[5] Robert A. Anderson’s Daniel: Signs and Wonders (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984),


[7] Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Edoardo Balerini, narrator. (1991: Audible 2015).

Todd’s boat, “Grand Cru” beats my boat, “Bonnie Blue” to the mark. Hook Race (Hilton Head to Landings Harbor, September 2020)

Butting Heads and History

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
January 23, 2022
Daniel 8

At the beginning of worship

It’s good to be with you this weekend. Last Sunday, we were facing a storm. Early in the morning I was worried if we’d done the right thing in cancelling the service. It hadn’t started to snow at sunrise. But by 9 AM, things changed. The snow was heavy and the wind blowing. I knew we had done the right thing. When such weather happens, remember that you can catch the message online! 

Similarity between Daniel 7 and 8

I hope many of you either read the sermon in my blog or watched it on YouTube last week. If you haven’t, I encourage you to go back and watch or read it, as our text last week from Daniel 7[1]is related to our text today. As a prophecy of the future, the two messages both involve kingdoms in the region between the fall of Babylon and the rise of Rome. But there’s also a difference, as the pervious chapter was a dream of weird beasts. In today’s reading the weirdness has to do with goats. 

Gentle and Lowly

But before getting to that reading, let me tell you about a book I’m reading by Dane Ortlund titled, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers.[2] By the way, we’re all either or both a sinner and a sufferer. Drawing on Puritan writers and their insight into Scripture, Ortlund has us consider not what Christ has done for us (which is important) but what the heart of Christ is like. 

Too often we think of God being distant and away and all powerful, more like Zeus on Olympus, ready to crash lightning bolts in the direction of sinners. We’ll even get a sense of this in our text today, as the fierce horn takes on God and is, after a period of time, broken. And while God is holy and won’t be mocked, God as we see in Jesus, has a heart that reaches out to us in love. God reaches out to the sinner, the one suffering, the one troubled. We can’t forget this aspect of God even while we are considering the power of God to control history. 

Let’s now God to Scripture and read this long chapter. Listen for God’s word as I read from Daniel 8. 

Read Daniel 8

After the reading of Scripture

A frightful encounter with a butting goat

I spent my first three years of elementary school in Petersburg, Virginia. During this time, my father was a member of a hunting club on the Nottaway River. As a part of this club, he took his turn feeding the deer dogs. The dogs were penned way out in the woods, a mile or two off the payment, down across a two-track dirt road. Often, when tending the dogs, dad would take me along. 

On this day that I am recalling, the pump where they drew water for the dogs wasn’t working. I’m not sure what was wrong with it, but there were some five-gallon army-surplus containers there. We loaded them into the car and drove further back into the woods to where a family lived. 

The family’s homestead was eye-opening. I had never seen such poverty. It was an African American family and the shack in which they lived had gaps between the boards. Nothing about the shack was level. There were chickens running around and a few dogs and several kids. 

My dad, who had either been here before or had been told what to do, took the containers to the man of the house and they began to draw water from a hand pump. When done, my dad paid with a couple of dollar bills. While he was doing this, I walked around looking at things. 

Suddenly, I turned as a goat charged, his head down, appearing to have the power of a locomotive. I froze, knowing that in an instant I was going to be butted over the car and maybe into the next county. I couldn’t yell. I was speechless. Frozen in fear, I stood as things moved in slow motion. The goat moved closer. My time on earth was up. 

Then it happened. Just before the goat’s horns impaled my stomach, he came to the end of his chain. The goat did a summersault, falling over on his back. I had been saved. 

I was probably 7 or 8 years old when this happened. Since then, not only have understood that there are people incredibly poor in our world, I also have had no problem with the parable of the sheep and the goats.[3] Goats can be evil. I didn’t have to read the book of Daniel to understand this. 

Another goat story

A few years later, when I was in Jr. High, I was with my father and my brother in a small jon boat. Between these two events, we’d left Virginia and returned to North Carolina. We lived near the coast. The three of us poled the boat into the shallow marshy creeks on the backside of Masonboro Island on a pitch-black night. In the shallow water, we sought flounder. One of us stood in the front, like Queequeg, the harpooner in Moby Dick. Two lights were mounted underneath the bow, shinned onto the sandy bottom. This allowed you to spot a flounder laying in the sand so you could gig it. 

We had a cooler nearly full this evening, when we heard a weird sound coming from the bank, just 20 or 30 feet away. My dad shinned a flashlight over and there were two male goats butting heads. They would back away from each other, then crash at such speed that both had to be suffering from a headache. They paid us no attention. Obviously, their sexual drive was enough for them to keep at it and to ignore everything else. What other beasts, other than a stubborn goat, would be like that?  

Goats are interesting animals. The ancestors of these goats on Masonboro Island may have been there for centuries, as sailors of old released goats and hogs on such islands. This made sure there’d be some meat in their stew the next time they travelled that way.[4] Goat in the wild were especially adaptable. As you know they’ll eat anything. 

Another goat story

In our reading today, we met two of the beasts. Daniel, we’re told, has a vision. Two years have gone by since his dream of chapter seven. In this vision, he’s in Susa. While we’re not told why he was there or how he got there, it appears he may have remained in Babylon, but saw a vision set in the other city. It’s almost as if he’s watching himself. He stands by a river, reminding us of the the beginning of Ezekiel’s first vision, which was also by a river.[5]

The vision begins with a ram with two horns running around, kind of like the ones I experienced as a kid, looking for something to butt. But it was so powerful, other beasts fled in terror. Then came a male-goat (I’m not sure why it was not called a ram), which challenges and defeats the first ram. It had four horns and grew more and more powerful. From the four horns, grew another horn that was arrogant and powerful, and who does terrible things in the sanctuary where sacrifices to God were to be made.

Daniel’s inability to interpret the vision

Daniel, the one who had interpreted dreams and signs in Babylon, fails to understand the meaning of this vision. So, one of the Archangels, Gabriel, is summoned to help. 

Comparisons and contrasts between chapter 7 and 8

The vision in chapter 8 is often overlooked by the dream in chapter 7. It’s been pointed out that the whole structure of this vision lacks the poetry of the previous dream, possibility because in the original language, we’re back into Hebrew.[6] The previous chapter was written in Aramaic. One thought is that even this chapter was originally composed in Aramaic, then translated into Hebrew, but that doesn’t really matter to us. 

Both chapters involve the same storyline, at least to a point. They both point to the rise of the Medes and Persians (represented by the two horns) who ruled that part of the world after the fall of Babylon. The Persians were powerful, until an upstart Greek king known as Alexander, comes upon the scene. 

Alexander the Great

I recently listened to Anthony Everitt’s biography of Alexander the Great. He was an impressive man. Like many who become great, he also had many flaws. After the death of his father, Philip, Alexander began to unify the Greek states so that he could fulfill his father’s dream of taking revenge over the heathers. Greeks considered the Persians heathens. The revenge was for a Persian invasion of Greece, more than a century earlier. 

Alexander combined the powers of the Greek city states. He proved to be a brilliant military commander. In his thirty-two years, he conquered not only the Persian empire but well into India, a part of the world unknown at the time. He eventually had to stop conquering, not because of defeat, but because his men had had enough. They wanted to return home. 

While in Babylon, after the India campaigns, he became mysteriously ill and died. Some think he was murdered. Even Aristotle, his old tutor who was horrified at Alexander’s growing ego, has been suggested as a possible plotter. But Everitt suggests that Alexander’s death came probably from a mosquito. God can work in mysterious ways. His death sounds like a deadly type of malaria.[7]

Alexander, as he continued to win and to conquer, he sought to distance himself from his father’s memory. He promoted a story that his real father was Zeus, the Greek God of Mount Olympus thunderbolts. Of course, not everyone bought into this mythology, but it shows his arrogant attitude to the world. After his death, his empire fractured, as represented by the four horns for his generals that took over various parts of the empire. 

The little horn represents Antiochus, the ruler of Syria who desecrated the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem in 167 BC. 


There is a minor point at the end of this vision that I want us to ponder for a moment. I think it has a lot to do with the message of Daniel. In verse 25, we’re told that he shall be broken but not by human hands. God is still God and will not be mocked.[8] The desecration of the temple, the holy place in Jerusalem, sets forth his downfall. God has the future under control. As we saw in the seventh chapter, kingdoms will rise and fall. This will continue to happen, even now. Only when God’s time is reached, will we enjoy the peaceful kingdom that will exist without end. But we can take comfort in that those who bring evil upon the world have a limited time for God controls the future, not them. 

While we might not, by ourselves, be capable of defeating one like Antiochus IV, or the many other evil rulers of the world, the book of Daniel reminds us that what is important is to remain true to God. As we’ve seen, it’s a theme reiterated repeatedly in Daniel.

If you set out to butt heads, you’ll eventually butt heads with God and it won’t end well. It may not sound like good news to the one butting, but it is to everyone everyone who has to endure the bullying. Amen. 


[2] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton, IL: Crossways, 2020).

[3] Matthew 25:32ff.

[4] I learned this from Amy Leach in “Goats and Bygone Goats,” Things That Are: Essays (Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2012), 13-19. 

[5] Ezekiel 1:1. Like Daniel, Ezekiel also provides a date for his vision. Daniel is in the third year of Belshazza; Ezekiel is in the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin. 

[6] Robert Anderson, Signs and Wonders: Daniel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), 91. 

[7] Anthony Everitt, Alexander the Great: His Life and His Mysterious Death (Audible books, 2019), Narrated by John Lee. 

[8] W. Sibley Towner, Daniel: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), 126. 

The backside of Masonboro Island

Daniel dreams of the future

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Presbyterian Churches
January 16, 2022
Daniel 7 

Because of the winter storm in our area, neither church will be worshipping in person this morning. To help you in your worship times at home, I have added the bulletin and prayers for today after the sermon. The announcements for both churches are below the bulletin. Be safe in this cold and wintry weather!

At the Beginning of the Service:

Today, we’re back in the book of Daniel, working our way through the last half of the prophet’s book. As you remember from the fall, the first half of Daniel tells a series of stories about faithful Jews who were living in exile in Babylon. These stories demonstrate the possibility of remaining faithful to God even when everyone around you worships differently. 

You know, it would be easy to throw up your hands and go along with the crowd. But what if you believe your God reigns above all other gods, created the world and the universe, and sustains all life? Of course, it’s harder to believe this if your God’s temple has been destroyed along with the holy city. Many from Israel, I’m sure, gave in. But a few continued to hold tight to the God of their childhood, the God of their ancestors, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Daniel described through the study of economics

Now, let me suggest a new way at looking at Daniel. I’m taking this concept from economics. If you studied economics in college, you had two basic classes that set the foundation. You took a class in micro-economics, which focuses on economic behavior of individuals and firms dealing with limited recourses. Then there was a class in macroeconomics, which looked at the larger economy and how things work on a national and international level

In first six chapters of Daniel is like microeconomics. We look at how individuals live out their faith when challenged with obstacles. In the second half, we take a step back and look at nations and how they relate to one another under God’s watchful eyes. A simple idea immediately comes to mind. Nations and societies, which is where we live out our faith, are always corrupt. Yes, some are worse than others, but then, as Paul says in Romans, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”[1]

There is another different between the first and second half of Daniel. The first is based on stories. The second half moves into the apocalyptic, an entirely new genre. This is the world of strange beings, that represent kingdoms. These beasts are not individual sinners, but an example of how individuals can come together and create evil greater than would be possible by one person.[2]

I am not going to read the entire 7th Chapter today. It’s a bit long. But I will read enough for you to understand what’s said. As you watch this at home, you could pause your computer long enough to read the entirety of the chapter. This chapter involves three sections, all of which are encapsulated into a dream. First, there is a terrifying vision of beasts, then a vision of divine judgement. The dream concludes with Daniel asking an attendant of the court to interpret what the meaning of it all. When Daniel wakes up, he’s terrified.

Read Daniel 7:1-15, 23-28.  

After the reading of Scripture

My Dream

I still remember the dream 10 years later. At the time there was a small group in the church I served that wasn’t happy. I found myself, as pastors often do, in a conflict. There were several sides to it all. Most supported me, but a few didn’t. 

In a dream I had during this time. I was with one of those who wasn’t supportive of me. We’d had exchanged some harsh words. In the dream, we were down south in a backyard, where there was a woodpile. This man discovered a copperhead, a poisonous snake often found in woodpiles. By the way, I was in bed in Michigan, outside the snake’s geographic range for this dream. I supposed was why the dream was set in the South, where copperheads live. 

Daniel’s Dream

In the dream, this man grabbed the snake by its tail. Then he called my name and as I turned toward him, he slung the snake at me. While shocked, I remained calm. I caught the snake, quickly grabbed its head so it wouldn’t be able to bite, calmed it down for a minute, and walked into the woods behind the woodpile, where I released it.  

Obviously, at this point, I woke. Strangely, I felt everything would be okay. As troubling as the dream could have been, it wasn’t a nightmare. As I laid in bed, I was comforted in the realization I would be okay, that this guy couldn’t harm me.  

That said, I’m not sure why Daniel was so trouble by his dream, or perhaps dreams, as it sounds in verse 26 as if the dream or vision occurred in two parts, in the evening and in the morning. While the beasts sound terrifying, there is also good news here.

In this chapter, Daniel takes on a new role. In the opening part of the book, he’s been the one who interprets dreams and strange phenomenon. In the fifth chapter with Belshazzar, he’s even drawn out of retirement to interpret the strange events happening at a royal party.[3] But in Chapter 7, Daniel is the one dreaming and he must rely on others to help him understand the meaning. 

Daniel’s dream occurs by a trouble sea. The winds are whipping in all directions, whipping up the waters. And if that’s not frightening enough, beasts are rising out of the sea. These are not animals that exist… A lion with the wings of an eagle, a bear with tusks, a four headed leopard with wings, and a fourth with iron teeth and ten horns.

Then, his dream shifts to a judgment scene. The Ancient One, obviously a reference to God, sits on his throne, ready to pronounce judgment. But one of the horns in the last beast is so arrogant that receives an immediate verdict, assigning it to burning death. The other beast loses their dominions. But not their life. Their judgment is postponed. At this point, we see one coming as a man in the clouds. Dominion and kingship are conferred upon him. His kingdom shall never be destroyed.     

Interpretation of the Beasts in Daniel’s Dream

Lots of stuff has been made of the meaning of these beasts and what is going on Daniel’s dream. Of course, the vision stuns Daniel, as it would us. Daniel asks for an interpretation. Like it was with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the second chapter, these beasts represent different kingdoms coming upon the earth.[4] And while everyone agrees that the beasts represent different kingdoms, there are a number of interpretations of which kingdoms they represent. Most everyone agrees that the first beast represents Babylon. Beyond that, there’s wild speculation.

The one interpretation that, in my opinion, has the most validity, has the kingdoms lining up like this: Babylon, Medes, Persians, and the Greeks.[5] The ten horns that come from the last beast are those who assumed leadership over sections of the Greek empire after the early death of Alexander. And the one little horn that speaks so arrogantly that it quickly brings down God’s wrath is Antiochus IV, who ruthlessly ruled Syria and created a nightmare in Jerusalem when he desecrated the temple.[6]

What I think is important to understand from this dream isn’t necessary which beast goes with which kingdom, but the idea that all kingdoms built by humans are sinful. However, some are better than others. Perhaps this is why judgment was immediate upon the arrogant horn, and other horns were allowed to continue longer. My point is to remind you that the importance of each beast isn’t to provide us with a historical or future map. Again, as I reminded you last week, God’s word should not be used as a roadmap to the future. The Bible helps us live in the present.[7]

The problem with kings (and those with power)

Think back into the early history of Israel. The people demand a king. God didn’t want them to have a king and warned Israel about the dangers of a king. Desiring a king was a rejection of God[8] Of course, eventually Israel was given a king. Even the best of their kings was flawed.[9]

The seventh chapter of Daniel reminds us of human sinfulness and how our hope can only be in a kingdom that is divinely constituted. Again, this doesn’t mean that some kingdoms won’t be better than others.[10]Some kingdoms are better, just as our depraved state doesn’t mean we’re so bad that we can’t get worse. We can always become more wicked, especially when we collectively gather to further a particular idea that becomes as sacred as an idol. As Paul in our reading from Romans reminds us, when left to our own devices, we’re on a path to ruin.[11]

We should take from Daniel’s dream a healthy dose of cynicism, or at least suspicion, when it comes to politicians and governments. While I believe it is true that God can work through anyone, even those who are evil, none of them are worthy of our worship. First, our worship belongs only to God. Second, when we too heavily invest in human endeavors, we either set ourselves up to be disappointed, or we blind ourselves from reality. 

I came across a quote this week, that when I read it, I stopped and wrote it down. It goes: 

“It is always dangerous to be too devoted to a narrative. It can lead one to abandon reason in favor of the cause. I’ve seen it result in terribly wrong actions from partisans of both the right and left.”[12] 

What the seventh chapter tells us is that human institutions will, sooner or later, fail us. This doesn’t mean we don’t try to do things better. After all, in the first six chapters of Daniel, we’re given a glimpse into faithful Jews who were working for the well-being of those in the Babylonian empire. The key, however, is that they always placed God first. And that’s what is required of us. 

The hope in Daniel 7

Until that new world promised in verse 14 comes about, we should remember that we live in a sinful world. If we’re to have any hope, we must always place God foremost in our lives. Amen. 

[1] Romans 3:23. Of course, Paul is not referring to Jesus Christ here. 

[2] See Temper Longman III, Daniel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 196. 

[3] For my sermon on Daniel 5, go to

[4] For my sermon on Daniel 2, go to

[5] Other lists have them as Babylon, Persian (including the Medes), Greek, and Romans. Some even have the final beast at the end of time and the 10 horns representing modern nations. 

[6] See Robert A. Anderson, Signs and Wonders: Daniel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), 78-81.  

[7] For last week’s sermon, go to

[8] See 1 Samuel 8, especially verse 7.

[9] The great king, David, who desired God’s heart, also had a man killed to cover up his adultery. Solomon took many wives, some of whom brought in their foreign gods. Josiah, the best of the kings in 1st and 2nd Kings; however, Jeremiah treats him in a more reserved manner. For Josiah, see Robert Althann, “Josiah,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, volume III (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1016-1017.

[10] This was the thesis of Reinhold Niebuhr’s, Moral Man and Immoral Society. As people come together, we can bring about even more evil. 

[11] Romans 3:9-18, especially verse 16. 


Mayberry Church in the winter of 2021

 20220116 Rough Bulletin 

The red sections would not appear in the bulletin but are for the liturgy 

Individual sinners are harmful, sometimes deeply. But sinners bound together behind a group cause can cause great devastation. Nationalism, racism, sexism, denominationalism, factionalism—great evil can arise when sinners come together with a common purpose against someone outside of the group, the “other.” We can depersonalize the other; they aren’t quite human, and so to harm the other is not quite the same as hurting on of our own.”
-Tremper Longman III, Daniel: The NIV Application Commentary (reflecting on Daniel 7)


Welcome, Announcements, & Introductions

Call to Worship  (Psalm 104: 1-4, 31-35)

Pastor: Bless the Lord, O my soul.
People: O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment.
Pastor: You stretch out the heavens like a tent, you set the beams of your[a] chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind, you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.

People: May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works—who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.
Pastor: I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
People: May our meditation be pleasing to God, for we rejoice in the Lord.
Pastor: Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.
People: Bless the Lord, O my soul.

Pastor: Praise the Lord! Let us pray. 

Prayer of Adoration 

God of light and truth, you are beyond our grasp or conceiving. Before the brightness of your presence the angels veil their faces. With lowly reverence and adoring love, we acclaim your glory and sing your praise, for you have shown us your truth and love in Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen

*Opening Hymn #

Call to Confession  (referring to Daniel 7:10)

In the 7th Chapter of Daniel, we hear of the heavenly court in judgment, with the books open. Before then, we need to confess and sin and depend on the mercy shown us in Jesus Christ.

Prayer of Confession 

Gracious God, you have given us the law of Moses and the teachings of Jesus to direct our way of life. You offer us your Holy Spirit so that we can be born to new life as your children. Yet, O God, we confess that the ways of death have a strong attraction and that we often succumb to their lure. Give us the vision and courage to choose and nurture life, that we might receive your blessings. Hear now our personal confessions as we pray silently… 

Silent Prayer of Confession

*Assurance of Pardon  (1 Peter 2:24)

Jesus himself bore our sin in his body on the cross so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds we have been healed. Amen.

New Testament Reading                  Romans 3:9-20

Presentation of our Gifts
Prayer of Dedication

Gracious God, we give our best, lest in gaining the world we lose life itself. As a covenant people, we seek to witness to your will and way. Help us to know more clearly what you would have us do with the wealth entrusted to our care. As we contribute to the needs of your people, we present ourselves as living sacrifices. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen. 

Sharing of Joys and Concerns 

Pastoral Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer 


Sermon                       The Failure of Human Desire and our Hope in God

Daniel 7

*Affirmation of Faith           Apostles’ Creed



Announcements for Bluemont

¬ Sunday School is held every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall. (obviously cancelled)

Please remember to bring paper towels, toilet paper, and laundry detergent pods to church today, and January 23 and 30.   We are collecting these items for the Joy Ranch Children’s Home. Collection boxes will be in the narthex.

¬The Monday Pastor’s Bible Studies will be held on January 17 and 24 via Zoom at 1 p.m. If you are not on the email list, and would like to be, let our pastor know ( and he will add you to the list. On the day of the study, he will send a Zoom link along with an outline of the study.

¬The Thursday Bible Study will be held on January 27 at 10:00 a.m. in Fellowship Hall.

¬Join us for a new women’s group meeting on Tuesday, January 25, at 10:00 a.m. in Fellowship Hall to discuss strategic and meaningful ways to better our church and our community.

¬We ask that everyone wear a mask and continue to socially distance with seating in both the Sanctuary and Fellowship. Hall. Be safe and watch out not just for yourself, but also for your family, friends, and neighbors. Thank you.

Announcements for Mayberry

THIS MORNING (Weather permitting)

Worship – 9:00 am … Today is the second Sunday after Epiphany. 

Fellowship – 9:45 am … Spend a few minutes in fellowship with your fellow believers in Christ enjoying each other and homemade casseroles, pastries, fruit, coffee, and tea!  


Monday – Pastor’s “Zoom” Bible Study – 1:00 pm … Chat about today’s sermon then discuss the scripture on which next Sunday’s will be based. To join in email Jeff at On Monday morning, he will email your Zoom link and “food for thought” questions that will drive the conversation.

Monday – Addictions Recovery Support Group – 7:00 pm …(weather permitting) Meetings are held in Mayberry’s Outreach Center.  For information, call the group’s leader, Deborah Reynolds, at 276-251-1389.  She’ll be glad to help! 

Tuesday – Presbyterian Men – Mayberry – 9:00 am.  

Tuesday – Fitness – 5:00 pm … Aerobic and light hand weight exercises (geared for folks of our ages), plus shared friendships, prayer concerns, and a brief devotion led by our “certified” fitness trainer, Mandy Nester. 

Thursday – Bible Study – Mayberry – 10:00 am.


Saturday – Ruritan Breakfast – 7:00 – 12:00 am… Meadows of Dan Community Center

Saturday– Free Clothing Closet – 11:00 – 1:00 –Meadows of Dan Community Center     

Daniel in the Lion’s Den

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
Daniel 6
September 26, 2021

Sermon as recorded on Friday, September 24, 2021 at Bluemont Church

Introduction at the Beginning of Worship:

The late Eugene Peterson wrote a book on the Psalms of Ascents (Psalms 120-134) titled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.[1] I read it back in the 90s and have long since lost my copy. But I still remember how Peterson opened the Psalms for my understanding. I also like his title. Peterson was a Biblical scholar, but first and foremost, he was a pastor. And he realized that much of what’s done in the church is tiring. Often, you don’t see results from your work. But the important thing is obedience and faithfulness. How do we continue to be faithful and obedient over a lifetime?

Daniel, as we’ve seen over the past weeks, provides an example of an obedient and faithful life. A young man in chapter one, he’s probably in his late teens.[2] He spends the rest of his life in Babylon. He serves several kings. This morning, we’ll look at our last of the court stories of Daniel. The sixth chapter, known as Daniel in the lion’s den, is a favorite for kids in Sunday School and at Vacation Bible School. But as we’ll see, there is a much deeper meaning in this chapter than just God saving Daniel from the lions. 

By this point in his life, Daniel is an old man. The Babylonian state that exiled the Judeans has fallen. Another new king is in town. Like Nebuchadnezzar, he too sees value in Daniel. Faithfulness has its rewards, but as we’ll see, can also cause difficulties. Today, ponder what faithfulness requires of us. 

Before reading the Scripture: Context

Before reading the scripture, I want to place the setting in context. Like the last chapter, there are some historical problems with this text. No one is sure about the identity of Darius the Mede.[3] The Mede empire was conquered by the Persians before Babylon fell. Darius, a common Persian name, may have been a puppet king who ruled over the province of Babylon. If so, he reported to Cyrus. But again, the book of Daniel doesn’t appear to be interested in history, at least not as we define it. Instead, each of these court-tales shows how we should live our lives. In this way, these stories read more like a parable than a history text. 

Setting the trap. The opening of chapter six

Chapter six begins with the information that Darius has set up an extensive bureaucracy to care for the affairs of state. Directly under Darius are three presidents, one of whom is Daniel. Everyone else in the system reports to one of these three individuals. Because Daniel has done good job of taking care of business, collecting taxes and so forth, Darius considers making him in charge of it all.  

We’d think this would be all well and good for Daniel. But it ain’t. The others in the bureaucracy are jealous. Knowing they can’t find any legitimate reason to condemn Daniel, they set a trap. They encourage the king sign a new law, saying that for 30 days, all prayers must be made to the king. For some reason, Darius doesn’t question this. Maybe the idea boosts his ego. He signs the law. There’s a tradition that such laws can’t be changed.[4] Daniel’s enemies, knowing his habit, now wait for him to break the decree. This is where our reading begins.

Read Daniel 6:10-28. 

After the reading of scripture: 

Daniel is devoted to God. He prays three times a day. There is nothing in scripture about praying so many times a day. Paul tells us to pray continually, but that has to do with our lives becoming a prayer.[5] I think we’re told the frequency of Daniel’s prayers to impress us with his piety.[6] Furthermore, Daniel prays toward Jerusalem. Again, this is not a requirement, but it informs us that Daniel doesn’t want to forget from where he came. Even though by this point in his life, Jerusalem has been destroyed and is desolate, Daniel remembers it fondly. Like all the Hebrews, he admires the temple that is no more. It had been the place where he learned to love God. 

We all may have such places in our memory. The old whitewashed wooden church where my family attended when I was very young. It was torn down when I was five, after the congregation built a new brick church that still stands… Behind it sat an old block Sunday School building where I attended Christmas programs put on my grandmother. It, too, no longer exists except in my memory. While such memories are valuable, what’s important is the lessons we’ve learned at such places about God.

Culdee Presbyterian, 1962
the old and new (photo from the internet)

But Daniel’s prayers also cause him into trouble. Prayer goes against a new edict by the king and Daniel finds himself bound to the lion’s den. 

Lessons from the text

There are four lessons I want us to draw from this story. The first is about God. The theme throughout the book is that even though we can’t see or understand, God is in control.[7] And this God saves and judges. Next, there is something we can learn for our own use here. I want us to see how Daniel is an example of how we should live out our faith under duress. And then, there are some lessons here for how we Christians should engage with the world. And finally, Daniel serves as a prototype for Jesus’ suffering and delivery. 

1. God saves and judges

The first lesson is that God saves and judges. Darius is a complicated figure in this story. A nearly all-power king finds his own hands cuffed by his own decree. He’s disturbed over the sentence he must pass upon Daniel. Yet hopes Daniel’s God, the one according to the edict shouldn’t be prayed to, will deliver him. And that’s what happens. God saves Daniel by sending an angel. The angel shut the mouths of the lions. 

But there is also judgment in this passage. For God doesn’t save Daniel’s enemies and their families from their fate in the lion’s den. While the king makes this judgment, God doesn’t intervene. Daniel’s enemies are consumed by the lions before they even touch the floor of the den. It’s as if the one telling this story wants us to understand that Daniel wasn’t tossed down into the den of well-fed lions. These beasts are hungry. God saves Daniel but allows the guilty and their families to suffer. God’s ways are often beyond our understanding, but when we experience grace, like Daniel, we should rejoice.

2. Faith under duress

Daniel becomes for us an example of faith under duress. Daniel trust God, not his own abilities. He sees what’s important and continues doing it. Daniel doesn’t deny his faith or even attempts an escape. He accepts the king’s sentence and trusts God. We must remember, as we learned with the three friends in the furnace, we never know when God might show up. Martyrdom happens. Whether we are saved or perish in the present, we should remain faithful. God’s steadfast love endures forever.[8]

3. Private faith in a public world

Daniel also provides us an image of how to live our private faith in a public world. Daniel does everything required of him by the king except that which goes against his God. He knows there is a higher authority to whom we all are accountable. So, while he is a model employee, he won’t do that which violates his most fundamental beliefs. Notice, however, that Daniel doesn’t make a big deal out of such things. He doesn’t go out to become the all-American martyr. As it was with the avoiding the king’s food in chapter 1, Daniel doesn’t publicly flaunt his disobedience of the king’s decree. It’s all private. Believe me, there is a lot to be said about quiet private piety!

Daniel carefully does what is expected of him. This makes it harder for this enemies to get at him. If Daniel had been sloppy, say in collecting taxes, they would have had an easier time. Instead, they must change the law. There is something so dishonest when laws are changed for the purpose of promoting one group over another. Such attempts need to be brought before the light of day and exposed for what they are.

Prayer in school

Interestingly, two of the four commentaries that I read on this passage, responds to the debate on prayer in school. One, probably the most conservative commentary I read, notes this passage has been used by many to argue for school prayer. He doesn’t think it fits. The prohibition is against the school leadership providing prayer. It doesn’t say that one can’t pray, just that it can’t be done publicly. 

In Daniel’s case, even private prayer was forbidden. If that was the case today, then this text could be used to encourage faithfulness and even civil disobedience. But private prayer has never been questioned.[9]Lots of us have prayed in school. Some of these prayers, at least in my case, were inappropriate. These were generally offered right before a test for which I had not prepared. 

Another commentator questions whether the debate over prayer in school is more of a smokescreen. “If I can make a fuss about the lack of prayer over there, I can forget about the lack of prayer in my own life…” he writes.[10]

He may be on to something. When I was in Hastings, Michigan, we had a mayor who bragged that the last time he’d been in church was for his wedding. He’d been married over 50 years. Yet, he made a big fuss about keeping the town’s nativity scene on public property. He even asked me if the church would buy the corner by the courthouse so that they could legally keep the scene on site. I was skeptical and didn’t pursue the matter because it seems to me his piety had more to do with votes than with his faith.

Pleasing God more important than pleasing the king

Daniel shows us that is possible to live and to be faithful even in a world that is contradicts our beliefs. Sometimes it might get us in hot water but pleasing God should always be most important. 

4. Daniel as a Christ-figure

Finally, let me say one more thing about this passage. Early Christian art often depicted Daniel in the lion’s den. These artists saw Daniel as a type of Christ figure.[11] If you remember, Jesus had been praying in the garden when the soldiers approached him. And he dies and is sealed in a tomb, like Daniel facing death and being sealed in what could become his tomb. But because of God’s faithfulness, both are released and there is much joy. This chapter ends with Darius, like Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4, praising God. Jesus returns from the grave and Mary, who’s been crying, when she recognizes Jesus, shouts out in joyous devotion, Rabbi.[12]

God’s grace elicits our gratitude

Daniel and Jesus remind us of God’s grace and faithfulness. And both stories, show us how to respond to such grace when we experience it in our lives. Amen. 

[1] I was reminded of this book by Alistair Begg, Brave by Faith: God-sized Confidence in a Post-Christian World (The Good Book Company, 2021), 91. 


[3] Josephus, writing 500 years later, suggests Darius was Cyrus son-in-law, but no other support can be found for this. See Robert A. Anderson, Daniel: Signs and Wonders (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 64-66.

[4] This law doesn’t make sense to us, but it appears to be the tradition of the Persians. See Esther 8:8, “an edit written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s rings cannot be revoked.” 

[5] 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

[6][6] There is not prescription for three times a day prayer in the Old Testament, but perhaps Daniel was following the example set in Psalm 55:16-17. The Psalm, attributed to David, recalls praying “evening, morning, and at noon.’ 

[7] Tremper Longman III., Daniel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 158. 

[8] We hear this refrain throughout scripture, but especially in the Psalms. See Psalm 118:1.

[9] Longman III, 170. 

[10] Begg, 98. 

[11] Longman III, 172. 

[12] John 20:16. 

The Writing on the Wall

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
Daniel 5
September 19, 2021

The Sermon recorded on Friday, September 17, 2021, at Mayberry Church

Added on April 21, 2022 and I wish I had seen this before writing this sermon: from @churchcurmudgeon: “Usually when there is writing on the wall, it portends the death of a culture. But hey, fine, throw out the hymnals and use a projector.”

At the Beginning of Worship

What is holy and what is profane? Today, in worship, consider the meaning and implication of these two words. God is holy. Those around the throne, we’re told, sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.[1]

In everything, holiness is predicated of God and denotes God’s majesty and purity. People and things can also be designated as holy, but only as far as we participate with God.[2] The book of Leviticus and the Apostle Peter calls us to be holy as God is holy.[3] Even things can be considered holy if used for God’s glory. Such was the case of items that came from the temple. 

So, if holy comes from God and we’re to strive for it because our devotion to God, what does profane mean? As a verb, profane is to treat something that’s sacred or holy with disrespect. While such definitions can apply to things of the church, I argue that it goes much further. God created the world and proclaimed it good. 

Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World, from where the quote in today’s bulletin came, captures this sense.[4] People may have felt that the ancient gods needed a stone altar, but our God has created the world and it’s his altar. Furthermore, God created all of us in his image. When we misuse the world or when we bully, belittle, or abuse another who, like us, have been created in God’s image, our actions are profane.  

The difference between holy and profane has to do with our intention and use of each. 

Before the Reading of Scripture

Background to Chapter 5

Today we’re going to be looking at the fifth court tale found in the opening chapters of the Book of Daniel. Chapter five begins with an abrupt change. We’re missing a major character. In the first four, the unifying figure was the king, Nebuchadnezzar. But he’s no longer with us. We learn that Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s son, reigns as king.

There are some historical difficulties with our text. There is no Belshazzar in Nebuchadnezzar’s immediate family. Nor was he the one who assumed Nebuchadnezzar’s throne upon the king’s death. We learn this not just from historical accounts, but also the Bible. 2nd Kings names Amel-Marduk as the successor to the throne.[5]

So, how do we handle this. First, the truth in this story has nothing to do with precise history. 

Second, while we’re told that Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s son, the term son had a broader meaning in the ancient world. It could also be translated or interpreted as ancestor. Today, most scholars agree that this Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon. Nabonidus was away from Babylon for about ten years, during which time his son Belshazzar served as the viceroy. Essentially, he was the acting king. 

While the father is away…

Think of a kid whose parents entrust him with the house as they travel. I know of horror stories about such time periods. Word gets out that the parents are away. Kids pile in, trashing houses, wrecking cars, the police are called in… 

There’s a whole subcategory of movies around the idea of parents being away. With dad away, Belshazzar throws a big party. Only Belshazzar isn’t a high school senior flaunting his new-found freedom. He’s responsible for a kingdom in peril. 

The opening of Daniel 5

As I have done throughout this book, I want to tell part of the story we have in Scripture and then read the more important parts. But I encourage you to go home and read the entire chapter and think about what it might say to us.

The setting for this party is the last night of Babylon’s existence as a world power under its founding leadership. We know from history, before Babylon fell, its forces were defeated in a battle only 45 miles away from the city. While nothing is said about impending doom in the Bible, we can image that those partying are nervous. Perhaps this made the drinking and revelry even crazier. In the ancient world, if you were of the nobility class, “eat and drink today because tomorrow you may die,” took on a serious tone. Often, a regime change meant death to those of the older regime.

A thousand people gather at this festival. The wine flows freely. As they begin to loosen up, Belshazzar decides that just for fun, or maybe because he’s run out of wineglasses, he’ll bring in the vessels from the temple in Jerusalem. That which had been designated as holy will be used in a profane manner. It’s also a way to make fun of the peoples Babylon has conquered. 

A sobering event

And then, while their all feeling pretty good, a sobering event happens. A hand appears and begins to write on the wall. Terrified, Belshazzar calls on his enchanters and diviners to interpret what this means. As we’ve seen before, these dudes just don’t have what it takes.[6]Everyone is perplexed. 

Remembering Daniel

Then the queen, probably was the Queen Mother, if Belshazzar was filling in for his father, recalls Daniels’ ability to understand dreams and riddles.[7] It appears Daniel has been sidelined. After all, only this older woman seems to recall his work. Worried, they fetch Daniel, which is where our reading will begin this morning: 

Read Daniel 5 (13-19, 21-30)

After the Reading of Scripture

The Finger of God

The Finger of God. High above Hell Roaring Canyon in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, a narrow jagged rock juts up nearly a hundred feet higher than the surrounding ridges. It’s known as the finger of God. When you see it, you immediately understand. Alone, this rock formation towers above everything else as it points toward the heavens.

Throughout the Old Testament, we hear of the finger of God. God’s finger inscribes the commandments on the tablet on Sinai.[8] The Psalmist speaks of God’s fingers establishing the heavens.[9] The Egyptian magicians in Pharaoh’s court, amazed at Moses’ abilities, ascribe the work as from God’s finger.[10] The finger of God reminds us of God’s power. To put this in kid playground language, “God’s little pinky finger has more power than all of us. 

Here, God’s finger, like Jesus writing in the sand before those standing with rocks in their hands, ready to stone a woman caught in adultery,[11] immediately sobers up the party. What does this mysterious writing mean? The three words all come from units of money, and can be translated as “numbered,” “weighted” and divided.”[12] But what does that mean? No one knows, so they go get Daniel. 

The Mocking of Daniel

While Belshazzar depends on Daniel to gives him an answer, he addresses Daniel in a mocking manner. “So, you captive from Judah, the spirit of the gods is with you. Is that right?” Under Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was a powerful person but there is now a new king in the land. Daniel is forgotten. Relegated to a conquered tribe, the king mocks his worship of the one true God. Like Nebuchadnezzar before he finally understood God,[13] Belshazzar places Daniel’s God on the shelf with the other gods of the world. 

And Daniel is promised riches and power in the kingdom (power that he once had) if he can just explain what it all means. Daniel refuses the gifts. He’s not in it for the money or the power. 

With Nebuchadnezzar, in chapter 4, Daniel wished his interpretation of the dream was meant for the king’s enemies.[14] Now, at this drunken party, where holy items from the temple have been defiled, Daniel doesn’t appear to mind giving bad news!

A Personal Story of the Profane

You know, I have a tiny sense of what Daniel felt as he looked over this party and saw folks guzzling wine from the temple vessels. Most of you know I was a pastor in Utah. This was in the early 90s, before the establishment of laws prohibiting smoking inside public buildings. We had a four different ten step groups meeting in the church. Three were AA or Alcoholic Anonymous groups who never gave us a problem. But we constantly had problems with the NA or Narcotics Anonymous group. 

In anticipation of the upcoming law, we forbid smoking in our building. All the ash trays were removed. Then the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back occurred. At an NA meeting, someone dug into the cabinets and found the chalice used for communion. The next morning, when some women came to church to prepare for a meal, they found chalice with cigarette butts inside. I had no problem telling them they could no longer use the church. I took back our key. 

God judges Belshazzar

Belshazzar has offended God. Daniel interprets the judgment coming immediately from God. Daniel doesn’t judge Belshazzar. Yet, even though the king won’t see another sunrise, he rewards Daniel with a robe and gold chain and the position of third in the kingdom. But that doesn’t matter, for the kingdom is about to end.


What can we take from this passage and apply to our lives today? Be careful with that which is holy. This includes God’s name, things dedicated to God, and to the church (which doesn’t belong to us but to our Lord Jesus Christ). We play with fire if we attempt to use God for personal or political gain. 

Holiness belongs to our God. And our God stands above all human wants and desires. We can’t recruit God to our side. That’s silly and blasphemy. God is free and independent of worldly concerns. To act like we’re in control of God and God will do our bidding is dangerous thinking. It’s breaking the first three commandments. Amen. 

The “Finger of God” as seen above Hell Roaring Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains

[1] Revelation 4:8.

[2] Van A. Harvey, A Handbook of Theological Terms (New York: Macmillan, 1964), 121. 

[3] Leviticus 11:44-45, 1 Peter 1:16.  

[4] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (New York: HarperOne, 2009). 

[5] See 2 Kings 25:27. Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his son, Amel-Marduk, referred to as “evil-Merodach in 2nd Kings.

[6] Daniel 2.1-16, 4:18.

[7] For the background information on Belshazzar, the Queen mother, and the impending doom of Babylon, see Tremper Longman III, Daniel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 134-137, 139.

[8] Exodus 31:18 and Deuteronomy 9:10. 

[9] Psalm 8:2.

[10] Exodus 8:19.

[11] John 8:5-7.

[12] Longman III, 141.

[13] See Daniel 4:34-37. See also

[14] Daniel 4:19

Learning Humility

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Church
Daniel 4
September 12, 2021

the sermon recorded at Bluemont on September 10, 2021

At the beginning of worship

In Proverbs, we’re told that pride comes before the fall. It’s a central theme in scripture. We’ve been looking at the opening stories in the book of Daniel. All these stories warn us about hubris or pride. Thinking that we’ve done everything by ourselves, that we’re the master of our destiny, is flawed. As followers of the Master, we’re to give credit to God and to others who have helped us along the way. 

Before reading scripture: 

We’re continuing to work our way through the court tales[1] that make up the first half of Daniel. Today, we learn that Nebuchadnezzar has another curious dream. A dream about a tree. Not just any tree, but a beautiful tree that reaches to the heavens and provides shelter and food for all under its limbs. 

But then the order is given. Cut the tree down. Unsettled, Nebuchadnezzar wants to know what this means. God’s warning him, but he doesn’t get it and find himself punished. For a period, he lives in a manner that should result in him being locked up in an asylum. Again, this chapter, like the past several, needs to be approached in its entirety. I will began reading Daniel’s interpretation, which gives you a drift of the entire story. 

Read Daniel 4. (19-37)

After the reading of Scripture

The desire to be more than moral

Kavi Usan was an ancient Persian king, but not as ancient as Nebuchadnezzar. He wanted to fly. A man of ideas, he had the four most powerful eagles within his kingdom brought to him. Each of these birds he tied to the legs of his throne. The throne’s legs not only supported the seat but rose high enough to support a roof that provided shade. On the top of these post, he tied strips of meat, which was just out of reach of the eagles. The eagles, in their attempt to reach the morsels of flesh, flew hard and pulled against their cords. Their efforts lifted the throne, which soared high into the sky. He headed toward China. But then, exhausted, the birds stopped trying to reach the meat. His throne crashed.[2]  

Kavi Usan could have been a cousin to Icarus, the young Greek man of legend who supposedly built wings out of the feathers of birds to fly. Using wax to attach the feathers, he refused to heed the warning of father. Soaring higher and higher, he sailed close to the sun. The wax melted. He tumbled back to earth. 

What are our limits?

These ancient stories remind us that there are limits to what an individual can do. Even the Wright Brothers, who perfected the airplane, learned from and built on the ideas of others.[3]

The myth of a self-made man (or woman) is just that, a myth. It’s more grounded in the philosophy of Fredrick Nietzsche than the Christian tradition. Nietzsche, by the way, is the 19th century philosophier who infamously proclaimed the death of God.[4]

The Danger of Pride and Ambition

Our tradition begins in the garden with Adam and Eve sampling the fruit of the forbidden tree because they want to be like God.[5] Curious beings, we strive to build and accomplish. It can be for the good. The problem arises from when we’re successful. Then we can beam with pride. Hubris takes over. 

Ponder this for a moment. We seldom make or do anything by ourselves. Even building a birdhouse, I follow along with what my dad taught, which he learned from his dad. We might make improvements to the process, but we seldom do something entirely new. And anything of value we do, requires to assistance of others, in addition to the blessings of God. 

Nebuchadnezzar’s pride

Nebuchadnezzar stands up on a roof of his palace. In a land where rain is seldom, roofs were often flat and served as patios or balconies. From there, he has a commanding view of this beloved city, Babylon. 

Perhaps, from where he stood, he could see those famous hanging gardens watered by irrigation, one of the great wonders of the ancient world.[6] The fragrance of flowers and the lush fruit was a delight. He looked at the government buildings and homes and strong walls. Pride overtakes him. “Look at what I’ve done. I did this by my power, and it exists for my glory …” Before he finishes the sentence, God says, “Enough.”

The king had been warned in a dream. It was a dream that his own counsel could not interpret, so he calls for Daniel. In the second chapter, Daniel displayed the abilities his God had given him to interpret dreams. But Daniel didn’t want this job. Daniel’s smart. Who wants to give bad news to a king? Such messages are dangerous. But the Nebuchadnezzar of the fourth chapter appears to have mellowed. He no longer threatens to tear his advisors from limb to limb if they can’t interpret the dream. The furnace of the third chapter seems to have grown cold. The king encourages Daniel to be honest. 

Daniel’s interpretation

In his dream there is a tree. This tree reminds us of other trees in Scripture, especially the trees along the river in the New Jerusalem. Those trees provide a year around supply of food.[7] This tree provides food and shelter and safety, which Nebuchadnezzar kingdom provided for his subjects. For a foreign king, Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t come off as a disinterested tyrant in Scripture.[8] As he has profited from his power, but so has his subjects.

But he’s warned. The God of the universe granted him the ability to build his kingdom. In the dream, an order comes from heaven that the tree is to be cut down. But the roots are saved. Daniel interprets this dream for the king. He’s the tree. God can have him removed at any time. Daniel, in verse 27, offers counsel. “Atone for your sins by doing what’s right and showing mercy to the oppressed and maybe, just maybe, your prosperity will continue.” 

The king must have followed Daniel advice for a time, but then when he’s on the roof a year later, he just can’t help it. “I’ve done this,” he brags. Pride gets him, as it’s liable to get all of us. I stand looking at my garden, hoe in hand, and think I’ve done good. I brag about something I’ve built or accomplished (or how many pints of tomatoes have been put up) and forget to give credit where credit is due. It’s easy to fall into the trap of pride.

A lesson from the Appalachian Trail

I’ve told this story many times, but it is a defining story for my life. When I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and getting close to the end, in central Maine, I got sick. It hit after lunch one day. Weak and exhausted. I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it over a mountain where a group of us were going to meet for the evening. I took a long nap on a boulder. I prayed for help. 

Then I decided to pull out a small radio that I had mostly used to get weather reports. I turned into a Classic Rock station in Bangor and began to listen as I climbed the mountain. Soon, I was singing (something I can do in the woods by myself). “Heartbreaker” by the Rolling Stones can over the air. It got my legs moving. 

That night, after having made camp and eaten dinner, I felt better. Before turning in to bed, I wrote in my journal, “Mick Jagger and the Stones got me over the mountain.” Then, about 3 AM, I woke to the realization that my prayer had been answered and I’d given the credit to a rock band. I was humbled. 

The humbling of the most powerful

The most powerful man in the world in the 6th Century before Christ, Nebuchadnezzar had power that our politicians can only wish they had. It’s often said that the President of the United States is the most powerful person in the world. But the President’s power is limited. Every four years he (and maybe one day, she) must stand for election. Beside, our system of government is built with a system of checks and balances where congress and the courts looks over each other’s shoulders. Nebuchadnezzar had none of this! His power appeared unlimited.[9]

For the most powerful king on earth to become like a beast in the field makes his fall from grace even more dramatic. Talk about a humbling. We’re shocked by the description of this royal man living like a cow, with his long-matted hair and claw-like fingernails. He’s lost sanity. He lives this way for seven years,[10] before he looks up into the sky and acknowledges God. Our God is gracious even to those not of the chosen race. The dream had ended with a stump remaining, a reminder that not all is destroyed. There is hope a shoot from the stump will grow and restore the king to his throne.

Application for our lives

While none of us have the power of a Nebuchadnezzar, we still battle with pride. The antidote to this is humility, to acknowledge those who have helped us along the way and to constantly give thanks to God who makes it all possible. One of the outcomes of our faith should be a gratefulness and thankfulness, first to God, and then to all those who have help us along the way. 

It would be my hope that Nebuchadnezzar, after he was restored to his throne, when he spent his evenings upon his roof patio, that he looked out upon his land. Instead of thinking that he’s done it all, he acknowledges the role God and the thousands of Babylonians and others whom his nation had conquered, folks like Daniel, who helped make him great. And maybe afterwards, having thanked God, he sat at his desk and wrote a few thank you notes. Amen. 

Mt. Katahdin in Maine, 1987

[1] See W. Sibley Towner, Daniel (Atlanta, JKP, ), 59

[2] Chet Raymo, The Soul of the Night: An Astronomical Pilgrimage (1985, Boston, MA: Cowley Books, 1992), 171.

[3] David McCullough, The Wright Brothers. (. )

[4] In his famous fable, his main character, Zarathustra proclaims that God is dead. Nietzsche believed that humanity, freed from morals, had the capacity to become greater. See Frederick Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885). 

[5] Genesis 3:5

[6] See

[7] Revelation 22:2. For a comparison, see Ezekiel 47:12. 

[8] Temper Longman III, Daniel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rap

ids, Zondervan, 1999), 123.

[9] Longman III, 124. 

[10] Scripture says, “seven times.” See Daniel 4:25.

Into and out of the furnace

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
September 5, 2021
Daniel 3

Sermon recorded on Friday, September 3, 2021 at Mayberry Church.

Introduction at beginning of worship

We’re back in Daniel this week. We’ll be looking at the third chapter and story in Daniel, but one that doesn’t mention Daniel. Instead, his three friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—take center stage. If you remember from my sermon two weeks ago, at the end of the second chapter, the King promoted them thanks to Daniel’s work. Now they find themselves in a pickle. King Nebuchadnezzar has built a 90-foot-tall statue and demands everyone worship it. Do they obey the king when the decree is in clear violation of the second commandment of their faith? Or do they obey God? What would we do?  

Before reading the Scripture

Again, as it was in the second chapter, we have a long story. I won’t read it all but will read enough that you will catch the drift of what happens. There are several places the narrator repeats himself, obviously for emphasis. Without explanation points, repetition help make a point. It also helps with memorization as stories such were often told orally before and even after they were written down. 

Reading this chapter, we find the list of officials summoned by Nebuchadnezzar repeated, along with the musical instruments that are used to call the Babylonians to worship at the king’s statue. We also find the names of the Daniel’s three friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—repeated a dozen times! The narrator either dislikes pronouns or just enjoys the sound of the names rolling off the tongue. Let’s listen, as I read selections of this chapter.

Read Daniel 3: 1-2, 3b-6, 8-14, 16-26, 28-30

Three ways of understanding this text

I want us to consider three ways of understanding this story. All three, I believe, are valid interpretations of what happens. Yet, each method goes a little deeper.

A Court Tale

On the surface, the story is a typical tale of a court conflict, or a “court tale.”[1] Such tales show the hubris of a nearly all-powerful leader and the jealously of those who serve under the leader. When told, the story reminds everyone of their place and what’s expected of them. 

Nebuchadnezzar’s leadership

A leader, like Nebuchadnezzar, who capriciously places burdens on his people, has problems. He’s builds a statue. It’s roughly 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide and is of gold. What we’re not told is whether Nebuchadnezzar saw this as a statue honoring himself or if it represented a god. If it was the later, it was obviously an idol. For the Hebrew people, idols were to be shunned. 

But even if it wasn’t to be a god, but a statue of himself, there’s still an issue. Nebuchadnezzar requires people to worship and honor it. The Second commandment prohibits not only creating idols, but also bowing before such statues or serving them.[2] The rule that came down is that all people, when they hear one of a multitude of musicals instruments, must pay homage to the statue. 

Nebuchadnezzar needs to be brought down a notch. He needs to learn to respect the beliefs of all the people in his kingdom.

When a leader demands unfailing loyalty, we have a problem. I’ve recently mentioned reading a new autobiography of Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian of the first half of the 20th Century.[3] Barth began his teaching career in Germany, where he’d also spent time studying. But once Hitler came to power, he found himself facing a dilemma. Hitler demanded that all university professors pledge loyalty to him. As a Christian, Barth refused. He fled back to his home country of Switzerland. The German university who had bestowed upon him the title of “Doctor” revoked the title.[4]

When individuals demand absolute loyalty, Christians must resist. Such allegiance can only be made to God.  

Jealously within the court

But this court-tale goes beyond just the pride of the king. Within any power group, those who are under the leading figure jockey for position. As this happens jealously rises between factions. Often, a conniving leader will solidify his position by pitting such groups against each other. 

This is what’s happening in this story. At the end of the second chapter, we learn that these three Jewish young men have been promoted to a position over the affairs of the province of Babylon. The “certain Chaldeans” who pointed the finger at them for not obeying the king’s decree, appear to be jealous.[5]

Because of this asinine rule of the king, he’s backed into a corner. He now must keep his word. However, we do see a thoughtful side to Nebuchadnezzar. Before he sends the three youths to the furnace, he provides them with one more chance to pay homage to the golden statue. They refuse and into the fire they go. 

As a court-tale, we learn of the danger of arrogance leadership and of jealous. 

A story of God’s power

But we should go deeper. The second level of understanding of this passage is of a story of God’s hidden power that surpasses the most powerful person in the world at the time. This is the kind of story that gives hope to oppressed group of people like the Jewish people during and after Babylon. 

Nebuchadnezzar has power. He commands a huge statue to be built. The workers get on it right away. He calls forth musicians and they appear. He commands that when they play, everyone bows, and they do—or at least most people.  

We witness Nebuchadnezzar’s power with the ease he sentences the three Jews to their death in the furnace. He orders the furnace to be superheated, which seems silly because once you’re dead, you’re dead. But those stroking the furnace obey. It’s super-hot, bellowing flames, forcing people away. He orders the three to be restrained and tossed into the furnace. His soldiers comply. 

Then we get to the dark humor in this story. Those who obey the king find themselves “cooked” as they toss in the bound Jews. The fire is so hot it kills the king’s executors. The three who are destined to be martyrs are saved, while those who obey the king die a meaningless death.[6] That’s the kind of detail that would delight the Jewish hearers of this story as they suffer under continual oppression from other nations and leaders. 

Certainly, our God has amazing powers. But if we leave this story at this level, we are left to wonder why God doesn’t save everyone. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do some become martyrs while others, like Shadrach and friends, are saved? 

A story of faithfulness

Our third way of looking at this story is to see it as an example of faithfulness. For this, we must look at three key verses in the passage, verses 16-18. This is where the three refuse to defend their actions to the king. As with the diet, in chapter 1, the three don’t make a big deal out of their refusal to worship the statue. Had it not been for some tattletales, the king wouldn’t have even known about their refusal to bow down. They weren’t flaunting their behavior; they were just quietly obeying God and the Commandments. 

However, once they are confronted by the king, they have no choice but to be honest and tell the king that they are not going to obey his command regardless of whether their God saves them or not. This is an example of extreme faithfulness. They are hauled off to the furnace without any assurance God will act. They are willing to give up their lives because they believe in a God who is much more powerful than the gods and the statues of the Babylonians.  

Faith is not doing something to gain something else. Faith places total control with God, regardless of what will happen to us.

Salvation by the graciousness of God

In the end, their salvation comes by the graciousness of God… The same is true for us. We can’t save ourselves. Only God can do that. The three are hauled off to the furnace without any promise that God will intervene. Yet, they keep their loyalty to God despite what happens, for they know if anyone will save them, God will. And even if God doesn’t save them, they still put their faith in God, because their lives are about glorifying God, not protecting themselves.[7]

Now, when placed in the furnace, there’s another surprise. The king peeps in and sees four people in the furnace, and one of them has the appearance of a god. This line, like a god, draws Christians immediately to Jesus, but the text itself isn’t clear as to the identity. Jesus, in the flesh, hasn’t yet been born, but Jesus as God and the second person in the Trinity, has always been. Throughout Christian history this has been debated. Was it Jesus or just an angel?[8]

I suggest the importance of this fourth mysterious figure isn’t its identity. Instead, this figure reminds us that God doesn’t leave us alone, even when we are travel through the shadows of the valley of death. At such a time, it doesn’t matter if this person was an angel or an appearance of God. Whoever it is, its presence came from God to comfort and protect. 

Another point I want us to understand is that while Nebuchadnezzar praises the Hebrew’s God, he doesn’t really get it. For now, he decides he’s going to protect this God by making it a serious capitol crime to say anything bad about God. Does God need Nebuchadnezzar’s help? As our story shows, God can take care of himself and his own. God doesn’t need the help of a mere mortal, even if the moral is a king with incredible power. 

Praising God within the furnace

The verses we have here comes from Masoretic Text, which is the Hebrew or Jewish Scriptures, and from which we get the Protestant Old Testament. But in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, which was collected and translated a couple hundred years before Christ, there was an extra 68 verses added between our 23rd and 24th verses.[9]

This text, known as the Prayer of Azariah (Abednego’s Hebrew name[10]), and the Song of the Three Jews. In this text Abednego begins with praise and then is later joined by his other friends. This prayer and song have much in common with the Psalms of Scripture, and while they are not in our canon, are still beautiful and glorifying of God. 

“Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and worthy of praise; and glorious is your name forever!,” Abednego begins. 

After 19 verses of praise, confession, and petition, the others join in song:

“Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, 

and to be praised and highly exalted forever; and blessed is your glorious, holy name, and to be highly praised and highly exalted forever.”

As these three young Jewish men show, life at its deepest isn’t about us. It’s about God, to whom we’re to praise, even in the furnace. Amen. 

A campfire along the New River, 2019

[1] Tremper Longman III, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 97. 

[2] See Exodus 20:4-5.

[3] For my review of Karl Barth: A Life in Conflict, go to:

[4] Christiane Tietz, Karl Barth: A Life in Conflict, Victoria J. Barnett, translator, (German edition 2019.  English edition: Oxford, UK: Oxford Press, 2021. The university reinstated the title to Barth after the war. 

[5] Robert A. Anderson, Daniel: Signs and Wanders (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), 31-32.

[6]Longman III, 108-109.

[7] The role of a person of faith is summed up nicely in the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism:  “What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. 

[8] Verse 25 can also be translated as “son of a god.” Here in Scripture we find ambiguity. In verse 28, Nebuchadnezzar retells what happens and says the fourth figure was an “angel.” 

[9] This passage found in the Apocrypha. While not considered “Canonical” for Protestants, and we treat it the same as other books written by humans, it contains some beautiful passages that praise God (as do other books that are not in scripture. See Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Confessions, 6:003. 

[10] Daniel 1:7.