If you’re like me, you can definitely relate to the story of Gideon. He feels completely inadequate to carry out the commission that God has given him, to defeat the invading Midianites. He constantly asks God for a sign that He has really chosen him for this task (6:17, 36-40), and God responds each time. Then, the moment finally arrives for Gideon to do what God has commanded him, and God tests his faith even more. He takes the Israelite army and shrinks it from 32,000 men to 10,000, and then to just 300… and they didn’t even have real weapons! (v. 16) Gideon literally has no shot of destroying the large army of Midianites, about 120,000 men, at least from a human’s perspective. Yet, God does what He says He is going to do, and Gideon and his 300 men are successful in delivering the people from the Midianites.
How many of you have felt like Gideon did? God has called you to a pretty monumental task, one that you feel ill-prepared for, and yet He was faithful to get you through it? Especially as a pastor, I feel this deeply on a daily basis, as almost all pastors do. I feel this as a husband and father, called to take care of my family without much clear guidance on how to do just that. I feel this just as a Christian, called to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world, but not always knowing how that works. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by what God has called you to do, you’re not alone; and God is faithful to work with us.
Questions to Consider
Is God calling you to something bigger that you think is impossible? Take a moment to pray for peace and the faith to believe that your Father will get you through it. Follow through with His plan and He will be with you.
Are you overwhelmed by what is going on around you right now? Take comfort in Gideon’s story. God always takes care of His people, even if the answers aren’t immediately available.
Do you feel inadequate? You’re not alone. Over and over again, God chooses the most inadequate people in the Bible for His mission, so that He gets all the glory. You are exactly the right person that God wants.
We’re now in the 3rd year of the Persian king Cyrus’s reign, after he has allowed the exiled in Babylon to go home. But it’s not clear if Daniel is hanging around to work in the Persian court somewhere or if he has gone home too. Maybe, he figures, what’s the use of going home if the restoration of his people is going to take 7 times longer than anyone thought. If I were him, I’d also be struggling to find some hope if angels keep dropping by in my dreams and giving me mostly horrible news about the future.
This is likely weighing heavily on Daniel’s tired heart as he is mourning and doing extended fasting. You don’t normally hear about people today fasting to hear a word from God, but it’s one of those ancient tried and true methods to use when you really mean business and something has to give.
It works well for Daniel here because he receives another vision. He’s by the river and sees an angel that is described with language stolen right from Ezekiel. And the Bible is weird, because it sounds like this angel (Gabriel?) has been in an ongoing battle with a prince (angelic representative?) of Persia. And the angel Michael is there fighting in Gabriel’s place so he could come tell Daniel something very important. If I am understanding this correctly, this means angels engage in extended tag team octagon fighting on behalf of the kingdoms they represent, as if the balance of history depends on it in some way.
What follows in chapter 11 is an insanely detailed prophecy given to Daniel about the Persians and Greeks, leading up to our old friend, Antiochus IV, and his typical shenanigans. It is basically a much more detailed version of chapter 8 (remember the ram, goat, and the horns?), and we have the theme from chapters 2 and 7 about the sequence of kingdoms knitted into it. Not being an expert in history, and not wanting to overload too badly, I’ll keep this very high-level.
I mentioned Alexander yesterday, who is our “warrior king” in 11:3, or the Greeks taking over the Persians. Alexander dies and his kingdom is split up among four generals. We eventually end up with the Ptolemies of the south (Egypt) and Seleucids of the north (Syria/Mesopotamia), who plague each other with failed alliances, invasions, deception, betrayal, assassinations, and the like. By verse 21, Antiochus (of the north) is on the scene, and by verse 30 we see him start his persecution of Jerusalem and desecration of the temple. By the end of chapter 11, we see his end.
Again, we are interested in patterns more than precise timelines. The north and south had been going back and forth with their conflicts but keeping each other in check. Antiochus comes on the scene and breaks the mold, crosses the line, and does what nobody before him does. And once he upsets the balance and asserts himself as a god, the true God brings an end to him. It’s the arrogant made humble again, like we’ve seen several times before in the book of Daniel.
But what of hope? What’s the point of this endless political drama and transfer of power? The messenger explains that at that point of deep anguish brought in by the king of the north, the people of God will be delivered. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” And the wise are said to have some kind of special reward. If we believe in a God of justice and restoration, the end game has to be that God, being the faithful God that he is, will make all things right, even by raising his “sleeping” faithful to life.
Surely the original audience of Daniel would be familiar with the dry bones of Ezekiel coming alive and how it symbolized the return from exile, since the ideas of exile and death in the Jewish mind are interlocked. But technically, when this new revelation is being given to Daniel, the people have already gone home, although their full restoration has yet to be seen. So is Daniel 12 metaphorically about the coming restoration of God’s people, or about an actual bodily resurrection? I think both are in play. This isn’t the New Testament yet, so nobody is really talking about resurrection as we know it. The Old Testament hints at something like resurrection maybe a few times before Daniel. This passage goes further than others in the Old Testament; it’s hard to deny or explain away the element of bodily resurrection. Still, by the time of Jesus, not all the Jews are sold on it. The Pharisees believe in a resurrection, but the Sadducees do not.
A quick word about verses 5-12, which seem to break the flow a little. It prompts us to remember 8:13 when one angel asks the other how long the “transgression that makes desolate” will be. In scope is the last of the 70 weeks described in chapter 9, but now we have another “How long” question: “How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?” To summarize, it cryptically lays out two periods of 3½ years, before and after the people are essentially banned from worshiping. Interpreters struggle with making much sense of the differing numbers in verses 11-12, and I am happy to join them.
I’ve been suggesting how some of these prophecies have had a fulfillment in historical events moving up into the second century B.C. because I think it fits well, but hopefully I have also left the door open for you to envision other ways these patterns have been fulfilled, and even how they are yet to be fulfilled. Part of the joy of the book of Daniel is that it keeps inviting you to interpret. Sometimes it will hand you the interpretation, and sometimes you’ll have to chew on it. Making sense of the book of Daniel (and the rest of scripture) became an important pastime for God’s people, and it is no wonder why. It can provide us wisdom, encouragement, and hope while surviving in our Babylons, or enduring very tough times that never seem to end.
We are in a strange time in our world where I think all of us are asking every day, “How long is this mess going to keep going? When can things be back to normal?” It will probably take much longer than we had wanted or expected. And whether it is good or bad, we’ll probably never go back to what we thought of as normal. But the wise and faithful can enjoy the hope of a time of restoration and resurrection, in a kingdom that has no end, under the rulership of the true God who has finally set everything right.
Thank you so much for studying Daniel with me. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 10-12
Tomorrow we will begin the book of Ezra (chapters 1-3) as we continue on our journey through God’s Word using the
Over the next few days, we’re going to look at four wilderness stories in the bible to learn a lesson about what the wilderness is and what it can teach us. The first Wilderness Wandering Lesson is this:
Wilderness Wandering Lesson #1: The faithful love of God is infinitely more secure than our fractured circumstances.
The most recognizable story of wilderness is that of the Israelites. After 400 years of servitude to the Egyptians, the Israelites kept crying out to God for the deliverance prophecied by Joseph in Gen. 50:25. That help came in the form of Moses, who was commissioned by God to lead the Israelites to the land of Canaan. So this so-called Promised land, part of the covenant promise that God made with Abraham in Gen. 12, was the Israelites’ destination. Even in the Israelites’ time in the wilderness, we can see two purposes in the wilderness. The wilderness in the first year was a time of purification and dependence. It is in the wilderness that the Israelites learned to trust God for direction (Fire and Cloud – Ex. 14) and sustenance (Manna and Water – Ex. 16). In Exodus 16, God even says, “I will test them to see whether or not they will follow my instructions” (v. 4). This testing was his goal for the first year the Israelites spent in the wilderness. Spent mostly at the base of Mt. Sinai, it was in this time that the Israelites received the ten commandments, built the tabernacle, and received the rest of the law (Ex. 15-Num. 10). Though there was difficulty in this time (think Golden Calf – Ex. 32), this time in the wilderness was also full of incredible closeness to God. It was during this time that the Israelites were able to witness the Shekinah glory of God descend on the tabernacle. And, during this time, the Israelites experienced the humbling dependence on God that came from relying on him.
We can think of this first year in the wilderness as the training wheels period where God was showing the Israelites that relying on him was best. That trusting in him was the way to choose life and joy. In Numbers 10, the Israelites break camp and move towards the border of the Promised land. In Numbers 11, the cracks begin to show again as the Israelites complain more and more about hardship, food, and in the case of Aaron and Miriam, the power and relationship with God that Moses had. Based on the tendencies that we see in these chapters, we shouldn’t be as surprised as we generally are that the Israelites get to the border of the promised land and choose to go against God and refuse to take the land because of their fear (Num. 14). The Israelites chose not to go into the promised land because their trust in God was lacking. They didn’t think that God would do what he said he would. Instead, they based their decisions on their circumstances, which seemed too difficult to overcome. It’s this that ultimately angers God and leads towards his judgment against the Israelites: They would wander the wilderness for 40 years (one year for each day they spent scouting the wilderness). In the remaining chapters of Numbers, we see more instances of rebellion and provision as the Israelites do exactly as God says and wander the wilderness for 40 years. It is not until the book of Joshua, that we see the next generation of Israelites rise up and take the land just as God promised his people that they would.
These two tales are frequently told together, but they tell two very different stories of the wilderness. In the first, the Israelites seemed to have done nothing to be put in the wilderness, while in the second, the wilderness was a place of punishment for the past sin of the people. But, the purpose of each wilderness experience is the same. The wilderness is meant for purification and refinement, to make the people of God ‘holy, because [he] is holy’ (Lev. 19:2). Too often, I think we view the wilderness as a punishment, and because of that, we go back to asking God, “Why? Why am I here?” We may even sound like some of my high school students when they get called out, “Why? I wasn’t even doing anything!” (No matter what they are doing.) We need to stop viewing the wilderness as a place of punishment. It can be that place, as we’ve seen with the Israelites. But, more importantly, this time in the wilderness is where God is beckoning us back to him. It’s in this time that all of the Israelites first heard God’s word. It’s in this time that they felt the characteristics of God that Moses spoke in Numb. 14:18. In your wilderness wanderings, instead of focusing on the doubt – the questions of why you are in that experience – focus on who God is:
“The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation.” (Numb. 14:18)
Rest on God’s faithful love, and in your time in the wilderness, don’t forget to remember who he is. When we trust in him, our circumstances don’t seem so challenging anymore.
If you are not in a wilderness period now, chances are you will probably experience a time like this in the future. It’s the moments where we are spiritually thirsty and hungry for God. It can be puzzling when we are in these moments because we begin to doubt and question God. If there was a word that could be used to define these moments, I would say that it would be “Why.” Why do I feel like this? Why am I in this desert? Why does God seem so far from me? Why won’t he return to me?
Though it can seem presumptuous to ask God these questions, we can find the psalmist asking these questions as well. In Psalm 42, the psalmist says, “Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me?” (v. 5, 11) Later on, he writes, “I will say to God, my rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me? Why must I go about in sorrow because of the enemy’s oppression?” (v. 9) It’s natural to question God during these moments, and even Jesus on the cross asked God, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Sometimes, we know the purpose of the wilderness, as Jesus did when he asked God that question. Other times, we may not know in this life why we have to experience the things that we do.
In these times, it’s incredibly important to remind ourselves of two things: (1) we can trust that there is a purpose for the wilderness, and (2) in the wilderness, we can rely on the goodness of God to carry us through. As we think about the ‘why’ behind our wilderness wanderings, it’s first important to ask ourselves how we got to this point. Sometimes, our wilderness comes from forces outside of us, whether that’s circumstances, conflicts with others, or the adversary like we discussed yesterday. We can look at the examples of Elijah and Jesus to see wilderness experiences that were due to the fallenness of the world, not their own failings. Yet, at other times, the wilderness can be caused by our own actions, like in the case of the Israelites.
During these times, we have two options: We can turn toward God or away from him. It’s this choice that will determine whether or not the wilderness experience will help us to grow or to be destroyed. In this devotion, we won’t be able to come to a definitive answer of why bad things happen to good people. But, we can answer the real ‘why’ behind our wilderness experiences. During this time, we have the option to lean on God and learn what it means to walk hand in hand with him. To experience complete dependence on God. The wilderness may be difficult, but it’s also in these moments that we experience more deeply the salvation of God. Going back to the Psalmist words in Psalm 42, we see that our wilderness experiences can make our recognition of God’s love more real and vivid when, after asking why, he says:
“Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God. I am deeply depressed, therefore I remember You from the land of Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your breaks and Your billows have swept over me. The Lord will send His faithful love by day; His song will be with me in the night – a prayer to the God of my life” (v. 5-8).
We can pray to the God of our life. In these times in the wilderness, trust in your creator, and he will send his faithful love to you.