Soccer games. Groceries. Working 70 hours a week. Trying to exercise and keep our houses in order. Driving children to endless activities. These are the concerns and rhythms for many of us in suburbia. The glories that grab our hearts are healthy children who do well in school, careers that are satisfying, and, somehow, accomplishing our goals and dreams and hobbies.
So, what might the strange visions of Daniel 7 have to say to us? How can a chapter of apocalyptic writing with images of beasts and talking horns and a fiery throne speak into our situation?
I think it has much to say. Daniel 7 pulls the curtains of our suburban concerns aside and helps to see both a troubling fact and a glorious hope. The troubling fact sobers us to beastly nature of our own hearts, and the glorious hope helps us find our joy in One who transcends us and all our immediate cares. In this post we’ll only have time to consider the troubling fact.
A Troubling Fact
There is a troubling fact presented to us in Daniel 7. Sometimes you hear the adage that people are basically good. But the message of the Scripture and Daniel 7 tell a different story. There is something fundamentally wrong with all of us, something that is dark and disturbing and displeasing to God. This ‘something’ comes out in the nations of the world.
Daniel 7 portrays this through visionary imagery. The chapter is apocalyptic in nature, which means vivid images laden with symbolism meant to convey a message. The scene opens with 4 terrifying beasts. There is a lion with eagle’s wings, a bear with three ribs in its mouth, a leopard with four heads, and a creature with iron teeth and ten horns (Daniel 7:1-8). These beasts are ugly and frightening. They also represent different nations (Daniel 7:17).
Old Testament commentator Tremper Longman argues that what we have here is a picture of the different nations of the world throughout history. One comes after another, and all are beastly in nature. There is a grotesqueness to the images, and we are meant to be repulsed.
All we have to do is look in history to see the truth of this troubling fact. We see the beastly nature of the world’s nations in more extreme examples like Hitler’s gas chambers, Stalin’s Gulags, and Pol Pot’s Killing Fields. But we also see the beastly nature in less extreme examples like greed, pride, selfishness and systems that oppress the poor. There is beastliness in every nation.
This is because every nation is made up of individuals with beastly hearts. Not only do all nations have perverts, pedophiles, murders, rapists, serial killers, but all have liars, mean bosses, and men and women and children who covet and give in to jealousy. All nations have dishonest employees, impatient parents, disobedient children and hypocrites of every kind. There is not a non-beastly nation in all of history, because there is no perfectly non-beastly individual in history—except for Jesus Christ (Heb 4:15). All of us have fallen away from God’s design, and have become corrupted (Romans 3). We need to be remade and renewed to desire good and pursue what is good.
Such is the troubling fact we encounter in Daniel 7. Thankfully there is also a glorious hope. And we’ll explore this next time.