Clinging to God in the Midst of Pain and Perplexity
Daniel 8 is an apocalyptic vision of future events. The vision tells us of the rise of Persia followed by the rise of Greece and a future king that comes from Greece who causes great suffering for the people of God. This king—whom most commentators agree was Antiochus Epiphanes IV—would make life very difficult for God’s people: he would cause the worship offerings at the temple to cease, defile the temple (we learn elsewhere that he brought an idol into the temple and sacrificed a pig to it), and “throw truth to the ground” (12).
While Daniel was granted some understanding of this vision through Gabriel (15-26), after hearing the interpretation Daniel was appalled and perplexed by it (27). He in some way “could not understand it” (27). Perhaps, he could not understand how these events could possible happen–Persia and Greece were not great nations when the vision was given. Or, perhaps he could not understand how God could allow such painful and evil things to take place for God’s people (in this sense, maybe it was a response similar to the Psalmist in Psalm 73 over the life of ease for the wicked or Habakkuk upon hearing that God was going to use the Assyrians to judge the Northern Kingdom).
We ourselves, who are Christians, will not be exempt from suffering in this life. Paul declares that it has been “graciously given” to not “only believe but also suffer” for the believer (Phil 1:29). We will suffer for our faith, suffer because of our sins and others, and suffer because we live in a fallen world. But Daniel gives two reasons to have hope in God in the midst of pain and life’s perplexities. First, God has put a limit to evil. Second, God promises a restoration.
GOD LIMITS EVIL
In the vision, two angels speak about “how long” the defiling of the temple will take place (13). The answer is 2,300 “evenings and mornings” (14). This has been understood as either being roughly 6 years—which would correspond to the time from the murder of the the high priest Onias to the regaining of temple by the Jews—or 3 years—when Antiochus outlawed worship of Yahweh and installed an idol in the temple until the temple worship was restored. It has also been interpreted as symbolic (Goldingay). However you interpret the 2,300 here, the point is the same: God has put a limit on how much evil is done to God’s people.
This gives us comfort in the midst of the evil we endure in this world. God is sovereign over evil and will only allow it to go on in the way and to the extent that He decrees. This helps us not despair when things go really bad. It helps us know that suffering has a limit, and our good God gives it that limit. “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:17-18).
GOD PROMISES RESTORATION
At the end of the vision a restoration is promised: “Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state” (Daniel 8:14). This happened when Judas Maccabeus led a revolt and the temple worship was restored in 164 B.C. But God worked an even greater restoration through the incarnation, when the “Word became flesh and tabernacle among us” (John 1:14). God the Son came to restore humanity and make us a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). We as believers are promised a future restoration—life without death or sin on the new earth forever under king Jesus.
The promise of a restoration gives us strength and comfort in the midst of pain and perplexity. It is hope that is rooted in God’s gracious character. God will bring restoration one day, no matter how bad things get in this life.