The Apocrypha in Lent – 27 March

If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.

27 March 2018. Daniel chapters 9-12

Chapters 10 and 11 are titled “A time of wrath” and describe the vision Daniel is said to have had concerning a coming time of war and persecution.   Unlike some of the earlier visions there are no fantastic creatures here like the multi-horned beasts of chapters 7 and 8.  Instead we have all-too-human rulers, men of power and greed.  They are not named, though some of them are titled “King of the North” or “King of the South”.

The Jerusalem Bible’s footnotes identify many of these kings by name and dates of their reigns: the kings of the North are Alexander and his followers in Syria, and those of the South the Ptolemies of Egypt.  This does make historical sense of the story, which covers a period from 306 to 165BC, a period of 140 years or about five generations.  But given that the book was written in the 2nd century BC and Daniel was supposed to have prophesied in about the 6th century about events that took place in the 3rd, one does wonder how much was written with the knowledge of what had already happened, even if Daniel did have a prophecy that was passed own orally through this time.

The purpose of the revelation to Daniel, though, like the purpose of the revelation to St John in the first or early second century AD (i.e. the Apocalypse), was to encourage God’s people at a time of persecution by showing that there were powerful angels and archangels at work striving on behalf of goodness and justice, even when it seemed that evil had swept them away.

For the ordinary believer caught up in political and military upheaval it must often seem as if God has abandoned them to the forces of evil. But the presence of the Archangel Michael, whose name is translated as “Who is like GOD?” (10:13), serves to confirm that Daniel, and anyone else who continues faithful to God through times of trouble, has the power of God on their side.  Throughout the times of trouble there is the promise that there will be a restoration of justice and righteousness under a future saviour, and even resurrection of the dead (12:2). These are the promises that kept the Jewish people hopeful until the arrival of Jesus Christ, their true saviour.

 

The Bible in a Year – 1 September

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

1 September. Daniel chapters 9-10

The prayer of Daniel in chapter 9, following the revelation that the Jewish exile would last seventy years, resembles those of King David or one of the other prophets.  It is a prayer of penitence not so much on his own behalf as on behalf of the nation. It is dated in the reign of Ahasuereus (who according to the commentaries is probably not the ruler of the same name in the story of Esther).

It is interesting that this intense prayer of penitence is followed by the appearance of the archangel Gabriel, while in chapter 10 three weeks of fasting is followed by an even greater epiphany.  Whether it is the laying aside of self-centredness in such religious practices, or the physical changes in the body due to emotion or hunger, that make someone open to such spiritual experiences, is difficult to say. But the association is a strong one.

The second appearance is of a shining figure who inspires both worship and fear. Christians might identify him as the Christ, or (since it seems this figure was not all-powerful against the ‘prince’ or guardian spirit of Persia without the aid of the archangel Michael) it might be another archangel.  But since the classification of spiritual beings is at best a subjective matter, let us just call him an angel (messenger) of God.

I will not attempt to analyse or explain the “prophecy of seventy weeks” in Chapter 9 as much greater Biblical scholars have failed in the attempt (just google it!)  I will just pick on one phrase, the “abomination that desolates” (9:27).  This too has had numerous explanations, most of which relate to the “desecration” of the Temple in Jerusalem.  This does not necessarily mean physical destruction – desecration is an extreme form of disrespect.

I refer you to an essay by the late Isaac Asimov titled “Pompey and Circumstance”.  There is a copy of it online. Read it and see what you think.