Monday, December 13, 2010

8 inch frying pan

The Word for today: Daniel 8

Historical dates and time lines are not the usual content of this blog, and for good reason.
The mind tends to fog over (or at least my mind does) if one goes on and on with specifics of days and months and even years. Phrases such as "in the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes" (Nehemiah 2:1) do not tend to thrill us or inspire us to live for God's glory any more than our alarm clock or calendar.

But the specifics are there for a reason, and often they are essential to understand what is going on in a particular context. I am grateful for them, as they force us to understand the Bible as historical work, rather than just a book of fables. Daniel is a book full of dates and specific prophecies. And because of the stunning accuracy of these prophecies, Daniel becomes a sort of litmus test that demonstrates what we already believe.

The book of Daniel begins when he was deported as a youth around 605 BC, "the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim (1)" It continues for many decades, into around 537 BC, "the third year of Cyrus king of Persia (2)" when Daniel is now an old man. There are not much skepticism as to these dates. Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon, Persia, the Fall of Jerusalem are all undisputed in history.

But then Daniel continues on and things get dicey. The dispute involves who wrote Daniel and when. The problem exists because Daniel so accurately describes events that take place centuries after he lived. Not only does Daniel describe kings and kingdoms he would be familiar with (i.e. Babylon & Nebuchadnezzar, Persia & Cyrus), but he gives exact details about future empires and future kings.

Here in chapter 8 we've got not only the vision with the various animals, we've also got interpretation. It says "The shaggy goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes is the first king. The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power." This is surely Alexander the Great, and the and his four successors after his sudden death in 323 BC. It goes on to then talk about "a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue" who arises (3). That is Antiochus Epiphanes, a type of anti-Christ who ruled over Jerusalem around 168 BC. He's infamous for sacrificing a pig to Zeus on the altar of the Temple of the LORD.
How in the world could Daniel have known centuries beforehand?

Much of the academic world operates from the worldview of naturalism, which is best summed up by the late physicist Carl Sagan's quote: "The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be (4)." So the naturalist assumes that there is no god, no miracles, no heaven or hell, no soul; nothing that is not matter.

The naturalist comes to Daniel from that vantage point, and says that Daniel must have been written around 165 BC, because there is no way that anyone could have predicted world events that took place in this book with such accuracy. That's all the proof they need. It simply couldn't have been revealed back then. To them, there's no point at looking at other conclusion. We cannot know the future, there is no god who reveals prophecy, the events of this book have come true; therefore the book must have been written after the events occurred. It's a matter of following assumptions rather than the evidence.

There is a well known story of a man observing a fisherman. As he watched, the spectator became puzzled by the actions of the fisherman. The fisherman would catch a fish, measure it by a ruler, and throw certain fishes back. But the odd thing was, the man was tossing back not the small ones, but rather the larger ones. When asked why he said that all he had in his cooking gear was an eight inch frying pan, and that any fish bigger than that was too hard to cook.

May I be so bold to think that many people are like this fisherman. They have certain baseline beliefs and assumptions, and not all the evidence in the world would convince them to change their minds. They already have their frying pan, and anything that doesn't fit is automatically disqualified; they'd rather not consider the implications. (They do the same thing with any other miracle or fulfilled prophecy in the Bible, especially the Resurrection of the Lord.)

How in the world could Daniel have known centuries beforehand?
The answer is he could not have.
"But there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries (5)."
The book of Daniel is just one of many books in the Bible that has fulfilled prophecy.
Its just another evidence of God showing us the power of His Word by accurately describing events centuries before they came to pass- something that only God could do.

Fulfilled prophecy is a nightmare for anyone who does not want to believe in God, and so skeptics will go to all sorts of lengths to find an alternative explanation. The problem is not that there isn't enough evidence, the problem is the evidence doesn't fit in their frying pans.

It all comes down to the age old question, is Genesis 1:1 true or not?
Is God real or not? Did He created the Heavens and the Earth or not?
Is He still around and active or not?

There are all sorts of belief systems and philosophies out there, but all of them look insignificant compared to the towering figure of Jesus Christ. There are not better alternatives.
So I don't know about you- I'm sticking with Jesus.

(1) Daniel 1:1
(2) Daniel 10:1

(3) Daniel 8:22-21,
(4) Carl Sagan, Cosmos, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1985), p.1

(5) Daniel 2:28

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