How Long? A Reflection on Daniel 12:5-13

Tigris River


                The book of Daniel is an enigma to most of us. The Revised Common Lectionary has clipped to passages for use by preachers—Daniel 7:1-18 (Christ the King Sunday B) and Daniel 12:1-13 (Proper 28B/Ordinary 33B). The Narrative Lectionary looks to have selections from Daniel, but I’ve not used it. I did preach two sermons using an alternative lectionary in Advent a few years back, but I’m going to assume that Daniel isn’t at the top of the list of books lectionary preachers investigate. Daniel has received a lot of attention, however, from those who look to it and the Book of Revelation to figure out eschatological time tables. It’s not a theology I’ve embraced, but it has its share of adherents.

                As I’ve been exploring Daniel with my Bible Study group, we’ve been following scholarly consensus that suggests that the book came together in the mid-second century BCE. In other words, the visions laid down by Daniel in chapters 7-12, speak not to events unfolding in our century but during the Seleucid occupation of Jerusalem. We have heard a message of hope, that suggests to those who are willing to stand firm in the face of the oppressive policies of assimilation on the part of Antiochus IV, that they will receive their reward—if not in this life, in the resurrection. An overarching message, as I read Daniel, is that empires rise and fall, but God remains faithful. So, you would be wise to put your trust in the God of Israel (El Elyon).

                Here in chapter twelve, we come to the end of the journey. For the purposes of our study group, we divided chapters 10-12 into three parts. Chapter 10 set up the vision with conversations between Daniel and the angelic beings, dressed in white linen. One is not identified, though we assume it is Gabriel, and the other being Michael, the chief protector of Judah. Then in chapter 11, through the first four verses of chapter 12, we see the vision laid out detailing the historical progression from the Persian ascendancy to the perceived fall of Antiochus. Now, in these last few verses, we have a postscript, a word to Daniel, inviting him to seal up the vision and then wait for his reward.

                As in chapter 10, Daniel is standing by a river (we’ll assume it’s the Tigris, but the wording here is odd). Two figures appear, both dressed in white linen. They stand on the two sides of the river and speak to each other. One asks how long it will be before the events described in the vision will be over. The figure on the other side of the river, raises both hands toward heaven, and after swearing an oath, declares that the end will come after “one set time, two set times, and half a set time.” In other words, after a period of about three and a half years, the power of the one who is “breaking the holy people’s power” will be over. The consensus is that this is a reference to the end of Antiochus IV’s oppressive occupation.

                In the verses that follow (Dan. 12:8-12), we learn that Daniel hears the message, but doesn’t understand it. He wants to know more. Instead of getting more information, he’s told to get on his way, because the words are sealed and will remain secret till the end of time. In other words, when Daniel receives the word, it is not yet time to fully understand the message. That will come later.

                He is told, however, that the “many” will purify, cleanse, and refine themselves. Could it be that the witness of the Wise, who in verse 3 of chapter 12 shine like the stars, have had some influence on the people? But not all will cleanse and purify themselves. The wicked will remain wicked, with the wicked being those Hellenizing collaborators like Menelaus, who assisted Antiochus in his efforts to assimilate the Jews into his religio-political system. The wicked may not understand, but those skilled in wisdom will understand. Here is reference to those non-violent resisters to the system, who are persecuted and martyred, but who like Daniel, are attentive to God’s wisdom. It is they, people like Daniel, who will have the opportunity and ability to unseal and understand the visions given to Daniel in the sixth century BCE (according to the story-line, as I am of the opinion that this Daniel is a fictional character, who serves as a moral exemplar).  

Those skilled in wisdom will figure out when the end will come. In verses 11-12 we are given some insight, though it is a bit ambiguous. There are numbers, two of them in fact. We’re told that there will be 1290 days between the time that the daily sacrifices are ended and the setting up of the abomination of desolation, whatever that was, that was set up in the Jerusalem Temple that desecrated it.  Depending on what calendar you use (lunar, solar, luni-solar), this was essentially three and a half years. What we do know is that date on which the daily sacrifices were stopped was December 7, 167 BCE (15th of Kislev – 1 Macc. 1:54). By a solar calendar, that time would lead to June 21, 163 BCE. Unfortunately, there is not description of what happens at the end of this time frame, and it doesn’t quite fit with what we do know, which is that Antiochus IV died sometime late in 164 and that Judas Maccabeus rededicated the Temple on the 25th of Kislev in 164 BCE. We have the same issues with the second number 1335 days, though the message here in verse 12 is that those who wait and are patient for this entire period will be happy. In other words, they will receive their rewards. I know that some folks love to play with numbers, but they can get us in trouble. So, I’ll leave them be. The point that I hear is that those who stand firm, are patient, will reap their reward.

The chapter and the book end in verse 13, which reads “As for you, go on to the end. You will rest and will stand to receive your reward at the end of days.” This final word seems to speak of resurrection. The word “rest” likely refers to his death, so that at the end of days he will stand and receive his reward, which will be the resurrection to eternal life. There appears to be a scholarly consensus that verses 5-12 are a later addition, placed between verse 4 and verse 13, as verse 13 fits nicely with verse four as a concluding word. Thus, 5-12 might have been a final gloss added to sum up the vision. In any case the message that I hear is that if we stand firm, we will receive our reward. It is a message that is present here and it is present at the end of the Book of Revelation. It would have been a word of encouragement to the Jews living through Antiochus’ occupation, especially those who chose a non-violent form of resistance. Their resolve would be rewarded.

In hearing this message, I appreciate the interpretation offered by C.L. Seow in his Westminster Bible Companion for Daniel.
Herein, too, is a message for the reader of the book at any time: one must keep on going in life despite the overwhelming presence of evil, despite the ambiguities, terrors, and travails of one’s time. One keeps on going, trusting only in the power of God to deliver the faithful who are alive and even to resurrect those who are not, for God’s power is not limited to this life and this world that one sees and knows. [Seow, Daniel, p. 196].
Seow then gives a word about the impact of this word for Christians, noting that “this resurrection hope culminates in the resurrection of the Christ (1 Cor. 15:12-58). His victory over death makes it possible for every believer, long past the end time of Daniel’s vision, even long past the age of the New Testament, to affirm with the faithful in times past in the words of the Nicene Creed: ‘We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen’” [Seow, Daniel,p. 196].

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