A Startling Encounter
Reading: Daniel 10:1-11:1
Chapters 10-12 function as a single unit. Ch.10 serves as an extended introduction to the final vision that Daniel saw and which is recorded in ch.11+12. The vision itself concerns a great conflict.
The relevance of the information contained in v.1 is that what happened to Daniel now took place a couple of years after the edict went out authorising Jews to return from exile to Israel where they could begin rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and renovating the Temple that had lain in ruins for decades.
The numbers of those who took advantage of this change of policy and did return to Jerusalem was not high and although they immediately began the process of reconstruction local opposition soon brought their efforts to a halt and the work was suspended. The fortunes of Jerusalem seemed to be at a low ebb.
It would appear that news had got back to Daniel who had not gone to Jerusalem with the returning exiles – this was possibly due to his age: now an old man in his mid-eighties he had perhaps little practical help to offer in the physical work that was necessary. But the news did not leave him indifferent instead it drove him to prayer; earnest, serious and demanding prayer.
We perceive Daniel’s concern and serious commitment in the two details that are given to us:
For three weeks he operated on a severely restricted diet
For three weeks he neglected his personal physical comfort by not using the balms and lotions that were available to him
Daniel knew that life was not made up of the abundance of physical comforts and he was setting his sights on a higher goal.
Men and women have a wide range of strategies for dealing with bad news: some will turn to drink and try to "drown their sorrows", others will may turn to "comfort eating"; Daniel was not into that at all. And I think it is safe to assume that if retail therapy was an option he would have turned from that too just as he would have refused boxed set escapism! No, Daniel faced the bad news head-on and turned to serious prayer to his God about it all and he kept it up for three full weeks! It was around the time of the Passover.
Then suddenly everything began to change!
He had a vision.
It wasn’t something that he dreamt up or manipulated; it was something that came to him under divine initiative. Daniel was about to receive a visitor who was no ordinary person and this visit was going to have extraordinary effects upon Daniel.
Daniel was confronted by a remarkable personage whom he described in great and impressive detail:
He was clothed in linen, a typically priestly garb
He had a golden sash around him and gold spoke of kingship and divinity
His body was impressive and his arms and legs shone like bronze
But that face! Like lightening!! And those eyes! Like flaming torches.
When he spoke his voice was like the sound of a multitude of people speaking.
Who was this visitor?
Earlier Daniel had been visited by an angelic messenger but no angel was described like this. In those earlier appearances Gabriel had been clearly identified but not this time. This is some person other than Gabriel.
If you search the Bible there is just one other person who is described in anything like the same way as this magnificent person. When John was in exile on the Island of Patmos because of his faithfulness to the cause of Jesus Christ the risen Lord Jesus appeared to him in a vision and the similarities are profound. For example, no-one else wore such a golden belt/sash.
Extraordinary as it may seem Daniel was experiencing one of the few pre-incarnation appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ and he found the experience utterly overwhelming. Everything about the appearance of this visitor spoke of strength and might and impressive majesty.
When Daniel saw this visitor there were other people with him but they did not see this special one but they knew something extraordinary was going on and it terrified them so much that although they didn’t know what was going on they wanted to get out of the place asap. We read they fled in fear and trembling.
Daniel didn’t flee the scene. It wasn’t that he wasn’t afraid. It wasn’t that he understood everything that was going on either and so felt comfortable and safe. No, no, those weren’t the reasons. Daniel couldn’t flee the scene because what he saw had such a profound impact upon him. He tells us that his strength completely failed him and again and again in what follows his own weakness and powerlessness will be underlined. What Daniel saw stopped him in his tracks and deeply affected him – all the colour suddenly drained from his face and his own appearance was changed as all his energy flowed away.
When the visitor spoke to Daniel that was the final straw – Daniel collapsed and fell into a deep sleep.
What on earth was going on?
The incident strikes as bizarre because we live in a culture where, if God is thought of at all, he is seen as some Father Christmas type character full of jolliness and easy good will. And of course meeting Father Christmas is no big deal.
Many will even talk glibly about giving God a piece of their mind when they get to heaven. To many today to meet with God would be a doddle, something they could easily take in their stride – but that is not at all how the Bible portrays the One True Living God. An easy thing to meet with God? What pretentious nonsense!
The Bible records a number of significant meetings taking place between God and men and the outcome was life-changing for the men involved:
Jacob wrestled with God at Penuel and limped for the rest of his life because of the experience.
Job argued and argued that he wanted to present his case before God sure that he would win the argument but when God met with him and granted him the opportunity Job was overwhelmed by his foolishness and putting his hand on his move refused to utter a word other than to confess that he had spoken out of turn.
Isaiah had a vision of God one day in the Temple courts and he found it devastating:
Is.6:5 "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
In NT days the arch-persecutor of the church on his way to Damascus to search out and arrest followers of Jesus was suddenly interrupted on his journey when Jesus put in an unexpected visit and Paul’s life was never the same again:
Acts 9:3-9 "Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank."
We’ve already referred to the experience of the apostle John on Patmos – do you remember how he reacted to seeing the risen Lord Jesus?
Rev.1:17 "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last...""
When we consider these other cases Daniel’s reaction doesn’t seem to be that strange after all. It all goes to suggest that it is us who are wrong in our thinking: meeting with God is utterly awe-inspiring. And remember Daniel was not a spiritual baby, a rookie on the religious front, this was a spiritual man, well-used to prayer and well-used to serving God and being helped by God yet when he has such a vision he is profoundly shaken.
Indeed if Daniel is even to benefit from the coming vision he must be strengthened in order not just to understand it but even to receive it! And if that was true of a man such as Daniel what does it suggest of folk like you and me? Can we rely upon our own efforts, our own strength? What makes us think that we are so different?
Help is on its way
Daniel’s weakness and frailty is very much to the fore in this chapter. And we’re not to imagine that it was the weakness and frailty of old age – no, it was weakness due to being confronted by the Almighty. The spiritual experience enjoyed by Daniel did not cause him to be elated but brought him to a state of helpless exhaustion – to make sure we get the point his weakness is referred to again and again. It was not a weakness that was quickly dealt with though the Lord in his gentle kindness did help him multiple times.
We’ll look quickly at the repeated references to his changed state:
v.8 "no strength was left in me... and I retained no strength."
v.9 "I fell on my face in deep sleep with my face to the ground."
v.10 "trembling on my hands and knees."
v.11 "I stood up trembling."
v.15 "I turned my face toward the ground and was mute."
v.16 "O my lord, by reason of the vision pains have come upon me, and I retain no strength.
v.17 "For now no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me."
Is this what you think of when you think about spiritual experiences? If you have ever prayed or desired to have spiritual experiences I doubt whether this is the kind you were hoping for! How little we know of God and his ways!
John Newton has an interesting hymn that talks about his own desires for spiritual experience of the LORD and he records what he initially found to be the very strange way in which the Lord answered his prayer:
I ASKED the Lord that I might grow
in faith, and love, and every grace,
might more of His salvation know,
and seek more earnestly His face.
Part of the answer that surprised Newton so was that God
"blasted my gourds, and laid me low." ie. all external supports were rendered useless and I crashed.
But when Daniel was brought so low he was not abandoned but instead he was in the very place where he could be blessed, strengthened and encouraged – this too happened repeatedly to him as this whole experience played out for him:
v.10 "a hand touched me" and it set him on his hands and knees
v.11 & v.19 he is told he is "greatly loved"
v.11 a word has been sent specially to him
v.12 he is not to fear for his prayer has been heard and this visit is the result of his praying
v.16 his lips are touched and he is enabled to speak
v.18 he is touched and strengthened again (also in v.19
v.19 wonderfully encouraging words are spoken to him "O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage."
What a thing it is to meet with God? But what do we know about it? What do I know of this? What do you?
We’ve noticed in previous studies that Daniel had been reading his Bible and in particular he’d been reading Jeremiah. That prophet wrote these words which Daniel certainly seemed to have taken seriously:
Jer.29:13-14 "You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the LORD."
Will you seek the Lord seriously as Daniel did?
Before we finish this morning just a brief pointer to what comes next.
Spiritual warfare: the reality of the unseen world and the role of prayer.