The term déjà vu is French and means, literally, "already seen." It describes the experience of a person who has an overwhelming sense of familiarity with something that shouldn't normally be familiar at all. It is the feeling that one has lived through the present situation before.
Now I don’t want to get into a discussion about the nature of déjà vu I want simply to suggest that Jewish people who had carefully read Daniel ch.11 would have had that type of déjà vu like experience as the centuries following Daniel’s own day passed slowly by. For Daniel ch.11 is an extraordinary chapter that recorded in some considerable detail historical events that had not yet taken place. We are very used to history being written after the event but here is a chapter of history written long years before those events occurred.
This is of course impossible for a man to do. Yes, we have cranks and prophets who will try to postulate what will happen. I imagine most today don’t want to be compared to crystal ball gazers preferring the more scientific sounding "futurologist" but at the end of the day all they are doing is trying to guess what might happen next as they attempt to trace tendencies from the past into the future. You hear some of these regularly if you listen to any of those doom and gloomsters predicting the end of life as we know it if Brexit happens without a deal. And of course these are contradicted by those in the other camp who really are no better as they too make their own pontifications.
But Daniel ch.11 is not about extrapolating trends or guesstimating what might happen – it is all about God telling us what he has decided will take place! It is history before the event.
"The purpose of the vision and revelation in chapters 10-12 is not to overwhelm the reader with historical detail, although that may happen. The purpose, rather, is for the historical detail to overwhelm the reader with the assurance of God’s sovereignty and meticulous guidance of this world. God does not make educated guesses about the future; he decrees it."
The details are so precise that sceptical scholars have argued for a late date of the book because they did not believe that such precision would have been possible ahead of schedule. But knowing that these events were described with such precision centuries before they occurred provides us with further reason for having confidence in God who reigns over all the earth. After all the God of the Bible is a very big God indeed!
Is.44:6-7 "Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen."
Is.46:9-10 "remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’"
Jesus told Daniel about the future
The revelation that Daniel’s heavenly visitor brought him concerned the future of God’s people and the future of the kingdoms of this world. It was a revelation designed to bring reassurance to the faithful who would be called to live their lives in tumultuous times. For many years the Jews would appear to have little or no influence – in the world of their day they would appear to be small, insignificant and irrelevant.
In such circumstances they might well be tempted to ask how on earth they would ever be able to fulfil the divine purpose of bring blessing to the nations. But the people of God did not need to abandon hope for it was their God who was overseeing and determining every last detail of history. As time unfolded they would see detail after revealed detail being progressively fulfilled and that would give them firm grounds for trusting him to bring about the final fulfilment of his plans and purposes.
It is important for us to remember the context of this particular revelation too and for that we must return for a few moments to ch.10. When we thought about that chapter last week we noted that Daniel, being aware of the sorry state of Jerusalem even after the return of the first exiles to the city, gave himself to serious prayer. The revelation he received was a direct consequence and response to his praying. If Daniel had not been praying he probably would not have received this revelation and so we can say that "prayer changes things" because when God wants to do something special he usually sets his people praying!
We are also given a brief glimpse in ch.10 into spiritual realities of which we are often only too unaware. In the NT the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus on the subject of spiritual warfare and as he did so he told these Christians who their real enemies were. How easy it is to imagine that this or that particular person is our enemy and to focus attention upon them but Paul clearly declared otherwise:
Eph.6:12 "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."
And that truth was made known to Daniel centuries before in ch.10.
Do you remember how he prayed for 21 days but when Jesus appeared to him he was told that he had been heard the very moment he began to pray. Jesus had been tasked with bringing him a message but because of opposition in the spiritual realm he was delayed in bringing Daniel his message. Once that message had been delivered he would return to continue the fight by bringing support to Michael who had special responsibility for overseeing the interests of Israel.
The point I want to make and which is important for us to understand is that prayer uttered here on earth has an influence in what takes place in the spiritual realm. Daniel was not aware of it at the time he prayed and you might not be aware of any effects either but that is no reason to stop praying. God in his sovereignty has determined that he will involve his people’s prayers in the forwarding of his plans and purposes in the world. He didn’t need to do so but he has chosen to do so and gives us thereby the immense privilege of being co-workers together with God.
You’ll remember that when Daniel read and understood what Jeremiah had to say about 70 years of exile in Babylon he immediately prayed realising that that period of time was just about up. Now Daniel was about to be given more information about the future which in addition to encouraging the people of God in the coming centuries would also provide them with courage to pray.
Very Brief Overview:
The Persian Empire had yet some time to run with four more kings to come before Greece would take centre stage. Greece itself would soon become a divided empire and experience internal conflict. These conflicts would themselves have a profound influence upon the homeland of Daniel’s people, the Jews.
Then a contemptible king (v.21) would arise and he would cause great turmoil for the Jews.
The situation would only be rescued when God accomplished the necessary deliverance described in terms of a resurrection from the dead in ch.12:1-3.
A closer look at some of the details of vv.2-21
vv.2 Daniel is told that there would be a succession of Persian kings – and the fourth of these would be the most important. This fourth king was Ahasuerus/Xerxes I who figures prominently in the Book of Esther.
Ahasuerus/Xerxes insisted in meddling in the affairs of Greece and only succeeded in prompting a strong and hostile reaction. He didn’t succeed in his attempts control Greece and it would not be long before Alexander the Great would be expanding out of Greece and conquering the Persian Empire and much more in return (v.3).
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Alexander and he set about Hellenizing the world of his day. It was he who promoted Greek culture and in particular ensured that the Greek language would be the language of his empire. This was around 330BC and Greek dominance continued down to about 30BC when the Rome empire was founded. One important by-product of this Hellenization of the ancient world was that the NT was written in Greek and was thus easily spread and understood in the then known world.
v.4 Alexander himself did not live for long dying at the age of only 32. The empire he had founded was broken up after his death and governed by four of his generals. None of these would exercise the same degree of power as had Alexander. (We have already seen something of this earlier in the Book particularly in ch.8). A large part of this chapter (vv.5-21) describes the battles and conflicts between two of these divisions: in the text they are referred to as the king of the south and the king of the north – referring to the kingdoms of Egypt in the south and Syria in the north. The reason why this revelation focuses upon these two is that they were the two that had by far the greatest impact upon Palestine.
The relations between these two kingdoms were marked by tensions, intrigues and battles. The reason why they are described at such length is that the land of Israel was sandwiched between Egypt in the south and Syria in the north and being caught in the middle was an uncomfortable place to be as the rival powers moved to and fro. The Jews might have returned from exile in Babylon and Persia but the people of God were by no means free.
In the early period Judah was dominated by Egypt in the south but gradually power shifted and eventually it was the king of north, Syria, that took over. This transfer of power was not however straightforward but involved a considerable amount of toing and froing as supremacy and influence changed hands several times. This would all have a profound influence upon the life and experience of God’s people.
As the influence of the south waned the king of the north grew and as it expanded it moved into Palestine (v.16) and that was bad news for the Jews.
While the north set its sights on dominating the south military means failed and so the north turned again to a plan involving an arranged marriage. The Syrian king gave his daughter to the king of Egypt as a wife hoping thereby to increase his own influence over Egypt. In the event his daughter consistently sided with her husband against her father and so this ploy too didn’t bring the north the influence it looked for.
At this point Syria decided to change tack and sought to expand elsewhere turning its sights on "the coastlands" (the lands bordering the Mediterranean and especially Asia Minor). This however proved to be a big mistake.
Rome would not tolerate this type of expansion and comprehensively defeated the "king of the north" in battle. All the frustrated king could do was to return home where he would soon die in humiliation.
Following its military victory Rome demanded reparations and the new king of the north was expected to pay. In order to meet this demand an exactor of tribute (or tax collector) was sent to raise the monies – this involved plundering the temple in Jerusalem.
While the situation for Judah was often precarious it had yet to reach rock bottom but that was about to happen with the appearance on the scene of that contemptible king Antiochus Epiphanes (v.21). We have met with this man before – he would be important for his influence and conduct would be absolutely atrocious. We will however have to leave till a later date a consideration of what the revelation has to say about this man.
Don’t worry if you can’t get a firm grip on all the details of this chapter. The reason this chapter was written was not to encourage us to become experts in the ins and outs of ancient Greek history. This chapter had a primary focus in helping the Jews who would have to live through the period that it described and they would have found it highly relevant and helpful because the details were details of the events they saw being worked out in their own day.
The reason it was an encouragement to them was that it was all so accurate – and it can encourage us too when we realise that fact! And it is written down for us in the Bible so that we might read it for ourselves with profit.
Men and women in the world today are lost and don’t know where to find truth. In our day many have given up on the very idea of truth preferring to believe that everything is relative and that what is truth for one person is merely to be attributed to personal preference. And the Bible comes to us and tells us something very different. After all it is God’s book and unlike any other book we know. In it God tells us all that we need to know and what he tells us is truth, inerrant, infallible truth.
Do you realise that that is Jesus’ own assessment? When he prayed to his Heavenly Father he rejoiced in God’s Word, it was effective and powerful:
Jn.17:17 "your word is truth."
The Bible was a book Jesus knew well and when the Bible spoke for Jesus that was the end of debate. The little expression "it is written" appears 26 times in the gospels and 20 of those times it is Jesus who speaks.
Is it a book that you are reading?
It is the one book which everyone should read, must read and can read – but is it a book you will read? Ah, that is a very different matter.
I hope you all have a friend who will always tells you the truth. If you do when that friend speaks to you about some new situation then you will be predisposed to believe him or her won’t you?
Well the Bible functions like that good reliable and trustworthy friend. Over and over again when it is possible to check its details we find that it is accurate and can’t be faulted. Ch.11 of Daniel is a case in point but it is just one of many. Liberal scholars who were critical of the Bible used to maintain that the author of the gospel of Luke wasn’t to be trusted when it came to historical detail. Some suggested for example that he made up some of the job descriptions/titles or various officials he named in his gospel. They argued this way because they hadn’t found archaeological evidence that accorded with what Luke wrote and of course it was and still is fashionable in some circles to decry and disparage the Bible. However such so-called experts were left with egg on their faces when exactly the sort of missing evidence did eventually turn up. What is the result? Luke is considered to be an excellent historian!
If the Bible is so accurate in such details which can be checked it gives us real encouragement to believe that what it says about more weighty matters is also true. The type of thing I have in mind would include: what God is like, what God requires of me, what God has done for me, how I can be right with God, how God wants me to live as a husband, a father, a man in the society of my day, what happens to me when I die, how I can be sure of being accepted into heaven. These are the things that matter most or at least should matter most to a man or a woman and the Bible speaks about them all!
So the first lesson concerns the Bible itself and the second is about the God of the Bible. This ch.11 is about history that had not yet happened and it was possible for Daniel to write it because he was given a revelation from God. The fact that God was, and is, able to announce what is to come is due to the fact that he is the one who determines that history – or as we sometimes like to put it: history is his story.
And how comforting this is when we live in dark and difficult times! There is much that we don’t understand but it is reassuring to know that he knows and we can trust him because he has shown himself again and again to be trustworthy and reliable. The one who knows and understands exactly what he is doing is our Father in heaven, the One who sent his Son into the world to be our Saviour because of his great love for us.
The third and final lesson this morning is linked to the previous lesson about trusting God.
Did you notice that while the revelation was unfolded in such minute and precise detail that God himself was absent from the description? What are we to make of that? After all we have just said that history is his story, haven’t we? Well this is what we are to make of it: while God reveals what he has decreed he does not always make himself visible and obvious in what is going on – but that is no reason for not trusting him.
We are a people who love to "see" to "understand" and sometimes we push this way too far. Many of our contemporaries say they will only believe if they see this or hear that but the truth of this chapter, where God remains hidden while nevertheless remaining firmly in control of everything that happens, is that he is there and active even when we don’t and can’t see him or what he is doing.
For the Jews in the years following the time of Daniel life would be confusing. Empires would come and go and the one constant element would seem to be their own suffering as they were first oppressed by one party and then by another. How could they ever fulfil their calling as Abraham’s offspring of bring blessing to the world when they were so small and insignificant? But as they saw prophesied detail after prophesied detail being worked out in the life of the nations about them they could trust that God knew what he was doing even if they didn’t.
Indeed the revelation, which we haven’t finished looking at yet, would go on to speak of a wonderful though seemingly impossible outcome of life from the dead! How would it happen? They didn’t know but they did know it would because God had said it would and was working behind the scenes to ensure the ultimate victory.
The Bible is God’s truth – you ignore it, if not to your own peril certainly to your own detriment. Faith comes by hearing, is by hearing, and by hearing the word of God which focuses upon Christ. You can be saved and fail to read the Bible and so fail to receive the many blessings and encouragements that God holds out to you – but who in their right mind would want to limp along to heaven when God has made such provision that to limp is simply not necessary and where his word shines brightly as a lamp to our feet?