(Also, Daylight Savings Time ends this Sunday.)
Daniel 7: 1-3, 15-18 – The holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever-for ever and ever.’
Psalm 149 – Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches.
Ephesians 1:11-23 – He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Luke 6:20-31 – Blessed are you poor, hungry, weeping. Surely your reward will be great in heaven. Woe to you rich, full, laughing.
Pentecost 24C – November 3, 2013
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 or Isaiah 1:10-18
Roman Catholic reading: Wisdom 11:22 – 12:1
United Methodist reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144 or Psalm 32:1-7
Roman Catholic reading: Psalm 145:1-14
United Methodist reading: Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Roman Catholic reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:11 – 2:2
(see also study page for 2 Thess 2)
Today I want to talk about the Daniel 7 text. I’m going to draw from “A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism“, edited by Matthias Henze. Professor Henze happens to be the husband of Pastor Karin Liebster at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston. He wrote the chapter on Daniel. Matthias teaches at Rice University in Houston. He holds the Watt J. and Lilly G. Jackson Chair in Biblical Studies and is founding director of the Program in Jewish Studies at Rice. He is also the editor of “Biblical Interpretation at Qumran” and the author of “The Syriac Apocalypse of Daniel” and “The Madness of King Nebuchadnezzar: The Ancient Near Eastern Origins and Early History of Interpretation of Daniel 4.”
I’ve been working my way through this book. I have to admit, it’s a bit above me. Nice to read books like that. The authors make frequent use of Greek and Hebrew quotes from extra-biblical sources, without transliteration. I find myself reading, having to look up words in a Greek or Hebrew lexicon, then rereading. This is what I get for reading a book by a professor at a university, where I probably couldn’t get accepted. 🙂
How did early Jews interpret their own Scriptures? This companion covers about 500 years, from 300 B.C. to 200 A.D. Henze pulls together 18 authors who explore Jewish Biblical interpretation in six kinds of literature from late second temple Judaism:
- Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Biblical interpretation begins within the Bible itself.
- Rewritten Bible, such as Jubilees, Genesis Apocryphon and Pseudo-Philo.
- Qumran literature, from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
- Apocalyptic literature from the Hebrew Bible, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, such as Daniel and 2 Baruch.
- Wisdom literature such as The Wisdom of Solomon, and
- Hellenistic Judaism, including Philo and Josephus.
Before I launch in, a short word about apocalypses. Barbara Rossing is particularly helpful in understanding the nature of an apocalypse. She uses “A Christmas Carol” by Dickens as an example. After being visited by ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Ebenezer Scrooge asks, hauntingly, “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be?”
This is an apt question. As it turns out, the predictions of the Ghost of Christmas Future do not come to pass, because Scrooge changes his ways. Apocalypses do not predict the future, they warn us, by painting a picture of one of many possible futures. They are told to get us to change our ways. The apocalypses of Daniel and Revelation are not meant to be predictions of the future, but warnings of what might be, if people don’t change their course.
Henze tells us the book of Daniel consists of two parts: stories about Daniel (chapters 1-6) and the apocalyptic visions received by Daniel (chapters 7-12). It is clearly written by multiple authors, from slightly different time periods. Written during the Maccabean Revolt, it probably dates to 167 B.C. at the earliest (perhaps later), making it possibly the last book of the Hebrew Bible to be written. It’s a great place to explore how Scripture interprets Scripture, as Daniel treats other biblical texts written hundreds of years prior. Henze says, “…Daniel has become something of a locus classicus of inner-biblical exegesis.”
Consider the first part of Daniel, before we get to our text. Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is a strong parallel to Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream in Genesis. Henze quotes André Lacocque saying, “Everyone agrees that Dan. 2 is a midrash on Gen. 41.” The parallels are too numerous to list, but here are some of the points Henze makes:
Both Joseph and Daniel are taken into exile against their will. In both cases it turns out to be a blessing. They’re both handsome. They’re both recognized by a foreign king for their wisdom. Both soon become aides of the court. Both Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar have troubled spirits. In both cases the court magicians cannot interpret the dreams. Both Joseph and Daniel interpret the dreams. Both dreams are allegories. Both dreams involve numbers, seven lean and fat cows/years in Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream, and four metals of the statue/world empires in Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
The apocalyptic visions in chapters 7-12 are written later than the court stories and dream motif of the first part of the book. The authors of chapters 7-12 refer back to, and provide exegesis for chapters 1-6. Ironically, the final authors of Daniel are Daniel’s first interpreters.
Our text, Daniel 7, is a parallel of Daniel 2. Daniel 7 is also a dream sequence. Daniel 2 has four metals, while Daniel 7 has four beasts. In both cases the dreamer has a troubled spirit. In both cases the dream is an allegory for four kingdoms that will arise on the earth.
The first kingdom is the Babylonian Empire. After the next three kingdoms, God will establish an eternal kingdom for the holy ones. Henze sees Daniel 7 as a historical recontextualization of Daniel 2, with the fourth kingdom, which Daniel describes as probably referring to the Seleucid King Antiochus IV. (Antiochus outlawed Judaism in 167 B.C.) Scholars call the process by which an author adopts earlier materials and then further develops them within the context of the same book Fortschreibung (“successive development”). We find this in Isaiah and Ezekiel as well.
Where does the preacher go with all of this?
The meta message here seems to be a common motif: The kingdoms of this world are a flash in the pan from a historical perspective, from God’s vantage point. Don’t place your hope and allegiance in them or in kings.
“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” (Ps. 146:3)
“Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,’The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.'” (Rev. 11:15)
Put not your trust in earthly rulers, for health or wealth, for joy or happiness, for salvation of the world or salvation of your soul. The kingdoms of this world – whether Pharaoh’s Egyptian Empire, Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire, Antiochus IV’s Seleucid Empire, Caesar’s Roman Empire, or Obama’s American Empire – they cannot deliver. Empires inevitably crumble like clay. They can have only a penultimate claim upon us. We belong to a greater empire, the Empire of God, as described in Isaiah and the prophets, in Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount. We look to the Saints, not the Patriots.
How then shall we live as citizens with the saints? Jesus gives us a clue in Luke 6.
Love your enemies; turn the other cheek; give people the shirt off your back; give to those in need; follow the Golden Rule, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is how citizens who belong to God’s Empire live. This is how saints behave.
The gospel text appointed for this day is Luke’s version of the beatitudes, the Sermon on the Plain, complete with a set of “woes,” that Matthew doesn’t give us. Blessed are you poor. Not “the” poor, but “you” poor. It’s personal. Not the “poor in spirit” as in Matthew. Luke doesn’t pull punches. Blessed are you hungry. Blessed are you who weep. Blessed are you hated/excluded/persecuted.
The woes correspond: Woe to you rich, full, laughing, esteemed. It’s an uncomfortable passage for those of us who have it good. So Jesus offers us something:
Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you. Turn the other cheek. Give them the shirt off your back. Give to all who ask of you, and don’t expect anything in return. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Ethics 101.
Why this text on this day? Perhaps we’re being reminded that saints are those who put their trust in God, not in the comforts of this world. In fact, saints are those who are often willing to suffer loss in this world, for the sake of the kingdom of God. Saints are those who bank on the “riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,” per the letter to the Ephesians.