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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.
Daniel 7: A Crazy Dream
Rice University Professor and Christ the King Houston member Matthias Henze wrote A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism. Matthias happens to be the husband of Pastor Karin Liebster at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston. He wrote the chapter on Daniel. Henze, the Watt J. and Lilly G. Jackson Chair in Biblical Studies and founding director of the Program in Jewish Studies at Rice, is 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.
His most recent book is also his most accessible book for lay readers. Mind the Gap: How the Jewish Writings between the Old and New Testament Help Us Understand Jesus, is critical for understanding the inter-testamental period. (He doesn’t like to call it that). We look to the Jewish Bible to understand the Jewish context of the New Testament. This is a mistake. So many of the words and concepts of the New Testament come from the period between the testaments (4th century BC-1st century AD). Think about all the stuff that’s not in the Old Testament: synagogues, Pharisees, Sadducees, Sanhedrin, rabbis, messiahs). This is a good book to read, and readable by dedicated Bible study groups.
Back to A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism. 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 (apocalypsi?). Barbara Rossing is particularly helpful in understanding the nature of an apocalypse. She uses A Christmas Carol by Charles 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 (though they get treated that way in pop religion), 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). Our text for today is from the second section. Daniel 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. Daniel treats earlier biblical texts, written hundreds of years prior. Henze says, “…Daniel has become something of a locus classicus of inner-biblical exegesis.”
Consider the first half 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, the second half of Daniel, 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 authors of Daniel 7-12 are the first interpreters of Daniel 1-6.
We only get verses 1-3 and 15-18 of Daniel 7:
In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: 2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another…
15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. 16 I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: 17 “As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth.
18 But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”
Our text for this Sunday, from Daniel 7, is actually a parallel of Daniel 2. Both are dream sequences. 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?
Dr. Anna Carter Florence of Columbia Seminary in Atlanta said the exegetical work is important, but it can also be used to keep the text at arm’s length. She proposed a couple of ways to bring the text closer to home. The first is to pay attention to the verbs and who they refer to I underlined them above.
had a dream
lay in bed
Verbs usually bring people to a familiar place. Our people lay in beds, have dreams, that stir things up, trouble us, leave us terrified… One could talk about the place of dreams. How does God speak to us? In the Bible God speaks in dreams a lot.
- What are the verbs?
- What is the order of those verbs?
- What do the verb tense and mood tell you?
- What do the verbs stir or evoke in you?
- Are these verbs associated with certain groups, or used to stereotype or make broad generalizations?.
- If you run the verbs through your Bible echo chamber what do you hear?
- If God is a character in this verse, how are God’s verbs different from the others?
- Do any of the verbs surprise you? What were you expecting?
- What about those nouns?
Dr. Florence also encouraged us to consider what moves you in the text:
If you’re in a text study group, try using the outline above sometime.
The meta message of the dream sequence in Daniel 7 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. This could be a touchy but poignant sermon topic.
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals,
in whom there is no help.
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.’
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 our American Empire — they cannot deliver. Empires inevitably disappoint us. Eventually they 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.
Ephesians 1: All Things Under Christ’s Feet
In our epistle text, Paul calls the Ephesians saints, who have received power. Then, in an endless sentence he continues that God has raised him from the dead and raised him above all the authorities, powers and dominions (kingdoms?) of this world.
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Luke 6: The Lukan Beatitudes
How then shall the saints live? How then shall we live? Jesus gives us a clue in Luke 6:
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
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 those in God’s Empire live. This is how saints behave.
Our text begins:
He came down with them and stood on a level place,
In Matthew Jesus goes up on the mountain. In Luke Jesus comes down. Matthew shows us a Jesus who goes up on the mountain like Moses. Luke shows us a Jesus who comes down to us, in the flesh.
The text continues:
with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.
We often think of Jesus having 12 disciples. Not in Luke. In Luke, Jesus has many disciples. But he has 12 apostles.
Then we get Luke’s version of the beatitudes, a reflection of Matthew’s (Mt. 5) ten years later. Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, echoes Matthew 5’s Sermon in the Mount, but 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.
Some people believe Luke arranged them intentionally to match the four virtues of the Stoic philosophers of his day in order to speak to his context:
Others point out how similar they are to the beatitudes in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Except there are four in Luke and eight in Matthew:
||Poor in Spirit
||Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
||Pure in Heart
||Persecuted for Righteousness
Scholars believe both Matthew and Luke are copying from another source (Q). Did Matthew add text or did Luke edit down? Why?
This text with its blessings for the poor and woes to the rich is an uncomfortable passage for those of us who have it good. If you make $32,000/year, you are part of the top 1% global earners. Are you rich? Let that sink in. All those times you felt poor. Remember, you have drinking water. Electricity. Food. Shelter. So beware. But then Jesus offers you something. Are you rich? Here’s how to comport yourself:
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. Jesus 101. If you’re rich, then be generous.
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.
St. Francis said,
“Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words.”
Life Group Questions
- Ice breaker: have you ever been poor, hungry, mourning or hated? When? What was it like? What got you through?
- Dig: Read Luke 6:20-31. Some believe this to be some of the most profound moral teaching ever written. Why do you think this is? What jumps out at you?
- Dig: Compare Luke 6 to the beatitudes in Matthew 5. How are they similar? How are they different?
- Reflect: Why do you think Jesus might call these unfortunate situations “blessed?” Why might Jesus call wealth and plenty of food a “woe?”
- Reflect: Who do you know that is poor, hungry, mourning or hated? How might you draw close to this person?
- Reflect: Read Luke 6:31. This rule has a name. Can your group come up with it? Why might this moral teaching be considered gold throughout history?