At the end of this chapter, we find a very puzzled prophet. Daniel said he was appalled by the vision he received from God, and he didn’t understand it. It had been explained to him – the Medes and the Persians would be overthrown by the Greek empire, and an especially evil king would arise from the Greeks – but Daniel still didn’t understand.
And yet Daniel did have a reaction to what he saw. He was appalled.
We are capable of gut-level reactions to the things we see, and some of these reactions can be very strong. The protests and rioting that we’ve seen across the country are, in many ways, simply the gut-level reaction to the images of a black man suffocating under the weight of a white police officer. People saw that and were appalled.
Daniel saw kingdoms waging war against each other. The kingdoms were represented by animal horns. The kingdom of the Medes and Persians was ousted by the Greek kingdom of Alexander the Great. After Alexander died, his kingdom was divvied up into four kingdoms that were weaker than the first. And then there emerged a king named Antiochus Epiphanes, “a little horn.” Antiochus was responsible for the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem – halting holy worship by the Israelites – and the setting up of a statue of the pagan god Zeus in the temple.
Some of this was explained to Daniel, and yet he didn’t understand. But he was appalled. And so we end this chapter with the prophet going about the king’s business – appalled at this vision from God.
It is good to appreciate the humanity of Daniel. We get a personal look at him. Here was a man who had feelings. He desired to understand. He reacted in a personal way to the things he saw. Daniel was a person.
But you’ll notice how the kingdoms of the world had been reduced in Daniel’s vision to something less than personal. They were described as inanimate objects – as horns. This is a continuation of the de-humanizing aspects of sin that showed up in Daniel 7. But now, it’s not just that these the kingdoms of the world had taken on animal-like qualities as a result of sinfulness. Now they have been reduced to objects, to horns – to things used for destruction.
This is what sin does. It makes us less than what we are created to be. And when we become less than human, the powers of this world can use us for its purposes. It can use us like animals and like tools – to do its own bidding.
Maybe this is part of the message of the vision.
Our culture is good at de-personalizing us. Identity politics in America is about de-personalization. You no longer are who God created you to be. Rather, you are one member of an identity group based on gender, race, or some other thing. And the powers of this world use those groups like horns in combat.
But our God is personal, and he created us to be persons – and not mindless tools in the systems of the world. And God wants to relate to us in a personal way. After the first sin, God went for a walk in the garden, and he couldn’t find his people. It wasn’t for lack of looking – “But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?'”
Jesus only interacted with people in personal ways. He extracted them from the worldly kingdoms where they had been trapped and introduced them to the kingdom of God. His approach caught people off guard. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9).
God was cutting through the impersonal and de-personal systems of the world – systems that treat people like weapons of destruction – to build his kingdom of peace.
The contrast between the the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world should be clear. The world sweeps people up into its own agenda, which is endless competition and eventually complete destruction. People become de-personalized. They become objects of war, to fight against each other.
The kingdom of God releases people from the world’s bondage. Each person is filled with the presence of God. We’re not de-humanized. We are found in our very personal sin and rebellion and given grace through faith. Our hearts are changed.
Because it is a heart issue, the kingdom of God is somewhat secretive. It is quiet – unlike the kingdoms of this world, which boast about “outward appearances” (2 Corinthians 5:12). And God calls us into his kingdom from wherever we are. And he will gladly call us by name, even if we don’t fully know him yet. “‘Saul, Saul, …’ ‘Who are you, Lord?'” (Acts 9:4-5).
There is a lot in Daniel 8 to ponder.
Some questions for today: In what ways are we caught up in the kingdoms of this world, which would use us for their destructive purposes on earth? How does the church speak a different message than those of these worldly kingdoms that we see waging war on TV and the internet? How is a disciple of Jesus Christ distinct?