The Pursuit of God

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Angels in the Book of Daniel

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The book of Daniel is found in the prophetic section of the Old Testament—which means towards the end. There are sixteen prophets with books named after them in the Old Testament (Lamentations is usually included in the group, bringing us to a total of 17 books, but Lamentations is really just a poem written by Jeremiah—it is not a prophecy). These books capture only a portion of what the prophets actually said in their lives. Some of the books (like Jonah) include a lot of historical narration and very little actual prophecy. Other books (like Obadiah) are pure prophecy—meaning that the book is one long stream of speeches given by Yahweh through the mouth of one of His prophets.

Now scholars have divided the prophetic books into major and minor categories. Major simply means longer and broader in scope, while minor means shorter and more specific. The messages we find in the minor prophetic books have a more narrow focus whereas the major books get more global. For example, Jonah focuses on Yahweh’s punishment of a specific city, whereas Jeremiah discusses God’s dealings with many different nations. Obadiah (1 chapter) is a message to a single nation (Edom) whereas Ezekiel (48 chapters) contains messages to many different nations. While there are some references to the end times found in the minor prophetic books, we find much more discussion of these matters in the major prophetic books. But the messages of major prophets shouldn’t be considered more important than the messages of minor prophets because the same God is talking through all of them. Anytime Yahweh speaks, we want to listen.

Now out of all the Old Testament prophetic books, Daniel stands out as quite unique in that angels are the ones doing most of the prophesying. In all the other prophetic books, prophets are receiving direct words from Yahweh. Isaiah and Ezekiel even saw Yahweh and carried on face-to-face conversations with Him. But when we get to Daniel, the only beings who come to visit him are angels. Even more surprising is that in the midst of talking to Daniel about future events, some of the angels drop side comments about life from an angelic perspective. It is these comments that suck many of us in with an intense fascination. After all, it’s very important for us to understand the mechanics of how angels and demons duke it out with each other in their world, right? Wrong. We do not need to understand bumpkus about the angelic point of view. Angels are not our concern. Angels are a separate species of created beings who have their own thing going on with God. We shouldn’t care about what Satan did to get himself booted out of Heaven. We shouldn’t care about how angels and demons draw up their personal battle zones on earth. We shouldn’t be impressed with references to Michael being the archangel. Who cares what Michael is or isn’t? Who cares about Gabriel? Are these creatures God Almighty? Did they create us? Certainly not. There are only three Gods, and They are all ragingly jealous for our worship and adoration. So whenever you find yourself reading about Daniel’s encounters with angels, make sure you are keeping your focus where it needs to be. God is glorious. Angels are not. What God cares about is priceless information. Why some angel is having a bad day is utterly irrelevant. We should not be spending our time pondering the world of angels any more than a married woman should be spending time daydreaming about the handsome man who lives next door. Our Gods are extremely jealous and it irks Them to no end how we are constantly worshiping angels in the Church.

Perhaps you don’t think we do worship angels in the Church. If this is what you think, you could use some further education on the subject which we will be happy to provide. Christians pray to angels. They manufacture idols of angels—cutesy little pocket charms and pendants that they can carry around on their person. And why do we feel the need to go carrying around symbols of angels with us? Because we like to turn our minds away from our glorious Lords and onto lame created beings who we think are playing some critical role in protecting us down here. The entire doctrine of “guardian angels” is nothing more than a way of justifying and encouraging the worship of angels. There’s no room for minimizing the seriousness of this issue: the Holy Spirit utterly despises it when we go around praying to our angels and fantasizing about them watching over us in life. It is God who is watching over us in life, and He is the only One we should be giving the glory to. No, it wasn’t your guardian angel who steered you clear of that collision on the road, it was God. You don’t have an angel assigned to you who intercedes on your behalf and sits around doting on your every prayer. So stop with the angels. If an admiration of angels is anywhere in your heart, it’s time to do some serious praying. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you His view of this outrageous idolatry of angels that has become so prevalent in the Church today. Our Gods are extremely jealous.

So now that we’ve taken the wow out of angels, let’s look at the passages in Daniel that tempt so many to start obsessing over angels and see if we can get things in proper perspective.

ANGELS IN THE BOOK OF DANIEL

Our book is 12 chapters long and Daniel doesn’t start chatting with angels until chapter 7. In this chapter, he is having prophetic visions of things to come. The visions are filled with some very disturbing imagery that upsets Daniel—this is a common experience for God’s prophets. In the vision, Daniel asks an angel for clarification and the angel provides some. What we learn from this exchange is that when it comes to God’s future plans for humanity, He shares a lot more with angels than He does with us. Fine. We humans don’t handle future information well at all, so we certainly don’t need heads crammed full of revelations about what God is going to do. Just look at how much trouble we’ve gotten into with our obsession over Revelation. God drops a few hints, and the next thing you know we’re freaking out about the antichrist and not wanting to receive $6.66 in change at the grocery store because, well, it’s a satanic number. All of this is utterly ridiculous of course, but this is what we humans do with future information. Every time God gives us a glimpse, we start freaking out or else we start trying to use the information to glorify ourselves. How many arrogant windbags have you seen setting themselves up as experts on the end times? All it takes is for Dr. Somebody to announce that he’s calculated the day that the world will end or that Christ will come back and suddenly we’re all buying his book and hanging on his every word. Or how about these fear sellers today who are making a fortune off of selling freeze dried food and self-defense weapons to Christians who are worried about end time persecution. Build your underground bunker and stock up on jerky and powdered meals—that’s the way to handle the crisis. Then when the whole world is starving from nuclear fallout or antichrist fallout or whatever the popular crisis is, you can really shine a light for Christ by hoarding all your resources and shooting anyone in need who dares to come near your little fortress. Now there’s a beautiful example of living out the Golden Rule. And yet we listen to these jerks, we buy their products, and we actually think they know what they’re talking about even though the things they promote are so clearly not of God. This is what we do when God gives us information about the future. Is it any wonder that He doesn’t tell us more?

In Chapter 8, we find Daniel having another vision in which he ends up overhearing a conversation that two angels are having with each other. And in what is clearly a scripted moment, one angel asks the other the very question that Daniel is wondering—a question about the vision he has just seen. Instead of answering his comrade, the second angel speaks directly to Daniel and tells him the answer to the question. Well, the answer only whets Daniel’s appetite for more understanding. Now another angel comes onto the scene, and we’re told his name is Gabriel. Yet another angel calls out to Gabriel and orders him to give Daniel a more thorough explanation. As Gabriel approaches Daniel to comply with his orders, Daniel finds the angel’s aura very intimidating so he falls down in a terrified bowing position. Now bowing in these times was an expression of respect. Sometimes it was just done as a routine custom, other times it was heart felt. Anyone approaching the king had to bow, and when you work with kings as Daniel did, all that constant bowing loses sincerity over time and just becomes a formality. But when a freaky looking nonhuman thing starts walking towards you, suddenly you are afraid for your life and trying to appease the thing by pressing your face into the dirt with body language that says, “I am fully submitting to your authority.”

Now in an ideal world, we would never react this way to anyone except our Makers. But in real life, our emotions are easily aroused and we are far too easily impressed and intimidated by things which are unfamiliar to us. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, you would undoubtedly end up in some cowering, groveling position if an angel were to suddenly show up in your bedroom at night. Here’s a prayer that’s worth praying: “God, help me to never revere anyone but You. I don’t want to be impressed by angelic beings—only by You.” And as far as talking to angels—they are definitely not our first choice. It would be much nicer to talk with God directly as Isaiah and Ezekiel did than to have to interface with some third party messenger who we might end up giving undeserved admiration to. But God gets to call how He interfaces with us, and with Daniel, He chose to use a lot of angelic messengers.

It’s hardly a new thing to read about an angel showing up in front of a human with a Divine message. We read about many of these encounters throughout the Old Testament, and Gabriel will show up again in the Gospel books as the angel who speaks to Zacharias (the father of John the Baptist) and Mary. But here in Daniel, Gabriel pulls our dazed human onto his feet and gets him to focus on the issue at hand. Yahweh wants His vision to be better understood by His little man, and Gabriel provides that explanation. As for Daniel, he gets overwhelmed all over again and ends up sick for days after his talk with Gabriel. We humans just can’t handle a lot of future knowledge. It turns our stomachs and wears us out. What delicate little creatures we are.

Now in Chapter 9, Daniel is reading through the scrolls of Jeremiah and he comes across one of the many times that Yahweh predicted that the Jews would have to remain in exile for 70 long years before He would allow them to return to their homeland and start to rebuild. Daniel is living in the midst of that exile period. When he was just a young man, he was hauled out of Judah as a captive and taken to the pagan city of Babylon. He’s been living in Babylon ever since and he will keep his high ranking government job through a change of empires. It would be like you keeping your job as an advisor in the White House even after China takes over the United States and the emperor of China moves into the Oval Office. In Chapter 9, Daniel is serving the last king of the Babylonian Empire. By the next chapter, Babylon will have been conquered and he’ll be serving the king of the Persia. It’s only thanks to God that Daniel doesn’t get killed during these violent transitions.

Now here in Chapter 9, Daniel is contemplating the fate of his native people—the Jews—and he is feeling intensely grieved over how unfaithful his people have been to Yahweh. Because Daniel is such a reverent and devoted soul, he recognizes that Yahweh was quite justified in crushing Israel after she completely turned away from Him and violated the Covenant that He had established with her.

But in keeping with the many Jewish prophets who came before him, Daniel’s zealous passion for Yahweh to be honored ends up fizzling as he contemplates the future of his people. Why does patriotism always triumph over our love for God? Daniel’s long prayer started out with a very satisfying theme of “You were so justified in trashing us because we treated You abominably.” But then it deteriorates into the usual cries for Yahweh to restore Israel, despite the fact that the current crop of Israelites are still living in rebellion towards Yahweh. Sigh. Perhaps one day God will raise up a prophet who doesn’t ask Him to bless His enemies just so human beings can be comfortable again. Perhaps one day we’ll see a prophet who cares only about God being exalted. What a refreshing change that would be.

So now that Daniel has pleaded with Yahweh to rain down undeserved compassion and restore his homeland, Gabriel is once again dispatched as the God-to-human messenger. Daniel has worked himself into such an emotional lather during his prayer and confession time, that he is utterly exhausted when Gabriel arrives. Of course all of this confessing of other people’s sins is a complete waste of time, but God is pleased with Daniel’s sincere devotion to Him—even if it is a bit skewed by Daniel’s loyalty to a group of rebellious human beings.

Gabriel’s message is not the straightforward answer Daniel was looking for. Instead, Gabriel starts talking about how much time will pass before the coming of Yahweh’s promised Messiah. He also says that the Messiah will be killed and that the rebuilt Jerusalem and Temple will be destroyed yet again. We can now see how these predictions were fulfilled with Jesus’ crucifixion and the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem by the Romans. But Daniel is living centuries before the birth of Christ and all of this would have sounded very confusing to him. He had just been praying for Yahweh to restore Israel. Now Yahweh has turned the focus onto some future date when Jerusalem would be torn down once again. It’s enough to make a fellow feel sick all over again, but the chapter ends abruptly without Daniel describing his reaction to us.

Now we come to Chapter 10 and once again we find that our dramatic Daniel has dragged himself down into some three week bummer. He lets us know that he has fasted and mourned for 21 days without any cheating. Then he tells us that he is standing by the Tigris River when a particularly intimidating figure touches down in front of him. He has eyes like fire, a deafening voice, and an aura that is so terrifying that all of Daniel’s companions go running off to find somewhere to hide. They didn’t see the figure—only Daniel did—but they sensed his presence and wanted nothing to do with him.

Now the dramatic description of this new figure rings familiar bells of other descriptions we’ve read of God Himself. Is Daniel finally seeing Yahweh? Alas, no, for when the being speaks, he talks about being sent by God to speak for Yahweh. It’s just another angel, and he has to wake Daniel up before he can have a productive conversation with him because Daniel has passed out from shock.

Now we don’t know who this angel is, only that he is quite familiar with Daniel’s loyalty to God. He now goes on to make a very bizarre comment:

“Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet future.” (Dan. 10:12-14)

Notice the reference to 21 days. According to this angel, he’d been trying to get to Daniel for some time, but he was unavoidably detained by hassles in the spiritual realm. All that time, Daniel was fasting and mourning and humbling himself before God. But why? What was the reason for all this fasting and mourning? We don’t know. This scene immediately follows the chapter in which Daniel was crying over the sins of his people and begging for Yahweh to restore Israel, yet we also know that a lot of time has passed between these two chapters. At the beginning of Chapter 9, Daniel says it’s the first year in the reign of King Darius the Mede. In the beginning of Chapter 10, he says it’s the third year in the reign of King Cyrus of Persia. So years have passed and we have no idea why Daniel felt it was necessary to go into a 21 day fast. The angel does refer to Daniel setting his heart on understanding something—perhaps then Daniel was pleading for more future insights from Yahweh. Not the wisest move on his part, but our curiosity does get the best of us.

According to this angel, he has come as an answer to a request that is at least 21 days old. From the angel’s perspective, he is showing up much later than he wanted to. Well, we know how he feels, don’t we? How many times have you felt like God was pressing you to do something only to find yourself surrounded by closed doors? We Christians are very familiar with the concept of wanting to do something long before God actually allows us to do it. When our human agenda conflicts with God’s, God’s agenda wins. Listen to how frustrated the apostle Paul sounds about his travel plans being messed up:

But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. (1 Thess. 2:18)

In this passage, Paul blames Satan for his delays. This is a common human copout. Satan can hardly block God. The truth is that God was the One blocking Paul from doing what Paul wanted to do. Why doesn’t Paul own this? For the same reason that you would rather talk about demons harassing you than the Holy Spirit allowing demons to harass you. When we’re frustrated, we don’t like to see God as the Source of our frustration—it just makes us feel worse. Yet trying to ignore the sovereignty of God hardly makes it go away. God was the One stonewalling Paul, and He was the One blocking this frustrated angel who is essentially trying to apologize for being late. Both Paul and the angel should know better than to try and put the blame on demons. But apparently we humans aren’t the only ones who try and dodge the issue of God’s sovereignty.

Let’s look again at this angel’s explanation.

But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet future.” (Dan. 10:13-14)

The princes being described here are references to angels and demons. “Prince” is merely being used as a title of authority. Clearly the prince of the kingdom of Persia is a demon, for he was the one giving this angel no end of grief for three weeks. This statement reminds us that angels and demons can easily get into a deadlock with each other—after all, they are the same kind of creature. You would have a much better chance at blocking the path of another human than you would a grizzly bear. The human and you are the same kind of creature and you understand each other’s weak points.

This glimpse into the angelic world also reminds us that life in the supernatural realm is no picnic. We humans are constantly warring with each other in the physical realm, and the angels are warring with their own kind in the spiritual realm. What a lot of hassle. And just as our soldiers can get into jams and need to be bailed out by reinforcements, so also this angel found himself outnumbered and trapped by “the kings of Persia”. Sounds rather like a hostage situation. But then he says that another angel named Michael finally came and rescued him. Notice that Michael is not just a prince, but one of the chief princes. This tells us that there are different levels of authority within the angelic ranks. We can relate. None of these concepts are strange to us.

So how does Daniel respond to this? Well, we were told that he was trembling when the angel first started speaking, and now he stares at the ground in speechless silence. Daniel isn’t sounding like a good choice for your go-to guy in an emergency, is he? The man is either falling down on his face, passing out, trembling, or staring at the dirt. Oh well. Perhaps in his place we wouldn’t do any better. This first angel did sound pretty freaky.

Now our angel tones down his shocking appearance and becomes much more “normal” looking, for Daniel uses the description often given to angels in the bible of “one who looked like a human being.” Daniel now tells this angel how overwhelmed he is and how he’s all weak and can’t breathe. (Obviously he can breathe enough to say all this, so he’s being a bit dramatic.) The angel responds by giving Daniel the classic “do not be afraid” pep talk, and then God clearly intervenes and infuses fresh energy into His delicate little human so Daniel can finally focus.

Now it’s time to talk about more future insights—insights which our angel claims to have been wanting to share for 21 days. But when it’s finally time to get into it, the angel brings up that pesky prince of Persia again, demonstrating that war is very much on his mind.

“Do you understand why I came to you? But I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; so I am going forth, and behold, the prince of Greece is about to come. However, I will tell you what is inscribed in the writing of truth. Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince.” (Dan. 10:20-21)

Ever have someone ask you how you are just so they could tell you all about their own troubles? Our angel is still processing the recent defeat he received and his rescue by the much-appreciated Michael. But we have to give him points for pluck, because after getting whomped on for twenty-one days, he’s revving up to go attack that troublesome prince of Persia once again. He also knows that Persia isn’t sitting on his hands—he’s bringing in an ally of his own—the prince of Greece. Again, these “princes” are references to demons, and our angel warrior is thinking out loud here as he contemplates his next mission. Once again he emphasizes that Michael is his only source of help at the present time. Why is this? We have no idea. Perhaps every other angel is detained at the moment—it’s not like they have an infinite supply of themselves.

So after starting off with this irrelevant side note about his personal problems, the angel refocuses and finally gets to the message he was supposed to be giving Daniel. As we get into Chapter 11, he starts telling Daniel about future kingdoms that will come. He also makes another reference to one of his past assignments.

“In the first year of Darius the Mede, I arose to be an encouragement and a protection for him.” (Dan. 11:1)

Darius the Mede was the king who threw Daniel into the lions’ den and then later thought better of it. By now, Darius is dead. He was overthrown by Cyrus of Persia, who conquered Darius’ empire a good three years back. Do we care that this angel was given some temporary assignment regarding Darius during his reign? No, we don’t. God is undoubtedly giving His angels constant assignments and sending them all over the place to carry out His will on earth. But we humans have our hands full with our own missions from God and we don’t need to concern ourselves with what the angels are doing. As far as angelic protection goes, this angel has already admitted to getting hopelessly overpowered by his enemies. If we’re counting on angels to save us, we’re putting our faith in the wrong thing. We need to be trusting in God alone.

Our angel now gives a lengthy speech in which he describes the rise and fall of various future empires. Today we can look back over human history and identify the kingdoms he was talking about as Greece and Rome. We can also identify the specific kings he refers to, such as Alexander the Great and Ptolemy I. It’s interesting to note that all biblical references to future kingdoms on earth stop with the Roman Empire. Yahweh simply doesn’t comment on what will happen after Rome. The founding of America isn’t prophesied in the Bible. We don’t find references to the British Empire or to the development of China. None of the nations we think of as being the movers and shakers in the world today get attention in the Bible because the Bible is focused on one very small portion of the world: the area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. All the kingdoms Yahweh talks about are kingdoms which will dominate this particular region, with Rome being the greatest. All of Daniel’s empire visions stop with Rome. Acts is the last historical book in the Bible, and it was written during the reign of Rome. Revelation was the last book to be written (~AD 96) and it is also focused on Rome. Rome is the world power at the time of the New Testament—“world” being defined as that small region around the Mediterranean Sea. It’s not surprising that Rome should be such a major theme in the New Testament since all the New Testament writers lived within her borders. But what is extremely impressive is to find Yahweh so accurately predicting the coming of various human empires centuries in advance in the Old Testament. Now of course God knows everything, but when He takes the time to flaunt His knowledge of the future, we should take the time to soak in the lessons it teaches us about God’s sovereignty. God is in control of both the human realm and the angelic realm. He reigns supremely over everything He creates and He is so certain about what’s going to happen that He can describe portions of the future to angels, who can then turn around and describe them to us. Here’s another area in which we can identify with angels: we both receive glimpses of the future from God, but none of us ever gets to see the whole picture. God intentionally leaves a lot out. Our angel here in Daniel had no idea that he was going to be so effectively ambushed by the prince of Persia. Both humans and angels have to work in the dark, relying on God to guide us every step of the way. We both get caught off guard by the Divine plan. We both experience frustration and times when our enemies seem to be getting in God’s way. But of course no one ever gets in God’s way because God is sovereign.

Now once he gets going, our angel has a lot to say and he talks on and on about future kings and empires. Then he talks about a time when Michael will rise up to do some kind of assignment that he’s already been told about. There will be a bunch of distress, a resurrection, and a division of souls between Heaven and Hell. But this is all spelled out rather vaguely and when he finishes talking, the angel tells Daniel to seal up the written record of all this until the end of time. Then two more angels suddenly show up and once again they start a scripted conversation with each other. One angel asks another how long it will be until all these prophecies start coming true. The angel who answers him raises up his hands and swears by Yahweh’s Name that “it will be for a time, times, and half a time” (Dan. 12:7). Now there’s a tempting little morsel to obsess over, and today we can find many Christians breaking their brains trying to figure out exactly how long this means. What a waste of time to contemplate times and half times. Do you need a complete outline of everything you’ll be doing in the year 2030 in order to live your life today? No, and if God were to give you such an outline, you’d waste countless hours obsessing over it. When God predicts future events, He is describing things that will happen, not things which might happen unless we make different choices today. There’s nothing you can do to rush or delay the coming of Christ, and God doesn’t want you to spend the present obsessing over the future. It’s fine to be curious and it’s fine to tell God you’re eager to receive any insights about the future that He’d like to share with you. But then it’s time to move on with the present.

After the angel gives his cryptic answer, Daniel tries to ask for more explanation. Daniel is always asking for more explanation and God is done discussing future events with a man who won’t be around to see any of them occur. It’s irrelevant. Daniel needs to stop obsessing. The angel now tells him:

“Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time.” (Dan. 12:9)

In other words: “God’s not going to tell you anymore.” Why not? Because it doesn’t matter. Pleasing God today, right now is what matters, not stressing over what God might do fifty or a hundred years from now.

Daniel was a devoted Yahweh follower, but he got a little too caught up in wanting to know the future. Fasting and mourning and groveling for twenty-one days just so God will tell you more? That’s definitely overdoing it. We shouldn’t be seeking out future insights from God. We shouldn’t be spending today worrying about the end times, because for all we know, we could die tomorrow. Pleasing God right now is what matters, and He has already given us the information we need to do that. God wants us to want His total way in our lives. He wants us to care more about pleasing Him than we do about pleasing ourselves. If this is where you’re at today, then you don’t need to worry about anything else. If this isn’t where you’re at, then ask the Holy Spirit to get you there. Meanwhile, don’t spend your time thinking about angels. Think about God instead.

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