Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.
As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed. (NRSV)
The lectionary committee didn’t do us any favors with this passage. It doesn’t give us the context. It doesn’t tell us what else is “going on in the room” so to speak. All we get to see, from this passage, is one small perspective. It is like sitting at the table in the corner of a large restaurant. The person sitting with their back to the wall gets a pretty good vantage point for seeing the whole room. The person sitting facing the wall has the whole restaurant behind them. They can see none of what is going on in the room. All they can see is the wall, and the person sitting facing them.
In Daniel 7:1, we are clearly told that Daniel had a ‘vision of his head as he lay in bed.’ (NRSV) then he wrote down what he had seen in the dream. Four terrible beasts came up out of the sea, each one more terrifying than the one before it. They are able to wreak havoc on the world. They imply terrible suffering. You’ve possibly known someone who had one misfortune after another. People start to wonder, “How much can a person take?” and no matter what, they have to just keep on keeping on.
Well, that is what these four beasts are about. They come up out of the water; the symbol of chaos in the ancient world. Each one is worse than the one before. The first one is neutralized pretty easily (turned from a lion to a human being by plucking its wings and giving it a brain) but they get successively worse. But this is where it gets interesting. As the author watches, the crew sets the stage for the Ancient One. The throne is brought in, the Ancient One, the one whose days are numberless, ascends the throne. This is the image that depicts God. This God-figure is described in very concrete terms; pure white hair, white clothing, shining light emanates from him. The flame is reminiscent of the flame in the burning bush that appeared to Moses in the wilderness. It reminds us of the pillar of fire that burned by night to lead the people of Israel through the wilderness. All of it together makes it very clear he is as pure as pure can be. He has been part of the story of Israel forever. This One has a past, and it ties in with the people of God. This One is not phased by the terrible beasts; not one bit. This One carries out business as usual, even in the presence of the beasts. This is apocalyptic literature, and it is meant to give hope.
God is not phased by the worst of what the world can bring on, and so neither should we. No matter how bad it gets, God is present and unruffled, and will prevail in the end. In the moment, it might look like the beasts are winning, but keep reading. If it is still terrible, you haven’t gotten to the end of the story yet!
Blessings to you,
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.