When all hope is lost, when there is no end to the suffering or injustice, when a community of people believe they’ve done everything they can to be faithful and righteous… the only thing left is to hope that one day all things will be made new and God will eliminate all evil and suffering in the world. A new world order. A Holy Do-over.
Apocalyptic literature in the bible, can be found when God’s people were in the most dire and hopeless of situations. Dr Lester’s lecture develops the crisis of the Jewish community during the rule of the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV. Up until that time, the Hellenistic rulers didn’t mind the practices of the Jewish people. The Greeks weren’t bothered by a wide variety of god-worshippers. However, Antiochus IV determined that Jerusalem would become fully Greek and thus outlawed that practice of Judaism. This was an important event in the history of the Jews – oppression and crisis had happened before in this community, but never through the direct suppression of their faith and practices. Antiochus IV went to work in stripping the Jewish people of all semblances of culture, tradition and faith. This included the destruction of the Torah, the murder of circumcised infants, defiling the temple and forcing Jews to abandon rituals and practices. (Stanley, p. 486) The Jews were at the end of their rope, and even Prophets who could call the Jewish people into hope and social change, couldn’t provide outlook for a better future. The Apocalyptic writer in Daniel provided hope to the Jewish people, and prompted faithful resistance so that they could envision how “one day” their world will be different. Yahweh will bring victory to Yahweh’s righteous people.
Daniel’s vision in Chapter 7 begins with the apocalyptic identifier of a dream or vision “witnessed by a seer,” (Bandstra, p. 444) and is attributed to Daniel, a notable person in Jewish History (Stanley, p. 483) “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: ‘I Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea,’”(Daniel 7:1-2.) As this vision develops, Daniel describes creatures and beings that have fantastic elements and features. As Dr. Lester described in his lecture, this apocalyptic literary feature mixes known or “old” symbols and characters in new ways. This feature punctuates the author’s intent to describe a new thing about to take place. Examples of this can be found in Daniel 7, verse 4 (lion with eagles’ wings), verse 8 (a horn with eyes like a human, and a mouth speaking arrogantly), and Daniel 10:6 (his face like lightening, his eyes like flaming torches).
As the vision develops in Chapter 7, Daniel observes a harsh judgment taking place, resulting in a beast put violently to death. (Dan.7:9-12). This event describes some type of “cataclysmic” event and intervention (by Yahweh), which will bring about radical change in the present world order. Stanley describes this apocalyptic element as having an “eschatological orientation.” (Stanley p.483) The end of things as they knew them. A new heaven, and a new earth.
Most of the time, apocalyptic writings were interpreted to or by the individual who had the vision. The listener or the reader didn’t necessarily need to read between the lines. (Stanley, p. 484) “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. 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.” (Dan 7:15-16)
A dominating element of apocalyptic writings is the vivid depiction of Yahweh’s victory over evil, and the importance of God’s chosen people staying strong, faithful and persistent in the face of political and religious persecution. Apocalyptic writings were “intended to encourage perseverance by revealing the destruction of the wicked and the glorious future that awaited the faithful.” (Bandstra, p. 443) This is seen at the end of Daniel’s first vision, “…the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High” (Dan. 7:27), and most profoundly in Daniel 12:12, “Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three hundred thirty-five days.” There was an assurance that, even if pain and suffering and injustice was their present reality, they will be richly rewarded by Yahweh – salvation would be theirs, and their enemies crushed and harshly judged.
These writings reveal a time in the history of Judaism, when hope was fading and life as they knew it was gone. There must have been extremely strong temptation to conform to Greek ways, and Antiochus’ demands. The book of Daniel serves as a call to the Jews to a life of righteous living and following the commandments of Yahweh, even and especially in the face of evil and death. The book of Daniel is loaded with hope, consolation, and a way through the pain of their current worldview. The visions of victory are teamed with examples of individuals staying strong in the face of oppression and death. Fred Clark’s article, “Who were the apocalypses written for?” writes that the “embodied disciplines are exemplified by Daniel, Shadrak, Meshak and Abednego who serve as a paragon of faithful resistance.” Armed with visions of victory, passionate examples of individuals from the Jewish community holding on to their faith, and the assurance that Yahweh hadn’t forgotten them, the Jews were able to persevere and eventually establish their own kingdom and independence.
Prior to this assignment, I brushed past the apocalyptic genre in the bible. I had been introduced to the “Left Behind” series and confused them as one and the same. These books and other media determined to scare people into believing in Christ or find them selves left at the kitchen table while their saved spouse disappeared to heaven, made me disinterested and annoyed. And so I was cracking up at the remarks by Fred Clark in his article, “L.B. A Less Graphic Experience” as he brought to light the convoluted schemes imposed on scripture in the way of Left Behind. “This unrecognizable heterodox puree includes chunks of John’s apocalypse, mixed together willy-nilly with the stranger bits of Daniel, Ezekiel and the minor prophets and slices of St. Paul’s meditations on death and Christ’s warnings of judgment.” Love it. An unrecognizable heterodox puree. I guess we tend to do this with many scriptures in the Bible. Stanley emphasizes, “Later readers, unaware of the original significance of these images, have mistakenly associated them with characters and events far removed from the time when the texts were written.” (Stanley, p. 484)
But even so, who doesn’t want a do-over sometimes? Even better, a Holy Do-over, when God is on “our” side and we wait faithfully and patiently until God obliterates the evil in the world. But, as much as my mind can imagine a world where peace, justice, forgiveness and love are the norm and the only way…and I want to sing with longing, “somewhere over the rainbow” …I believe it’s up to me, and to all of us to confront and over-throw the injustices of our day. Dreams and visions should still prompt us to bring messages of faithfulness and hope – and also, in the apocalyptic tradition, actions of confronting evil and proclaiming a better way.