The Apocalypse comes to Ukraine- scaling up faith in the worldview of Daniel 7.

As I start to write this, over 7.1 million people have been internally displaced since the invasion of Ukraine, according to the second Ukraine Internal Displacement Report issued by the International Organization for Migration. The UNHCR say that almost 3.7 million persons have become refugees from Ukraine since the invasion on 24 February 2022, while Ukraine’s border force further records that 537,000 have returned to the country. The scale of tragedy ensuing from the continuing sins of commission of Vladimir Putin, Putin’s willing circle and the mostly willing military forces under their instructions has passed imagination. Western news media is doing us a service in showing faces and telling some of their names, helping us to grasp something of the individual challenges and tragedies that befall the Ukrainian population. They are but a tiny sample of the suffering, most of whom will remain unknown to us, whether now alive or dead.

A similar sense of being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of events builds through the Book of Daniel. In the early chapters we are introduced to Daniel and also to his three companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, though they quickly pass from our attention. We are beckoned along through various episodes in Daniel’s story of leadership, a singular representative of the Jewish exiles in Babylon, and should be amazed by the potential for co-creative partnership that he discovers is possible as a child of Yahweh God, the Jehovah of Israel. Though the nation and the state apparatus does its darndest to squeeze Daniel and all the Israelite exiles into its mould, swallowing them up to be Babylonians, sequestering their talents and efforts and erasing their culture and personality, this dastardly intention fails. Instead, it is Daniel who is the putty that becomes the mould, the form into which first Nebuchadnezzar, then Belshazzar, and then Darius and Cyrus are themselves manipulated and transformed. The very kings of Babylon, the monarchs of greatest nation in the earth under God! They, and we, find out where the power really lies. It is accessed through the life of faith.

But in these ages such triumphs are temporal- temporary signs of a victory yet to be realised- and still, even after the great Resurrection we celebrate again at this coming Eastertide, the ages of ‘now but not yet’ are not completed. Chapter six draws to a close with this blunt conclusion. “So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” Then we turn the page and, instead of some further tale of the exploits of the man of God in the court of Cyrus, there is an altogether different sort of scene laid out before us.

Hans Holbein, the younger (c. 1497 – 1543): his Old Testament illustrations, Dance of death and other woodcuts. London: William Heinemann, 1912. Coloured version; though perhaps not a scheme Holbein would have recognised. Do these pastel shades suggest a rather more sanitised atmosphere than the text demands? Holbein seems to prefer that the ‘ribs’ of Daniel’s vision would be better portrayed as (not for long) whole people, each sporting crowns as kings or young princes might wear, though two of these are rendered in green above.

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter. Daniel declared,[a] “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.

Hans Holbein’s woodcut is one of a small number of attempts to depict the four beasts in visual imagery. Few other examples of these strange figures have been attempted, possibly because a majority of those who have tried found any verisimilitude even less plausible than their attempts to give a believable depiction of the dreamy descriptions in the text of the Hebrew Bible. Something more convincing could be achieved in our day through animation, for everything is in flux: the beastly creatures, the scenes that are played out before us, and, indeed, the very experience of the seer, who we are told is the same Daniel of chapters 1 to 6. It is all too much to ask of one medieval-Renaissance artist.

Deformed animals would have been known, in principle, to the ancients, and studies predate modern genetics and our understanding of mutations and foetal abnormalities. L Pig with two bottoms, and four legs to boot. CL Cyclops pig: only one eye in its skull. CR Abnormal foetus drawings. R Two headed deer. See reference paper. Taking the cyclops trait as an example, Homer’s Odyssey which features a monster with one eye was written around 700BC. This is well before the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (reign 605-562BC ?). I take this as prima facie evidence that such phenomena were known, however vaguely, and allusions to them would be expected to be incorporated into literature in some form or another.

Should we detect several deliberate allusions to the Genesis narrative in this account? I think so: there are winds moving over waters, and a series of strange creations emerging from the deep. There is speaking of command and with power, though by whom? However, the creatures emerge from the water, not the land, and they are each one of a strange kind, not two by two, and thankfully unable to breed. They are, rather, described as being neither this nor that– both mammal and bird in chimeric form, asymmetric, part formed, and not quite complete, eating flesh rather than fruit or seed. The second monster is already eating its fill before the command to eat flesh has been given. Compared with Genesis 1, everything is out of order, chaotic and confused. The first beast is subject to some supernatural operation, as before our gaze certain parts are removed and then a further transmogrification takes place. Into a man! In Genesis, the Human is the final glorious creation, but here, in some crude pre-Frankenstein surgery, the first beast is immediately contorted while very much awake into the shape of enash (In the Aramaic section of Daniel: man, mankind, directly equivalent to the Hebrew ha’adam), a man; and as this animal-human lifeform is completed, a mind is given to it, the mind of a man. Our current world of science and rationality rightly asks, ‘What is it to be human?’ The answers often settle around a list of measurable characteristics: upright stance and two-footed gait freeing the hands, lack of body hair, opposable thumbs, a significant capacity for language, and a cranial capacity making possible an intellect and sociability far beyond the scope of other primates, singing whales or the few birds that use tools. Well, perhaps that is the human man that is described here in Daniel 7:4. But it is not quite the same ha’adam of Genesis 1 and 2, moulded by God’s own fingers and thumbs from the red clay earth, life breathed in by God’s own pneuma. This enash is a fake image-idol, a counterfeit. There is no partner for this man or any other of the beasts. Do I discern a dark emphasis of this point in the second beast? The bear-like creature has ribs in its mouth as it is elevated from the waters- the part of ha’adam that God took once asleep in gentle surgery to transform into the woman- now the ribs are only evidence of a crudely consumed meal. What does ‘raised up on one side’ mean? Holbein draws a deformed hump on the back of his bear, but I think that something very much more wonky is intended. In Genesis, there are neat spaces of creation in days 1-3, which are tidily filled in days 4-6. As creation proceeds, there is an organised separation of spaces and things, which are then populated and completed as everything is drawn together into a beautifully pleasing whole; habitats and organisms, ecosystems and biosphere, in the parlance of biologists. In Daniel 7, all this ordering from chaos is disturbed, and so are we, as we read this vision which severely tests Daniel’s credulity. Even as he dreams, we sense him rubbing his eyes in disbelief and growing disquiet. There are no proper names for what he sees, and nothing here is ‘very good.’

Daniel rubs his eyes, ‘After this, I looked…’ scanning back and forth, trying to make sense of what he sees. After the lion-eagle and the monstrous bear comes the third beast, a fast and strong big cat, a leopard, crafty at hiding, lightning quick to pounce. And yet it too has wings, too many wings; and then Daniel looks back- Oh, it has four heads! Of what powers and abilities might such a creature boast? In a horrifying twist to Genesis 1: 26 and 28, the dominion that was at first given to ha’adam is now summarily conferred on this one.

So it seems that Daniel’s dream vision in 7:1-8 is a very significant change in genre from what has been told up to this point in chapters 1-6. We are no longer in the marketplace life of the Jewish exiles in Babylon, or even the counter-intuitive position of privilege of the co-creating people of God given divine favour in the courts of dictatorial kings or the offices of oppressive foreign rulers. Daniel’s vision suddenly offers a cosmic perspective where constrained and mortal humans cannot really see, where time and place, persons and powers can only be represented to us by metaphor and allegory. Later in the New Testament these agents would be called principalities and powers by Paul and the other apostles.

All pretence at realistic depiction is lost from verse 7. Daniel rubs his eyes even harder this time, “After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast…” He cannot even attempt to name what this thing is, referring only to its feet and teeth, which are of iron, apparently, and the feet stamp: both teeth and feet are said to consume and destroy. It has horns, and like the earlier creatures, parts are detachable. The form and nature of this monstrous thing changes before us, and readers of a certain age are likely to think that this description resonates with that of a ‘Transformer’ from a cartoon or a Michael Bay film. And I find to my great surprise that ‘Transformers 7, Rise of the Beasts‘ is slated for release on June 9th 2023.

I recall reading one commentator many years ago who suggested that the description of the fourth beast matches that of a tank, with caterpillar tracks and various guns and projectiles, though I can’t find anything to this effect on the web presently. However, I am not sure that one tank would really fit Daniel’s description, or that tank designers took that vision explicitly as their template.

But I think this line of reasoning is suspect, not having anything much to do with proper exegesis, hermeneutics or application. Reading our biases into texts is all-too easy to do, (this is the error of eisegesis) and I daresay you’ll catch me at it sometime or another. No, I think it is more responsible to read these lines through lenses that respect the allegorical and metaphorical rather than attempt the literal or realistically representational. Just as in Genesis! There is spiritually enlightened logic at work here, where the cosmological perspective is inclusive of things and persons and events that we can see and do participate in agentially, but also that there are further realities which we do not see- which we cannot see, unless God reveals them. What Daniel takes pains to carefully describe and record is rather obviously on this borderline of sense perception and spirit perception, and by spirit perception, I only mean what the Spirit of God choses to let us in on, not what some might surmise they can find out through some mysterious or Gnostic discernment- the idea that certain folk can develop their spiritual senses to work out for themselves what is invisible to others. This is important, because otherwise we fall through Gnosticism to magic and a Christianised view of the escape from Plato’s cave, where only certain (spiritually) clever people come to know stuff hidden in principle from lesser mortals, believers or otherwise. Such ‘spiritual elitism’ is not orthodox biblical Christianity. Nevertheless, those who study the scriptures and commit to a rich life of prayer should expect to come to a fuller view of reality as God makes it possible for us to know and understand it, and especially as that Reality is God. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” There are also examples for us of men and women of faith who have lived such a deep life of prayer that they have changed the course of world events, including wars. Rees Howells is surely foremost amongst them, and you can download and read the whole of Norman Grub’s 1952 biography here, which in its last few chapters includes testimony that God called Howells and the team of intercessors he led into co-creative partnership at vital and specific occasions during World War 2. If Admiral Sir Tony Radakin’s remarks on 31 March are to be taken at face value, rather than as propaganda, then we may already be able to point to significant answers to such prayers today.

What is most fearsome about the fourth beast? Surely it is not so much in its hypothetical likeness to a tank, or to a dragon, or some other fanciful monster. What is most horrifying is told at the close of the description in 7:8. Its final horn has eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things. It is like us, the worst of us, on a very bad day. As some have put it, ‘All monsters are human.’

The commentaries are in general agreement about the historical and political allusions that are being made in these four beastly figures, at least to begin with. As Babylon is known from archaeology for its lion gate motifs, and Nebuchadnezzar was the high-flying king-man made crawling beast, before recovering his humanity- his ‘heart’, so is the first beast. The second is the succeeding reign of the Medes and Persians- a federation in which the Persians were the superior force, thus making it unsymmetrical. Things are less clear after this. The Greco-Macedonian empire followed next in history- but is it Alexander the Great and his exploits we are reading about, or rather the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes, who was a highly oppressive influence in Jerusalem? More probably the latter. By the time of Jesus, the secure consensus would have been to identify the fourth beast as the Roman empire, with its many horns signifying the line of Caesars. The final conclusions one reaches will be significantly influenced by one’s view of the text. Is this purely prophecy before the fact, or are we reading post-redaction by later editors who knew what had happened? Some modern readers suggest that the timescale of the fourth beast extends to the New Testament Apocalypse of St John of the Revelation, as they suppose the next part of the vision is about the final judgement. But all such considerations in this paragraph are predicated on the timeline being of prime importance, with historical referents, and I suspect that is not so much the case. What is important in reading Daniel 7 and following? Humanity now shows it has a profound flaw in the will to power, to endless acquisition and accumulation, to empire building, to hoarding and oppression of all sorts, and if unchecked and unrepaired, it is this that creates dragons that fight and consume one another, one after another. Daniel was such a means and method in God’s hands to counsel kings, man to man, as I have reflected on previously, but what the kings of empires create tends to be much larger than what most individuals could dream of achieving in a lifetime. The ages and empires are often known by the names of their leading figures, but their products can become a behemoth of inhuman proportions, somewhere on a scale between magnificent and monstrous. More often monstrous.

In our so-called ‘modern’ world, making judgements about leaders comes with extra layers of complexity, especially in so-called ‘democratic’ countries. Most folk likely to read this blog will have been able to exercise their right to vote for a local candidate on just one day in the election cycle, and perhaps we are happy that we backed the winner, or maybe we are aggrieved because our preferred candidate fell short. After this, decision making then tends to concentrate in an isolated executive, who tend to change their commitments and policies with impunity. The distance between each of us as voters and the Prime Minister or President makes it relatively easy for a majority to come to the view that our great leaders are more monsters than men. The longer they are in office, the more that evidence to support a cynical judgement tends to accumulate, even if the person in power is more an incompetent than a tyrant. Our media encourages our less mature tendencies to monsterise those with power and influence, with variable degrees of justification.

Boris Johnson and Donald Trump being lampooned in the popular press and party propaganda. (Left: the faces of both leaders have been morphed together into a chimera.) (Centre: Trump as both architect and subject of his own monsterisation.) As the #MeToo movement gathered steam, and Harvey Weinstein was arrested and finally successfully prosecuted for sexually abusive behaviour, apparently on an industrial scale, it is now acceptable as part of social orthodoxy to monsterise Weinstein, as he has been so judged in a court of law following due process. According to the actor Elijah Wood in recent interviews, Weinstein had attempted to impose himself on the design and direction of the planned Lord of the Rings trilogy, so Peter Weir went independent and then took revenge by basing the face of Gothmog the orc on Weinstein’s. See above. Gothmog is on the far right.

There has been a long tradition in social commentary to roll together cynical judgements about our leaders with (dark) humour in the form of the political cartoon. ‘You’ve got to laugh- or else you’d cry,” we remark. N T Wright says that something like this is going on in Daniel’s dream vision as described in Daniel 7, where the beasts represent not simply individual leaders, but represent a larger collective, what we would call the government of a country. (On the face of it, that contradicts the text at 7:17. But I do I agree with Wright: ‘kings’ can be read as equivalent to collective government in this context.)

L. An etching from 1782. A lion (right) stands facing four animals standing opposite to him in a row; his right paw is held up, his tail is erect, and he says, “You shall all have an old English drubbing to make you quiet”. The head of a fox (C. J. Fox) appears from the lower right corner of the print, saying, “I counsel Your Majesty to give Monsieur the first gripe”.… R. ‘The Lions Just Share’, 1882. The British Lion stands proudly on his Egyptian captive. He is watched by Italy, a French poodle, the Russian Bear, Spain, Germany (an eagle) and the two headed eagle of Austria. Turkey is depicted as a cowering fox. There had recently been an uprising in Egypt led by Colonel Arabi in protest at European intervention in Egyptian affairs. Turkey had recently been excluded from an agreement that left the six European powers to protect the operation of the Suez Canal. Britain had led the way in putting down the uprising. From Punch, or the London Charivari, September 30, 1882.

Depending on who is telling the story, and the extent to which the intention is to take the mickey, or to call out what is perceived to be a monstrous regime, we will come to a view on whether we should be laughing or crying out in horror. I am certainly provoked to deeper thought when it is my own country that is being made the butt of the joke.

L. Papagallo no.15 la Piovra Russa Anno VI by Augusto Grossi (1835-1919), a cartoon depiction of Europe in 1878, using caricatures and monster kraken. R. Poster from Argentina celebrating the military recovery (temporarily, as it turned out) of the Falklands from British control on April 2 1982. Argentinians today are drawing parallels between the UK and Russia in commentary on the current situation in Ukraine.

But we are not reading political commentary in Daniel 7, or some other humanistic genre such as history. A key leitmotif of this blog is worldview, a biblical worldview, and this perspective is the antidote to misreading verses 1-8. To simply ask, ‘what exactly are the four beasts?’ or, ‘what relevance does the fourth beast hold for us today?’ is to make a profound error. A proper perspective is to be gained from the vision as a whole, not from giving imbalanced attention to certain dramatic elements, to the exclusion of the holistic view. A text out of context makes for a pretext.

Daniel, (who is not awake), rubs his eyes again.

“As I looked,

thrones were placed,
    and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
    and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
    its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
    and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
    and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
    and the books were opened.

Silo’s apocalypse. Daniel chapter 7, verses 2-10. Daniel’s vision of the four beasts from the sea and the Ancient of Days. British Library digital collection. One of 106 bible images made at the Spanish Monastery of San Domingo de Silos, near Burgos,  between 1091–1109, copying originals from 800AD

What a glorious vision! I wonder if you agree that too much attention has been given to speculations on the beastly creatures of Daniel 7, at the expense of our focus on this insight into spiritual realities. While using archaic modes of artistic expression, for me, the illuminated manuscript known as Silo’s Apocalypse gets it exactly right. The four beasts are given a rather naïve treatment, more like lap dogs than dread monsters of nightmares. Three are more grinning than growling, but all are equally transfixed by what they can see is important- the heavenly court arrayed in ordered majesty above them. All the creatures’ eyes, including the pair belonging to the final horn, are giving complete attention to the final seat of accountability, the Ancient of Days, enthroned and glorious, surrounded with the splendour of angels.

What does Daniel record for us? Every detail is significant.

‘The Ancient of Days took his seat’

God, being Divine, is eternal, perfect and unchanging, but this does not mean stasis. When asked why he swayed back and forth while in prayer, one Jewish man answered, ‘Because my God is alive.’ The term is shuckling, and this article is fantastic, including the references. G_d is indeed Alive, as well as Ancient, so G_d is seen to move: He comes in to the court as though to acknowledge what is happening in the earthly realm, and that He wishes to give a constructive response. God sees, God notices, God understands, and God says that this all matters, and He will give an answer. He sits, which the Jews recognised as the sign that God’s Word would be both declaimed and enacted.

‘his clothing was white as snow,
    and the hair of his head like pure wool’

Hope should rise in our hearts, because God comes to bring heaven and earth together on the grounds of His overcoming Light and unimpeachable Purity. The vision that Daniel is given is more constrained than the Apostle Peter speaks of (1 Ti 6 :16) but no less awesome. God is bringing his divine detergent to make things whiter than white, and when He does, Bang, the dirt is gone!

‘his throne was fiery flames;
    its wheels were burning fire.’

The dirt of immorality, especially on the scale of unjust war and war crimes, demands the ultimate purification. These things should not be in the good cosmos that God has made and gifted to us. They are destined for fire, a consuming and annihilating fire that comes from Godself; utterly irresistible. First the fire is seen in the throne of God, with its wheels, far mightier than the stamping feet of the fourth beast, that moves to where injustice will be righted and Shalom brought to supplant aggression.

‘A stream of fire issued
    and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
    and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him…’

Daniel’s vision is attuned as he looks: within the throne of God is the source of Fire. It is Godself! Elsewhere we are told that rivers of water flow from the throne and temple of God, but greater executive powers are called for here. Some tourists have been injured of late when they were caught by explosive bursts of the volcanoes they had climbed to gaze at- an urge I can understand, but what peril to risk. Notwithstanding Peter’s words, for those who God admits to His court, this is friendly fire. It consumes wickedness utterly, but the righteous will stand, just as was proven to Nebuchadnezzar II by Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Such it is to be a friend of God.

‘the court sat in judgment,
    and the books were opened.’

Each week we have a political interview programme on the BBC called ‘Question Time,’ where Archbishop Justin Welby joined the panel to respond to questions put by a selected but balanced audience. When asked about bringing justice to Putin and the Russian invaders, he quickly sidestepped any talk of the Final Judgement. ‘You would expect me to mention that,’ he said. But what matters is justice now, the cessation of violence now, and yes, there can then be justice done on earth, through war crimes trials and suchlike. This drew the sting of the critic who went on to pour scorn on the idea of Putin ‘facing his god.’ You may have read of the disastrous alignment of significant parts of the Christian church in Russia with Putin’s project, and of Patriarch Kirill’s explicit support. This was anticipated in Ukraine, where the Orthodox very properly broke relationship in 2019, which was acknowledged to pose a threat to Russia. Such churches and their leaders have also been in the firing line.

I think that Daniel would agree with Justin Welby. It is a mistake to limit the interpretation of the vision of the heavenly court to the far distant future. Our God is not the deist God who stands afar off, hands off, eyes elsewhere, attention anywhere but here, just leaving things ticking over, or not, as the case may be. Even the God of Israel, the God of the Hebrews in exile is the True God who sees and acts now. For sure, there was a succession of godless kings. But Daniel discovered that God would walk with him here, and would address injustices, within boundaries of God’s determination, but more widely than we would have guessed. For sure, there were and will be not one but four great and dreadful beasts- and the vision tells us that God will act at the End and also before, also maybe even Now. God shows Daniel this, and thus and so God shows us. This ‘showing’ is what God does first of all. He wants Daniel to know what is going on, however mysteriously, and Daniel discovers that he is, in some small but meaningful way, an agent. This agency is not set out so much in this vision, but it certainly comes in chapter 9. I said before that the timeline is perhaps not to be taken too seriously; see here in v 12. What we may have seen as a succession of rulers in literal history, who do not live concurrently, is spoken of here as if they are living at the same time. And what is said about them? Their lives are prolonged. God has mercy for monsters, which may be a challenge to your theology and mine. Many of my Christian friends are rather too quick to say, when circumstances are difficult and the situation not quite tickety-boo: ‘God is in control.’ This glib way of talking is theologically lazy and all too often lacks compassion for the suffering. Or denies ones own legitimate emotions in the face of genuine heartache and real tragedy. In ultimate terms, we are right to hold on to our final hope. But there is no simple equation even in the light of the throne room of God for the rectification of earthly wrongs or the swift accountability for egregious sins. At Easter, we look to the Cross. And not just at Easter.

I repeat: God is, I believe, indicating to us through the suspension of time in Daniel’s vision that God is willing to act now, to intervene, to change things. God, being transcendent, is outside of time, and not limited by it. Some may say, “Che sarà sarà” (“Whatever will be, will be”) or, in even more current parlance, ‘It is what it is’, and that we will just have to be patient for the final judgement. I think that the whispering of the Spirit is that it ain’t necessarily so at all. Again, I agree with Desmond Tutu: in God’s cosmos, ‘Oppressors must fail.’ That means that we really can seek for an accounting and justice from God that He brings forward towards us from the future. It is not futile to keep records of war crimes in Ukraine, or to work for hearings at the Hague, and to plan for the apprehension of perpetrators long after the events they ordered and carried out. God too has a court, and the books shall be opened. Maybe even sooner than we might expect.

Let’s read on.

11 “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.

13 “I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven
    there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
    and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
    and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
    that shall not be destroyed.

15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me[b] was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me. 16 I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of the things. 17 ‘These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’

19 “Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet, 20 and about the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn that came up and before which three of them fell, the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke great things, and that seemed greater than its companions. 21 As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.

23 “Thus he said: ‘As for the fourth beast,

there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth,
    which shall be different from all the kingdoms,
and it shall devour the whole earth,
    and trample it down, and break it to pieces.
24 As for the ten horns,
out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,
    and another shall arise after them;
he shall be different from the former ones,
    and shall put down three kings.
25 He shall speak words against the Most High,
    and shall wear out the saints of the Most High,
    and shall think to change the times and the law;
and they shall be given into his hand
    for a time, times, and half a time.
26 But the court shall sit in judgment,
    and his dominion shall be taken away,
    to be consumed and destroyed to the end.
27 And the kingdom and the dominion
    and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
    shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;
his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
    and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’[c]

28 “Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my colour changed, but I kept the matter in my heart.”

Daniel chapter 7, ESV

Three things strike me at this time, and perhaps you will see more in the conclusion of the account. God’s answer to the Four Beasts is the coming of one ‘like a Son Of Man.’ The correction of all ills, from the beginning of time with our first parents until the time of the exile, and so on, is, under God, brought together under the mysterious coming of ‘one like…’ You will perhaps know that the heart of the mystery of the salvation of humanity of our sinful state before God is in the person and coming to earth of Christ Jesus, the Messiah of God. He is God made flesh, God with us, God in human form; completely God and completely human, born of woman, conceived by the Spirit, approved by the Father. I don’t pretend to understand this, and nor do I need to. For Daniel, the word ‘like’ was good enough, and it will have to be good enough for all of us. In Christian theology there are many big words and deep concepts that try to encapsulate the Incarnation and the Trinity, but you don’t get to encapsulate God. The clue is in the term, transcendent. Look it up if you need to. And also immanent. Same applies. So Christian theism, properly figured, is neither pantheism nor panentheism. We don’t get to understand, but who wants to? Do we ever fully understand another person? We can get to know God, but when it comes down to it, our best relationship will remain wonderfully out of balance.

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…

Galatians 4:9 ESV

Secondly, we note that the ‘dominion’ which was recovered from the beasts (and was part of the original creation mandate in Genesis 1) is now bestowed on ‘the Son Of Man.’ (v 14) Is this effectively the same thing as the ‘glory’ and ‘kingdom’ that are also spoken of? I imagine so. And everyone is brought within his sphere of influence. Here, with underlining, is God telling us that He hears the prayers of all who cry out that ‘Something must be done!’ This will be the final state of things, and this destiny is secure.

Thirdly, and quite extraordinarily, I think, having bestowed dominion and glory and a kingdom on the One who is presented before the Ancient of Days, the very next thing we are told is that (v27) ‘the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’ A number of interpretations could be given, but I will simply say this here. The scripture is making very plain that it should not be our default position to leave everything up to God. Surely our capacity in this Age to influence the path and destiny of nations is limited, even if we happen to have been voted into high office. I don’t argue for the Church to nurture ambitions of another Christendom or Christian, theocratic government. But collectively, at grassroots level and beyond, we each have an active and agential role to play, in both prayer and service. Perhaps, through teamwork and larger strategic cooperation (including with folk of any or no faith), we can also undertake missions of service in myriad means that exercise benevolent, creative and fruitful dominion in God’s world, doing what Jesus would do, imitating our One Father in heaven. Our work is worship too.

Is the time of judgement that this vision describes yet to come, or has it come? Without getting into minute detail about the translation from Aramaic to English, it is uncontroversial to observe that the picture is constructively ambiguous. (Like Genesis 1-4…) The message is that God’s victory over this wickedness is both ‘now’ (v22) and ‘not yet’ (v26). In v22, the Son of Man ‘came’ (past tense) while in v26, that coming has not yet occurred. This ambiguity is very much what the vision wants to tell us. Daniel might be criticised for not dwelling on the good news of the heavenly vision in vv13-14, but that doesn’t happen. Rather, what seems important to him is resolving what he has seen of the fourth beast, and he is given audience with a messenger of the heavenly court, who gives some reassurance. I say, ‘some’, for it is clearly not final. The vision comes to a close leaving its readers asking the same question in two different ways. How long will the oppression/suffering/violence continue? When will ‘the Son Of Man’ come to bring judgement and put things to rights?

Past the matter of interpreting how Daniel’s vision perhaps reaches as far as the Roman Empire is the question that, if that is correct, then what of the period that follows? It seems best to consider this prophecy to deal with the period up to the coming (presentation) of the Messiah. That is why the Apocalypse of St John says different things, though incorporating many themes and ingredients from the book of Daniel.

What is wrong with the theory that the vision of the court and the judgement only speaks of the final judgement is that it discounts the coming of Christ to our earth in human form. Can we see a suggestion of that in the ‘presenting’ of the one like a son of man, yet he is not said to come to sit down as the judgment is begun. Another sense of ‘now but not yet.’

Yet before He finally sits, the books are opened.

May God hear our petitions to bring many judgements: rescue, relief, escape and safety, arming and deliverance, successful negotiations for peace, the suppression of pride and a great turning away from violence.

What should we now say in view of the events in Ukraine? At the conclusion of his dream-vision, Daniel does not specifically say that he ‘woke up’, but he is quite clearly deeply affected by what he has seen- the shock of the implications of four iterations of oppressive and godless leadership. “As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my colour changed, but I kept the matter in my heart.” In some way he has been given a snapshot overview of significant episodes in history under God’s heaven, a sense of God’s sovereign position and intention to overrule, and yet also the need to come to terms with the fact that things are going to get worse, not better, because the judgement, though it is certainly coming, is still afar off. There will be conflict between earthly kings and heavenly intentions, Daniel is told. Amongst others, the saints of God will pay a great price, in life and blood for many. Yet in the end, as we keep reading, Daniel returns to prayer, and in chapter 9 he joins Moses and David and Nehemiah and others who do significant intercessory business with God on behalf of others.

1. This child went out with his parent and was photographed cuddling an empty Smerch MLRS cluster weapon casing. I wonder what his mother said when they showed her this photograph. 2. Destroyed Russian BM-21 Grad MLRS 23 3 22 3. A railway station in Poland where a line of child buggies is left ready for arriving refugees.5 3 22 4. Captured MSTA-S howitzer at Trostyanets, Sumy Oblast. 26 3 22

As we have joined many millions who have prayed earnestly over the conflict in Ukraine, we have seen some news that encourages us. Putin’s armies are proving to be much less effective that he imagined. Russia is not so much of a superpower after all, its dominion is being undermined. Putin’s regime is being significantly denuded of connections, cash, commerce and its toy yachts at foreign berths. The Ukrainian forces are proving more agile, courageous and effective, partly because of the arms their new found friends are providing. We were told that society is falling apart and that no-one cares about anyone else any more. It turns out that there is a great deal more kindness for strangers than was suggested.

Left ISOW 4 4 22 liberated villages and towns. Right Redeployment by Russian forces

As of the 4th April, for us in the UK the horrors of this unjust war have been transformed from imagined to very literal. Metaphorical stamping of iron feet has given way to actual video footage of BBC correspondents walking down a couple of village streets packed with the debris of war. Depending on where and when you source your viewing, the corpses lying as the folk fell in the road may or may not be pixelated out on your screen, as you hear journalist Jeremy Bowen giving his mostly dispassionate account of murders and rapes. At the moment, these are numbered in the tens and twenties- horrific, but still on a scale that we might grasp.

Russian Kalibr Cruise missiles launched from a ship on the Black Sea on 26 3 22, fired at Lviv or Odessa.

But this war is not at all at a scale that we can or should at all be expected to grasp. In the earlier days there was video of tank columns under fire, soldiers toting weapons, men digging a trench, and the drone footage, which gives a higher vantage point than we saw in the grainy films from ‘The World at War.’ Before TV film crews were admitted to Bucha and Borodyanka, what we saw were images of multiple cruise missile firings, as huge payloads of explosives were sent on precision journeys of hundreds of kilometers, falling suddenly from the sky to cause immense damage and often death. But these are all tiny snapshots of a larger and more horrific reality that is yet unrealised. Most of us alive today only know of large wars by education, not experience, but this is something else. Rather as Daniel says of the fourth beast he saw, it was different to all the beasts that were before it.

The destruction caused by the missiles launched in the Black sea at oil tanks at Odessa on the morning of Sunday April 3rd.

How do the visions of Daniel 7 and beyond assist us as we attempt to process what is happening in God’s world? I am suggesting that the whole of Daniel’s dream offers us an holistic worldview that will equip us in this regard. On the one hand is the overview of history that Daniel (and therefore the reader) is in the middle of. Great injustices have been done in the past, some at the behest of rulers we can name, others lost in the mists of time. In this world of freedom and sin, further ghastliness will be done, and the narrative is that things will get worse before they get better. In Daniel, the focus is on the people of God, His ‘saints’, but I see no reason to exclude anyone in this commentary. Persecution comes particularly to those who resist, and less so to those who acquiesce, but oppression is still oppression, and some of it is deadly, whoever you are.

And on the other hand, there is a High Court that will meet, a timeless reality that has been and will be and must be manifest in time, in our time, as well as at the End of All Things. This court will be convened through God’s freedom, properly and according to His will. Final justice can only be measured and meted out from the highest and widest perspective, once all the facts are established and all wisdom can be exercised. Who is fit for such a task? The Ancient of Days. There must be a competent advocate for both sides in this prosecution, a One capable of empathy and a full grasp of what is at stake on both sides, and especially on the side of justice and righteousness. Who is fit for such a task? The One like a Son of Man. Now the court session can begin, and the Books will be opened. Only after this, but certainly, ‘All will be well.’ (Julian of Norwich, 1343-1413+)

These two are sides of the same coin, necessary ingredients both in the functional worldview of Daniel. And he himself is also crucial in the functioning of this stereo view of reality in toto. The view of the moral chaos on earth and the view of order and justice in heaven cannot be integrated- at least, not yet. Is it good enough that God is seen to be God in heaven but not on earth? Daniel says ‘No’. The vision of heavenly order is not enough for him. He is down here, and he is disturbed, and he complains. He energetically searches for explanation, and he is heard! On behalf of all who cry out, Daniel protests. Heaven listens. He does not get a complete answer- a messenger intermediary is sent to speak with him- but at least he gets an audience. It is Daniel and his God-given agency that make this happen. I have suggested that while the prophesied course of history is not interrupted, the coming presence of both the Son of Man and the prophetic intercession of the Man of God has meant, does mean, and will mean that God Presences Himself in present history with us, before the End, as well as at the End. The cosmos groans, and some pains may yet be alleviated.

There is, I believe, a further spectacular emphasis that should encourage us further as we study with Daniel. Following the opening six chapters, in which Daniel’s personal dealings with four rulers are described, there are five chapters of apocalyptic prophecy. Now is it surprising to you that the heavenly vision is not to be found at the end of this section, but rather, it comes at the beginning, in what we know as chapter 7. There is nothing comparable in the next four chapters, which all concern events ‘down here’ as it were. For me, this serves to emphasise the suggestion I made earlier, that there is a shortcutting of time, as we know it, in the prophetic life of Daniel as it is accounted to us. In the heavenly vision we are given a ‘fast forward’ preview, a flash forward, but also a conduit into a downpayment on the final justice of God. Or in the modern parlance of cosmology, a wormhole into God’s future, the New Creation, in which the very good can come about rather sooner than we expect. This is not a time tunnel of escape, but a supply line to draw back God’s provision from the not yet to the now.

Ukraine-Russia border, east of Mariupol. Prewar view from Google Maps. What is striking about this overview is that everything is the same on both sides of the borderline. Huge rectilinear fields divide the fertile landscape both left and right of what is presumably a flimsy fence, crossed by local roads with minimal checkpoints, running down a winding valley and across an open plateau to the sea of Azov. All the landscape is green, where good things grow, save only where the plough has just turned the soil one more time. Yet right here a horrific squabble has been unleashed.

What is this war for? My newspaper is filling up with wise heads opining on the inner workings of Putin’s mind, enquiring into the deeper and darker recesses of his motivations. Putin would be a new Tsar of the Russian Federation, the saviour of all Slavs of Ukraine and Russia, the power broker of a new Rus, a Russian Orthodox Christian (!!!) , a leader of one of the world’s nuclear and space powers. He says that his special military operation is not a war, but ‘noble and pure’. He does not say that he wants to own the breadbasket of Europe, along with its coal and titanium ores and access to the warm waters of the Black Sea with its channel to the Mediterranean and all the world, which is apparently the mistaken view of blinkered Western humanists who don’t understand him or Russia. However, it is clear enough that just denying that you are a war criminal does not stop you being one.

Drone footage over Mariupol 23 03 2022

I am not writing here in any particular attempt to enlighten you about politics or to add needless weight to the burden of the daily reports of disaster in Ukraine. But I learn from Daniel’s account that there is an imperative to look, and keep looking. To see in full, and to write down and tell the whole of the matter. The saints of God will be assailed, along with others, by the tribulations now and that may yet come, but while there may be many kinds of martyrs, in God’s cosmos, all loses need not be futile, and each one may be surprised to find that they are equal to the task. War crimes are being documented, and the books of the heavenly court are being written. And present history is not, I am coming to believe, closed to heavenly intervention. While the acts of egregious evil are being done in plain sight, the acts of the life of faith may be effective through their subtlety. How many times do we read in the life of Jesus that he waited for the right time? In the Spirit of God we can find we are led to the right place at the right time for the best opportunity to show mercy and to do good.

During and after. The Mykolaiv mayor slept in that morning, so he wasn’t in his office when the missile strike happened. Nevertheless, at least 20 people were killed by this blast. 29 3 22 For those seeking to rescue their loved ones, it may be simply to seek God’s blessing on their perseverance.

Daniel’s vision comes from the Spirit of God. Despite the allusion, we should not take the image of the four winds over the waters in Dan 7 as an admission that God raised up the four kings by design. Rather, these are the winds of change, a symbol of the stuff that happens at all points of the compass in the world of sinful men that is God’s world, pressed into injustice by our collective moulding. There are no devils in this passage- not anywhere- any such talk is delayed until later in the book of Daniel. No, before the great tribulations that were to come after the exile in Babylon, and yet to come in our Age, God says that He sees how some men have unmade what He made to be good. God sees the kings and kingdoms and dominions in all of human time, and some are indeed terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong, with great iron teeth that devour and break in pieces and stamp what is left with their feet.

The new technologies of chemistry and electronics have made life and the destruction of life possible out of all proportion to what has gone before. It is now estimated that some 75 000 people, a portion though not all of the inhabitants of Judah at the time, were captured and carried away into exile in Babylon. Undoubtedly this was a great misfortune, yet the scale of disasters that Daniel 7-12 go on to describe would only feature as episodes in the account of the last 150 years. Of course, there is no valid arithmetic to add up and then rank suffering. The cold books of history tell us that ‘an estimated total of 70–85 million people perished, or about 3% of the 2.3 billion (est.) people on Earth in 1940. Deaths directly caused by the war (including military and civilian fatalities) are estimated at 50–56 million, with an additional estimated 19–28 million deaths from war-related disease and famine.’ Only a small proportion of Ukraine’s population of 44.13 million were in uniform in February 2022, but it quickly became evident that Putin’s words and Putin’s deeds were far removed from each other, and so huge numbers of civilians began to move, with the total leaving the country reaching a million in the first week. That rate is equivalent to the Israelite exile to Babylon taking just 12 hours. It turns out that whatever electronic warfare is now being deployed by Russia is mostly only enhancing their killing of non-combatant civilians, rather than limiting the impact on active fighters, which was the theoretical supposition. There have been times when we have been surprised by just how much we have been told about what has taken place within Ukraine, as some reports would be rather useful to Putin’s assistants. It seems that lessons have been learned in this regard. But remote sensing and satellite imagery still gives us a heaven’s eye view of certain significant facts. We can easily see the tents where Ukrainian persons have been taken by Russian forces from besieged cities like Mariupol, before they are apparently taken far away to the east of Russia. This corroborates reports of the forcible adoption of thousands of children ‘rescued’ from the war zone. MAXAR have also released time stamped images of towns and villages while under Russian occupation which refutes the claims from Putin’s regime that allegations of war crimes are fake news, merely NATO propaganda. As we know, Russian TV is now a single horn speaking only the great things that Putin has scripted, even as the pace of military funerals increases at home.

L. MAXAR satellite image of Bezimenne refugee camp east of Mariupol. The building with the red roof is clearly visible in current Google maps imagery- a municipal building on the main street through this small town. 27 3 22 R. Newly released satellite image of Bucha before Russian forces left.

Some have chosen to create the world with tanks and guided missiles and state propaganda, and we all live in it together, invested to some degree or another in the ongoing collective decisions. It turns out that some guided missiles make for rather effective defence. It also turns out that space technology and electronics can become the iron teeth of justice against oppressors.

Meanwhile, since Putin invaded in winter, we’ve quickly forgotten that the world was on fire last year and we were supposed to reducing our usage of fossil fuels as fast as possible to meet the Paris COP2015 target of no more than 1.5 degrees of warming.

L. BBC News. Praying Ukrainian with icon 6 3 22. R. Charlie Mackesy cartoon for the occasion.

You will not be expecting a particularly comforting conclusion to this reflection, but I close now with these remarks. It has been striking that ‘God talk’ has broken out on our TV screens. It is perhaps easy for our secularise media channels to broadcast images of ruined Orthodox church buildings, or to tell the stories of martyrs in the cause for peace when their photographs show them in strange robes. Did their strange God help them? Apparently not. It is less easy to dismiss the live testimonies of refugees who look very much like us and who can’t help telling journalists that they are very specifically grateful to God for their escape, despite the loss of their possessions and livelihoods. I wonder how much more we will hear from devout Ukrainians and their impacts in the places near to us where they recover their lives. Let us continue to pray for the success of large scale evacuations of civilians along agreed humanitarian corridors (see 5:07) This seems to be an ongoing need, along with the delivery of substantial quantities of aid. And what of the welcome we give to the refugees who arrive on our shores, after our governments have sorted out their paperwork and made proper checks on volunteers for safeguarding purposes? If God puts it in our hearts to pray at the scale of Daniel and the like, then so be it. In any case, it will be our responses at a human and personal level that will matter to those we meet, and will go on shaping our becoming as communities in the world as we now find it. The new US President was criticised for his unapproved remarks in Warsaw, Poland just a few days ago (26th March). “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power, ” he closed after reading his script from autocue. Joe Biden did not recant, and after the accumulating and corroborated evidence from Bucha (see 12:52)of the murder and abuse of civilians, he claims vindication. {We note the brazen denials from Russia’s spokesman (see 9:30)} Our Catholic brother did indeed stick his neck out in making a challenge that should be understood as an appeal for regime change. I cannot say if the way this was done was politically wise, but it does speak to me of the message of Daniel, where the prophet of God struggles with his whole being to reconcile the freedom of despotic regimes in this world (who may well have popular support) with the justice of God in heaven above.

On April 12th, the US embassy in Kyiv tweeted this very forthright statement: “After each death of a child – mother, father, family, lives are changed forever. Each assassination was committed by a Russian soldier, commander and Vladimir Putin, whose crimes will not be forgotten.” I think that in his Warsaw speech, President Biden did what Daniel did, which was to reach out further than this humanistic statement, to seek a bridge for peace and justice between earth and heaven. We should not be surprised if some disapprove.

In Constantinople, or Istanbul, if you prefer, is a great building that was put up (around 537AD) as a Christian cathedral, was then repurposed as a mosque, then became a non-religious museum for 85 years, and has just become a mosque again in 2020. Its four lives have so far mostly survived numerous earthquakes, though quite a lot of its art has been taken to exile in distant places. One of its internal doorways is the Imperial Gate, a massive orifice through which only the emperor and his retinue were once allowed to pass, and sometime in the 9th-10th C AD a grand mosaic was added to the archway above it. I feel that Daniel would approve, as we see Christ, the Son of Man, now seated on his cosmic throne. As the great man walked though, he might have looked up to see his forerunner (Leo or Constantine?) kneeling in worship before Christ Pantocrator, Almighty Ruler of the cosmos. On our right is Gabriel, the angel who interprets Daniel’s later visions, though he is not named as such in chapter 7.

Caption from Wikipedia: The Imperial Gate mosaic is located in the tympanum above that gate, which was used only by the emperors when entering the church. Based on style analysis, it has been dated to the late 9th or early 10th century. The emperor with a nimbus or halo could possibly represent emperor Leo VI the Wise or his son Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus bowing down before Christ Pantocrator, seated on a jewelled throne, giving his blessing and holding in his left hand an open book.[253] The text on the book reads: “Peace be with you” (John 20:1920:26) and “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). On each side of Christ’s shoulders is a circular medallion with busts: on his left the Archangel Gabriel, holding a staff, on his right his mother Mary.[254]

Let’s turn finally from Daniel to St Paul, and his instructions to the young leader Timothy. God will certainly hear us as we pray robustly in this encouragement: 1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the mana Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Ti 2:1-7 ESV)

“Jesus answered with these words, saying: ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'”

Testimony from visions of Julian of Norwich. 13th chapter of ‘Showings’ 1373

(c) 2022 Stephen Thompson

Published by Stephen Thompson

Thinking inside the box is to be recommended for many reasons. I am creating this blog in May 2020 as we are encouraged to stay inside our boxes as far as possible, though we are allowed out- encouraged out, indeed- for exercise. By blogging, our thinking can also be allowed out for public exercise. Right now we need new thinking, new exercising of our mental faculties, and collective application of our thinking to the big idea of a healthy collective future. I am trialling my thinking in constructive theology, science and leadership in the light of my experience as a science teacher, theological student and as a representative of the Christian community in the county of Kent, in the UK. I welcome your partnership!

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