Saturday of Week 34 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Daniel 7:15-27

Our last reading from the book of Daniel is an interpretation of the vision that we read yesterday. Daniel says that he is deeply troubled and alarmed by the visions he has had of the four beasts and the “human being” (also translated as ‘son of man’). So he “approached one of the attendants” for an explanation. “One of the attendants” must refer to one of the thousands of angels serving at the throne of the “Ancient One”.

Daniel then receives an explanation of what he has seen. The four beasts represent four kings who will emerge. But those who receive real power are the “holy ones of the Most High”, namely, God’s holy people. It is they who will receive true kingship, which will last forever.

Daniel then asks about the fourth beast, who is different from all the others with iron teeth and bronze claws, and who ate its victims before crushing them and trampling on their remains. In yesterday’s reading we saw that this fourth beast represented the kingdom of Macedonia with King Philip, followed by his famous son, Alexander the Great, who swept away all before him and reached as far as India with his armies.

Daniel also asks about the ten horns on the fourth beast’s head, which we saw represented the 10 kingdoms which emerged after Alexander’s death, and also about the extra horn which sprouted and displaced three of the original horns. This extra horn we saw represents the Seleucid King Antiochus IV, who wiped out his rivals on the way to power.

Daniel asks why this horn has eyes and a mouth full of arrogance and looks more impressive than its counterparts. This is the horn which is making war on the “holy ones”, in other words, the Jewish people. He is proving to be the stronger until the Ancient One comes and passes judgement in favour of the “holy ones”, when the time comes for them to assume kingship.

In response to Daniel’s questions the angel (in the name of God) replies:

As for the fourth beast,
there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth
that shall be different from all the other kingdoms;
it shall devour the whole earth
and trample it down and break it to pieces.

Compared to the other dynasties, the short reign of Alexander was extraordinary (he died in his 30s) in conquering territories from Macedonia to Egypt, from Syria to India.

As already explained, the ten horns are the ten kingdoms which emerged (not necessarily at the same time) after the death of Alexander when the territories he conquered were divided among his leading generals. But, after them, comes another, who is different from them, and who seizes power by ousting three other claimants to the throne. This, of course, is Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the scourge of the Jews, and who is the real focus of interest in all these stories in Daniel. He is the king we saw last week in the readings from Maccabees.

He shall speak words against the Most High,
shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High…

He is the one who planned to “attempt to change the ritual calendar and the law”. In other words, he tried to ban the Jewish Sabbath and feast-days and to get Jews to abandon the Law and follow the king’s hellenising policies, which they regarded as idolatrous.

And so, says the angel to Daniel:

The holy ones of the Most High…shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time.

This strange expression is not as obscure as it sounds. The word ‘time’ here represents one year. Hence, when added up, we get three and a half years, which corresponds to the length of the persecution the Jews experienced under Antiochus. As ‘seven’ is a perfect number in Scripture, half of that implies great imperfection. The book of Revelation calculates the same period as 42 months of 30 days each, totalling 1,260 days (Rev 11:2-3). However, in Revelation it is persecution in the Roman Empire which is being spoken about. In all these texts, as throughout Daniel, the figure stands for a period of distress allowed by God for a limited time after which there will be relief for the faithful.

Finally, comes the message of hope:

Then the court shall sit in judgment,
and his dominion shall be taken away,
to be consumed and totally destroyed.

This is the court mentioned yesterday over which the Ancient One presides in majesty. Then he, that is, Antiochus, will be stripped of his royal authority and reduced to nothing.

Then the:

kingship and dominion
and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High;
their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey them.

Considering that these words were written in the midst of persecution and before the successful revolt of the Maccabees, they represent a great spirit of hope and confidence in the outcome and in God’s protection. Nor were they to be disappointed. Antiochus did indeed fall.

Later Jesus will come and inaugurate the Kingdom which begins with him and will last forever. This is a Kingdom of which we, too, sincerely hope to be a part. This messianic vision was one which the author never saw or realised himself. We now have our Messiah-King in Jesus Christ. He is the “Son of Man” who now sits at the right hand of the “Ancient One”, the Father. And, as the reading predicts, we share in Christ’s kingship. Through our baptism we become, with Christ and in Christ, priest, prophet and king.

They are three titles which we must take seriously and which we must realise are to become active in the lives of every single Christian. Because, as has been said here more than once before, the guarantee of our future is how we perform in the present, how we respond to the call of our King. And that is the principal lesson as we arrive at this, the end of our liturgical year.

So it is on that confident note of hope and expectancy, which we know to have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus, that we come to the end of our Scripture readings for the year.
*Parenthetically, the Aramaic version of the book ends here. The remainder of the book from chapter 8 to the end was written in Greek.

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