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 ‘son of man’. So he approaches “one of those standing by” for an explanation. One of those standing by 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 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:
The fourth beast is the fourth dynasty and different from all the others. It will devour the whole world, trample it underfoot and crush it. 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 will insult the Most High and torment the holy ones of the Most High.” He is the one who planned to “alter the seasons 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 Saints will be handed over to him 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 or 30 days each, totally 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. “The court will sit” – that 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 rule and the splendours of all the kingdoms under heaven” will be given to the “holy ones” of the Most High. His power is eternal and one which every other empire must serve and obey.
(Incidentally, the Aramaic version of the book ends here; from chapter 8 to the end was written in Greek.)
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 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 the end of this liturgical year.
And, 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 this year.

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