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"Heavenly Conflict part I"


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Read: Daniel 10:1-21 Daniel 10:1-21 (ESV)  

In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had understanding of the vision. 2In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks.  3I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.  4On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river ( that is, the Tigris)  5I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist.  6His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude.  7And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision, but a great trembling fell upon them, and they fled to hide themselves.  8So I was left alone and saw this great vision, and no strength was left in me. My radiant appearance was fearfully changed, and I retained no strength.  9Then I heard the sound of his words, and as I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in deep sleep with my face to the ground. 10And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees.  11And he said to me, "O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you." And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling.  12Then he said to me, "Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.  13The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia,  14and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come." 15When he had spoken to me according to these words, I turned my face toward the ground and was mute.  16And behold, one in the likeness of the children of man touched my lips. Then I opened my mouth and spoke. I said to him who stood before me, "O my lord, by reason of the vision pains have come upon me, and I retain no strength.  17How can my lord's servant talk with my lord? For now no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me." 18Again one having the appearance of a man touched me and strengthened me.  19And he said, "O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage." And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, "Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me."  20Then he said, "Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the prince of Greece will come.  21But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince.


This week, we return to our study of the Old Testament book of Daniel where we left off last February.  Because many weren’t here when we started this series and because if you’re like me, you need to be reminded of things you heard nine months ago, this morning we want to reintroduce this powerful Old Testament book.  If you want to see where we have been up to this point in Daniel, all the previous sermon manuscripts are available online at the address listed on the “Sermon Notes” page of the bulletin.  Daniel is a post-exilic prophet.  By that I mean that most of the events in the book occur after God had by exile removed his people, the Jews from the Promised Land.  He had promised them through Moses that if they broke his covenant with them, he would bring the curses of the covenant upon them and the most severe curse was exile from the Promised Land.  God had warned his people through the prophet Jeremiah and others that he would carry out this covenant curse and use Babylon to remove the Jews from their land, but they refused to repent of their idolatry.  Therefore, God conquered them through the newly anointed Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and deported them out of his land. 

The story of Daniel begins, according to the first verse in the book in “…the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim.”  Jehoiakim was the king of Judah during the exile and we know from other historical events that his third year would have been 606 years before Christ.  That was the year King Nebuchadnezzar, who had recently conquered the mighty Assyrian empire, then moved to further expand his kingdom by attacking the capital of Israel, Jerusalem. This was the first of three assaults against Israel by Babylon with the final attack coming in 586 when the Babylonian army destroyed the temple and deported most of the remaining Jews to Babylon. 

Daniel was a gifted and highly educated young Jew in Israel and was probably a teenager when the Babylonian king made his first assault on Jerusalem.  After his initial conquest of the Jews, Nebuchadnezzar deported the first wave of Jews to Babylon.  This was a small group who were chosen because they were very gifted and highly educated Jews and could be of immediate service to the Babylonian king.  Among those taken in this first wave of deportation were Daniel and a few other highly gifted, well educated Jews.  Daniel lived out the rest of his life in exile.  In Babylon, he received the best education possible in the Ancient Near east and soon rose to become one of the King’s most trusted advisors.  His influence within pagan governments continued for about the next 75 years.  Daniel served Nebuchadnezzar and probably four or five other Babylonian kings until the great Babylonian empire fell to the Persians in 539 BC, 67 years after he had initially been taken to Babylon.  Upon conquering Babylon, the Persian king Cyrus also recognized in Daniel great gifts and aptitude and Daniel, in his mid 80’s, was given a position of influence in the new Persian government.  That is where Daniel fits into the Ancient Near Eastern political scene.

More important than his political influence was his profound spiritual influence for the God of Israel during his time in exile with his fellow Jews.  Though he had been educated in Babylonian religion, he maintained a strict allegiance to Yahweh that on several occasions brought upon him great persecution.  Had it not been for the repeated, miraculous intervention of the God of Israel, Daniel would not have survived.  The main theme of the book of Daniel is the unchanging, sovereign power and control of God even in the midst of the exile of his people.  Though he judged his people for their decadent and idolatrous sin by sending them into exile, he did not stop exerting his gracious, sovereign control over their lives.  In fact, the book of Daniel reveals that God accompanied his people in the midst of their exile and captivity.  He repeatedly shows the pagan authorities that it was he, not their false gods who ruled the world.

In the first six chapters of this book, we see four separate instances where the pagan foreign kings, upon seeing the mighty works of God through Daniel his prophet, give eloquent praise to the God of the Jews.  As we read these God-centered, theologically profound tributes to the God of Israel, remember—these were proclaimed by idol-worshipping pagans.  In chapter two, after all the Babylonian wise men had failed, Daniel successfully interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that prophetically predicted approximately the next 700 years of Ancient Near Eastern political history.  In response to this miraculous revelation from God through Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar says in 2:47, “…Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery." 

In chapter four, when God delivers Daniel and his Hebrew friends from the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar says of the God of Israel, “How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders!  His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.”  Later in chapter four, after God delivers Nebuchadnezzar from seven years of insanity, the king responds with an amazing testimony of God’s sovereign power.  In verse 34 he says, “…my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;  35all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"

          Finally, to show that Nebuchadnezzar was not the only pagan king God could amaze, in chapter six, after God miraculously delivers Daniel (this now approximately 90 year old man) from the lion’s den, the Persian King Darius proclaims, “I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever;  his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. 27He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions."  These are astonishing tributes from the mouths of pagan kings.  In the first six chapters of Daniel we are treated to these riveting, God-exalting stories of God’s sovereign reign throughout the pagan world as we see him repeatedly work through this devout and godly man, Daniel.

Beginning with chapter seven however, Daniel’s style of writing changes dramatically.  There we move from what has predominantly been a series of historical narratives, to a series of apocalyptic visions.  The real life, historical figures of chapters one through six are now replaced by graphic, symbolic images. Aggressive and warlike lions and leopards with wings, beasts with iron-like teeth and variously sized horns, rams and goats are all graphically pictured in spectacular and highly symbolic visions given to Daniel. The rules of interpretation for these apocalyptic images in the last six chapters are different than the rules for interpreting the first six chapters of historical narrative.  We will not re-define those rules and my approach to apocalyptic literature here, but on the Welcome Center are manuscripts from a message I gave several months ago.  There I explained what is to me the most sane and profitable way to understand these vivid apocalyptic images that occur here in Daniel as well as Ezekiel and the book of the Revelation.  Though the style of writing has changed in the second half of the book, the main theme of the book does not waver.  That is—in the midst of a world that seems to be spinning out of control on a personal and even global level, God is unchanging in his sovereign rule over history—all rulers, all dominions, all of history—past, present and future.  That is the enduring message of Daniel and that is important to remember as we study this second half of the book.

          Last time, we left off with the so called “70 weeks” prophecy of Daniel in chapter nine.  This week, we come to chapter 10 we read earlier.  This entire chapter serves as an introduction to this last major section of the book.  The centerpiece of this section is the final apocalyptic vision in chapter 11.  Chapter 12 is basically an epilogue to that vision.  This is the longest vision in the book of Daniel and that tells us that it conveys a very important message.  Today, we will not treat all of chapter 10, but will stay mostly to the opening three verses.  Let’s read those verses again.  Daniel writes, “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had understanding of the vision. 2In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks.  3I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.”  We know this is the beginning of a new section of the book because the author refocuses our frame of reference by citing the date in verse one.

          This date may sound familiar to you if you are familiar with the book of Ezra.  That book opens with this date, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:” This was two years before this final vision of Daniel.  What the Lord had stirred the spirit of King Cyrus to do was to begin to allow the Jews to leave Persia and return to their homeland precisely 70 years after they had been exiled.  This 70-year period was prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah as the time God had determined to exile the Jews for their serial idolatry.  Daniel’s final vision occurs two years after the first wave of Jews were allowed to return to Israel, mostly to Jerusalem. 

          These opening verses testify to both the truthfulness of what will follow and the contents of the vision he will relate.  Daniel writes in verse one, “And the word was true, and it was a great conflict.”  Daniel attests to the truthfulness of this vision.  That is—this was from God—this was not some sort of hallucination.  This is divinely revealed truth about the future.  As with some of the other visions, this one pictures a great conflict.  It symbolically portrays a series of great and future military conflicts between warring nations. In verse three, Daniel tells us that prior to receiving this vision; he was in an intensely troubled state about something, perhaps several things.  We see this in a few ways.  First, he says in verse two, “I Daniel, was mourning for three weeks.”

           The word for “mourning” is a strong one in the original.  Daniel uses the same word Nehemiah will later use to describe his mourning over hearing that the walls of Jerusalem were still in ruins years after the Jews had returned to Jerusalem.  In 1:4 Nehemiah says, “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”   This is an intense period of mourning and prayer.  We know he was praying because an angel says to Daniel in verse 12, “…I have come because of your words.”  He came in response to Daniel’s prayers.  So this is a time of deep mourning and anguished prayer for Daniel.  We also see that in his three week fast.  This is not a total fast but it was a fairly restrictive diet for a person who had daily access to the best buffet line in the Persian Empire.  He says, “I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth.”  During these three weeks, Daniel lived on vegetables and water and that is especially noteworthy when you consider the time of year he was fasting.  It says in verse four, the vision came to him on the banks of the Tigris River on the “twenty-fourth day of the first month.”  According to the Hebrew calendar, that means Daniel was fasting during both the feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread.  These were times of great joy and celebration, but Daniel was so burdened to seek God, rather than celebrating during these two holy days, he was in mourning.

          Finally, we see that Daniel “did not anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.”  It was common for both men and women of any standing to rub olive oil on their faces.  This was a convention of the culture and was the rough equivalent to a man combing his hair.  It was something you did every day…unless you were in a time of mourning.  All that adds up the fact that something was deeply troubling Daniel.  Although the text doesn’t say what the specific sources of Daniel’s grief was, we can make two fairly safe assumptions.  First, remember the history of the Jews return to Israel from Persia.  You’ll recall that the first group of exiles made a fine start, but soon ran into discouragement back home.  We know from Ezra chapters three and four that work on the temple back in Jerusalem had been met with foreign opposition.  The pagan neighbors hated the idea of the Jews building a temple to their God and they tried and eventually succeeded in halting its construction for several years.  It’s probable that a well connected man like Daniel would have heard of these discouraging developments and that probably at least in part accounted for his mourning.

          Second and perhaps related to this is what we know from verse 12.  That is, that Daniel had been, “set[ting] his heart to understand and humbled himself before your God.”  This 85 year-old man was intensely seeking to understand something and he was humbling himself before God in prayer.  He may have been seeking to understand what had been happening in Jerusalem.  We know from verse 14 the vision he received was sent by God via angelic messenger “…to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days.”  Daniel had been praying and asking God about the future of God’s people.  We don’t know if he was specifically asking about the distant future of Israel, but as God’s prophet he was seeking to know what the future held for Israel in the midst of these discouraging developments two years after the Jews had begun to return to their homeland.

          With that as introduction, I want to close with one point of application from these opening three verses of Daniel 10.  That is, we learn from Daniel’s example here in prayer that: If we are to rightly understand God’s plan for our lives, we must passionately seek after him.  By and large, most professed believers in the prosperous and fast-paced west do not know how to really seek after God in a Biblical sense.  We live in a microwaving, drive-through, fast food culture where the priority on most everything is expediency. We can have overnight delivery on our packages, eyeglasses in about an hour, instant digital photographs and nearly instant access to incalculable amounts of information on the internet.  The number of things you have to patiently wait for and intensely labor for in our culture is rapidly decreasing and if the way we relate to God has been strongly influenced by that dynamic, we will never grow into maturity.  Today, we are encouraged to spend just ten minutes a day in Bible study. The idea of meditating over and carefully studying the Scriptures has been replaced by taking your daily Bible pill.  It IS better than nothing, but it will not bring you intimacy with God—you will not come to know him very well.

          We are deceived if we think that because our insanely busy culture seeks to conform us into having a drive-through devotional life, that therefore God will accommodate to that sick culture and grow mature saints within it.  He won’t.  He does not change his ways of making holy men and women on the basis of the demands of the fallen culture.  Daniel sought to understand God’s plan for his and his fellow Jews’ lives and he prayed and fasted for 24 days.  He was impassioned and persistent.  He persevered.  He endured.  He pressed into God.  He wrestled with him. Whether or not you believe God still gives visions to people today, we can all agree that the best way for us to understand God’s will is to study the Book.  How many of us pursue God through his word with this Daniel-like intensity?

          Martin Luther sought to understand the gospel and rescue it from the church which had tragically abandoned it.  He writes of his study of Romans, of wrestling with God to retrieve the true gospel of grace and says, “I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners and secretly…I was angry with God… I raged with a fierce and trouble conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wantedAt last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I began to understand the righteousness of God is…a gift of God, namely by faith.”  Later he writes of another struggle to uncover Biblical truth.  John Piper records that struggle and says, “In the summer and fall of 1526 Luther took up the challenge to lecture on Ecclesiastes to the small band of students who stayed behind in Wittenberg during the plague.”Solomon the preacher," he wrote to a friend, "is giving me a hard time, as though he begrudged anyone lecturing on him. But he must yield…"

We must know that God’s truth in the Bible and God’s will for our lives is sometimes only discovered as we beat and beat and beat upon the book and beat and beat and beat upon the doors of heaven’s throne room through prayer. John Knox cried out, “Give me Scotland or I die.”  What do we know about that kind of intense praying?  Not all of us are Bible teachers and none of us are Reformers like Luther or Knox, but we are all called to seek after God with all our hearts. Proverbs 8:17 says, I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.”  We must diligently seek after God—purposefully, methodically, ardently.  As Piper reminds us, we are digging; not raking and we are seeking diamonds, not leaves.  God is even more explicit through Jeremiah.  He says in 29:13, “You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart,” Do you know what that looks like?  It looks like Daniel chapter 10!  It may mean three weeks of fasting and praying.  For Jacob it meant wrestling with an angel for an entire night.  When we want God to reveal himself to us in a new way, its not like getting pop from a vending machine.  It’s not putting in a request and waiting for the immediate release of the product.  It often means persistently laboring in study and prayer. God’s will is often revealed only as we expend ourselves through what seems to our lazy souls like a grossly unreasonable amount of effort. Intensely labor in prayer for a spiritual break through from God.  Labor in prayer for your kids’ salvation.  Labor in prayer and study for God to soften your hard heart and make your blind eyes see. 

Immediately following the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11, notice how Jesus applies that famous teaching on prayer beginning with verse five.  He says, “And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves,  6for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him';  7and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'?  8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence [persistence] he will rise and give him whatever he needs.  9And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”  Literally those verbs are “keep asking,” “keep seeking,” “keep knocking”—it’s a continuous action is implied.

God will simply not reveal himself to the mildly curious.  He will not intimately relate to those who casually seek him in their spare time.  It’s so easy for us to pray for a few days about something and then give up.  We forget that prayer and fruit-producing Bible study is hard work and we forget that it’s worth it because we get to know the God of the universe through it.  In the midst of a fast-food culture, there remains an “all your heart” quality to authentic Christianity.  We must not allow our godless culture that worships expediency to conform us to a superficial, drive-through devotional life that has become the norm for so many professed believers.  Heaven broke open for Daniel because he persisted—he was impassioned in his pursuit of God and his truth. May God give all of us grace to follow Daniel’s example and passionately seek after God knowing that he will honor that impassioned pursuit for his glory and our joy.


Page last modified on 11/18/2007

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