The Beasts That Rear Their Heads

This is the transcript for my Going Deeper daily devotion for today (with an additional bit I had to cut out for time!) If you want to see the video, it can be found here.

Daniel’s Vision of the Four Beasts

In the first year that Belshazzar was king of Babylonia, I had a dream and saw a vision in the night. I wrote the dream down, and this is the record of what I saw that night:

Winds were blowing from all directions and lashing the surface of the ocean. Four huge beasts came up out of the ocean, each one different from the others. The first one looked like a lion, but had wings like an eagle. While I was watching, the wings were torn off. The beast was lifted up and made to stand up straight. And then a human mind was given to it.

The second beast looked like a bear standing on its hind legs. It was holding three ribs between its teeth, and a voice said to it, “Go on, eat as much meat as you can!”

While I was watching, another beast appeared. It looked like a leopard, but on its back there were four wings, like the wings of a bird, and it had four heads. It had a look of authority about it.

As I was watching, a fourth beast appeared. It was powerful, horrible, terrifying. With its huge iron teeth it crushed its victims, and then it trampled on them. Unlike the other beasts, it had ten horns. While I was staring at the horns, I saw a little horn coming up among the others. It tore out three of the horns that were already there. This horn had human eyes and a mouth that was boasting proudly.

The Vision of the One Who Has Been Living Forever

While I was looking, thrones were put in place. One who had been living forever sat down on one of the thrones. His clothes were white as snow, and his hair was like pure wool. His throne, mounted on fiery wheels, was blazing with fire, 10 and a stream of fire was pouring out from it. There were many thousands of people there to serve him, and millions of people stood before him. The court began its session, and the books were opened.

11 While I was looking, I could still hear the little horn bragging and boasting. As I watched, the fourth beast was killed, and its body was thrown into the flames and destroyed. 12 The other beasts had their power taken away, but they were permitted to go on living for a limited time.

13 During this vision in the night, I saw what looked like a human being. He was approaching me, surrounded by clouds, and he went to the one who had been living forever and was presented to him. 14 He was given authority, honor, and royal power, so that the people of all nations, races, and languages would serve him. His authority would last forever, and his kingdom would never end.

Daniel 7:1-14

This is a weird passage from the bible.  My gut instinct was to pass over it and find something else – anything else really!

But as I sat and thought about it, I wondered if, despite its very oddness, perhaps it had something to say to us.

Daniel sees four beasts.  Hideous creatures.  I don’t think we would want to even try and draw them or they would terrify us.  Daniel is terrified by these alarming visions.  The first beast is bad enough, but then more keep appearing, more and more horrifying. 

Sometimes life is like that.  It feels that there is a horrible beast there, present, doing its worst.  The original context is thought to be that these beasts represent oppressive powers and kingdoms, but they can be anything threatening.

This year we have all faced a beast, that came from nowhere, that seems to wield terrifying power over our lives – our wellbeing, our health, our freedoms.  It perhaps feels like all these creatures at once – roaring on its hind legs, flapping its wings, baring its teeth, crushing victims – powerful, terrible, horrifying.  In a different time and place, we can feel very similar to what Daniel felt.

But for some, this is just the latest in a succession of beasts, or the first of many that have been unleashed.  Even were we not living in a time of global pandemic there would still be beasts roaming our lives and our world, and many of them are stalking alongside it.  We can easily think of the beasts of injustice, racism, poverty, abuse, blatant inequality, illness, fear, loneliness, addiction, climate changes to name just a few.  Perhaps you have your own beast that you can name that stalks you.

Life can be terrifying.  Sometimes we need to name the fears and the realities.

In amongst all this fear and shear horror that Daniel is seeing, the thrones are put in place and there is ‘The One who has been living forever’.  Despite how it may feel that One is there.  He is not watching on disinterested, separated from it – he in judgement and the power is taken from the beasts.

This probably touches on the debate about why God ‘lets thing happen’.  Why the beasts were ever allowed to appear and flourish in the first place.  But things do happen, usually because of the unwise decisions and actions of humans, they have their consequences and sometimes they must play out.  Many suffer, not because of the consequences of their own actions, but because of those of their fellow humans on this planet.  There are repercussions in this world, and we cannot expect God to keep digging us out of holes that we have made for ourselves, individually or collectively.  That is not what being God is about.  God has supplied the rules, we know them, and if we fail to follow them, we can hardly blame God or expect God to bail us out every time. 

That does not mean however that God is not there with us.

God is here, very much.  Just as people cause situations, so often other humans help dig us out, pick us up, carry us through.

So as much as we need to ask what we might be doing that is destroying the earth or making life harder for other people, we also need to ask what we can do to make the world better, to be God’s presence, God’s answers to the beasts of our time.

In the last few weeks these readings have been following the dreamers: Joseph and now Daniel.  Another man who ‘had a dream’ was Martin Luther King.  This is some extracts from his famous sermon.  What am I doing to slay these beasts?  To realise these dreams?  To bring these freedoms?  How am I working with and for God in these places?

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment I still have a dream…

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

I’m sure we can swap the injustices that Luther names with other injustices that run alongside or in place.  But we can stand with him and dream of the day when God’s glory shall be revealed.

And at the end of Daniel’s dream, into all that is happening, into the fear and the terror and the horrible sights, into all this, comes a Son of Man, a human form.  God’s answer, God’s presence, God’s rescue.  He is given the authority and the power.  Whilst the power of the beasts was taken from them, this God in human form’s kingdom will last forever.  Fear, terror and the beasts that we face will have happen, but they are not the ultimate power or the final victor.

And that leads us right into Advent.  Into God’s coming to live amongst to, us be with us, journey with us, sit with us in the mess and show us God’s ways.

The challenge for us is to see God’s ways, how God lives in this world and join God in that work.

Lord,
as we think on this passage today
we bring to you
the beasts in our lives.
The things that scare us,
that hold us,
that feel like they have us in their teeth
and will not let us go.

Thank you Lord
that you are with us,
that you know our fears,
that you are with us
and bring your presence
and your peace;
that the things that we fear
do not have the ultimate victory
but you do.

Forgive us Lord
the times when
we have unleashed beasts on others,
and on ourselves,
when we have been complicit
in making the world a worse place.
When we have done the things
you warned us not to
and not done the things you asked us to.
Step into that Lord
we pray,
turn our ways around,
individually
and collectively
and grant your forgiveness.
And as we know that we are forgiven,
may we listen carefully
to what you ask of us,
what you want us to do for you,
with you,
the way you are calling us to live.
That beasts may be slayed
and drams may be realised
in and through your name.

Amen.

This song reminds us of Christ the King, the one who comes to reign and bring ultimate peace.

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