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Second Quarter 2018 April • May • June
COMMENTARY—PREPARATION FOR THE END TIME
Week 2: April 7–13
COMMENTARY ON "Daniel and the End Time"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This week’s lesson specifically looks at Daniel the man as a lesson for Adventists as they face the end times. Instead of the usual focus on Daniel 8:14 and the judgment scene in 7:22, the author is using this lesson to showcase Daniel as an example of morality in a secular world.
The Teachers’ Comments emphasize the subject of worship and the importance of eating and drinking; the daily lessons focus on faithfulness, being a witness, and being born again.
The problem with this lesson is essentially the same as the problem with most of the other lessons: it assumes a certain worldview that the readers will have, and it uses the Bible to illustrate Adventist values and doctrines. Instead of seeing the book of Daniel through the grid of a biblical worldview, it uses Daniel to reinforce an Adventist worldview.
Eating and drinking
Adventism assumes that Daniel’s refusal to eat the king’s food in Daniel 1 was related to Daniel’s adherence to God’s food laws—commands which Adventism explains as being related to health and nutrition. In other words, when Adventism explains the levitical prohibitions agains pork and shellfish, they say that God forbade His people to indulge in meats that are intrinsically unhealthful, or “not food”. They will admit that the laws were involved in keeping Israel separate from gentiles, but they insist that those prohibitions were in place to protect Israel’s health.
Today Adventists use the story of Daniel to say that God rewards the honoring of those laws, and the excellence of Daniel and his friends was a God-given demonstration that eating God’s way results in keener minds and healthier bodies.
In fact, Israel’s food laws were not about intrinsically unhealthy foods. Rather, prohibitions against pork and unclean seafoods were in place to prevent Israel from becoming intimate with pagans and losing their national distinctiveness and their unique worship of Yahweh. Pigs were common sacrifices on pagan altars; God asked Israel not to participate in eating meats that were offered to pagan idols.
Daniel and his friends refused the king’s food food because they knew those meats would include those God forbade, and they and the wine would have been offered to the Babylonian deities before being served. For Daniel and his three friends, refraining from the king’s food was refraining from participating in—or even from honoring indirectly—the sacrifices offered to pagan gods and the foods. God’s honoring of Daniel by giving him and the other three better strength and mental acuity was not related to their nutrition; it was related to their honoring God by refusing to participate in the worship of Babylonian deities.
Jesus Himself declared all food clean (Mk. 7:19), and Peter received the vision from God commanding him not to call anything, even that sheet full of unclean animals, UNCLEAN if God declared them clean. Peter had to go and stay in Cornelius’s house for several days, and he would have to eat Cornelius’s gentile food. God made it clear that the food was not unclean; in the church there is no longer any distinction between Jew and gentile. No foods are to separate believers or to stand in the way of the gospel.
To use Daniel to enforce Adventist food rules is to misuse Scripture and to undermine the new administration inaugurated by the new covenant. The point of Daniel’s refusal is completely missed in the Adventist paradigm.
The lesson draws a parallel between Daniel 3 and Revelation 13. In Daniel 3 Nebuchadnezzar required his kingdom to worship the golden image of himself erected on the Plain of Dura. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego famously refused to bow down when the trumpet sounded, and they were thrown into the over-heated fiery furnace where they were delivered from death by a fourth man who was seen walking with them in the flames.
The lesson attempts to compare the worship of the image with the beast of Revelation’s demand that the world worship his image. While there may be some comparison that is legitimate, Adventism uses these two chapters to create the setting for a supposed international Sunday law that will demand that the world worship on the “false Sabbath”. This Sunday-worship will result in all participants receiving the mark of the beast and being lost.
The Sunday-law scenario is without any scriptural support; it is straight out of Ellen White’s great controversy paradigm. Yet Adventists insist that the Sabbath will be the final mark of true worship. Significantly, Adventism never emphasizes that those who receive the seal of God are not identified by worshiping on Sabbath. Rather, the Bible says that those who worship Yahweh, who believe in the Lord Jesus and trust His shed blood for the payment of their sins and His resurrection for their eternal life are those who receive His seal.
Jesus, not the Sabbath, is the point of true worship.
Daniel and his three friends refused to worship a false god. They didn’t die on the hill of some symbolic practice; they simply refused to bow the knee to anyone or anything besides Yahweh. Daniel prayed in his window according to his practice, and the three other men remained standing on the plain when the trumpet sounded.
Daniel and the three were not remaining loyal to Judaism or to Judaism’s forms of worship; they remained loyal to God. They maintained the foundation requirement of the Mosaic law: they knew that God was their God, and they were to worship no one or nothing besides Him. They did not compromise; they refused to worship another god.
Adventism’s focus on a day completely misses the issue of GOD. God is a holy God, and our responsibility is not to works and practices to prove our loyalty; our focus is HIM. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew God, and they knew they must honor Him only. Their loyalty to God bears absolutely no resemblance to Adventism’s insistence upon loyalty to a designated day. Days are transient, created things. They are not holy.
God alone is holy, and our allegiance is to Him alone. We listen to Him; we obey His word, not the proof-texted doctrines of a religion that refuses to understand Scripture and obey what it actually explains.
The lesson makes the point that in order to withstand the end times, a person must be born again. In fact, this statement is absolutely true. Yet within the Adventist paradigm, this statement means something completely different from what it means in the Bible. In fact, in Friday’s lesson, the second paragraph ends with these words: “More than anything else, we need the ‘born-again’ experience that Daniel and the others, including Nebuchadnezzar, had.”
That sentence alone reveals the Adventist misunderstanding of what it means to be “born again”.
Within Adventism, being “born again” is often difficult to define and may interpreted many different ways, including changing one’s mind and believing the truth, being baptized, accepting Adventism, and so on. The context of this lesson suggests that the author is using “born again” to mean the experience of coming to believe that God is God.
Nebuchadnezzar did praise the true God after his episode of living as an animal in the field, but there is no evidence that he gave up his other gods. He was a polytheist to begin with, and he accepted Daniels’ God as one of the powerful gods of his pantheon. He did recognize that Yahweh was like no other god. Yet this realization did not mean Nebuchadnezzar was “born again”.
When Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again to see the kingdom of heaven, He explained it this way:
John 3:5–8—Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:5–8).
Jesus was explicit that being born again is something that occurs in one’s spirit—the part of a human being which Adventism denies. Within Adventism, the existence of an immaterial spirit is denied. Thus, Adventists have no ability to understand what it means that we are born dead in our trespasses and sin, “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1–3), nor that not one person seeks God nor can please Him (Rom. 3:9–15).
In fact, Jesus was referring to the prophecies from Jeremiah 31 and from Ezekiel. Here are a couple of them:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31–3).
And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel (Ezekiel 36:23–32).
Being born again is an act of God that results when one believes in the Lord. He removes our dead hearts of stone and puts a new spirit in us. These promises are literal, not figurative. They are not metaphors. They are real. They are His sovereign work in us, and they are not mental decisions.
Within Adventism, being “born again” just mean agreeing objectively with a proposed set of “truths”. This idea is not the same as being born again. People can be intellectually convinced of something without having a new heart and a new spirit.
Moreover, being born again was something that was not possible before Jesus died and rose again and ascended to the Father. Yes, people were regenerated before the cross by acts of God softening their hearts so they could believe, but the phrase “born again” was never used of Old Testament saints who believed. In the New Testament, being born again is also accompanied, according to Ephesians 1:13-14, by the Holy Spirit’s literally indwelling the believer, sealing him or her and guaranteeing one’s eternal future!
Believers from all ages have been saved exactly the same way: by believing God and His word. Now, in the new covenant, believing God includes believing His gospel, that all we must do is to place our faith in His blood which paid for our sin, in His death, and in His resurrection from the dead by which He grants believers eternal life the moment they believe.
What about Daniel?
This lesson fails to explain the full significance of Daniel. When Israel was exiled to Babylon, the exile occurred in three waves. Daniel was taken in the first wave which occurred in 605 BC which primarily included people from the royal family, nobles, chief officials, and “youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court” (Dan 1:4).
Daniel and his companions were likely in their mid-teens, and according to the custom of the day, they were almost certainly castrated when they arrived in Babylon.
Another fact many people overlook (and which I never heard within Adventism) is that while the Jews were in Babylon, without the temple, their system of worship was not possible. The law as God gave it to them on Mt. Sinai was impossible to keep. Sacrifices could not be offered; for seventy years, Israel could not practice the Day of Atonement and the ceremonial cleansing of the nation from sin. Levites and priests had no place to practice their offices. There was no showbread, candlesticks, altar of incense, or a Most Holy Place with the ark of the covenant. The sacred verses from the temple had been taken by Babylon and put into service of the “treasure of his god”, the god of Nebuchadnezzar.
God’s presence was not among them, and there was no possibility that, within Babylon without the temple, the Jews could practice Passover, the feasts of Pentecost, Booths, Trumpets, or any other sacred day or ritual—including the Sabbath. They were in the service of a pagan king, and their days and duties were entirely prescribed by Babylonian rule and practice.
Significantly, the castration of Daniel and his choice companions rendered them ritually unclean—perpetually—before God. According to the law, no castrated man could come to the tabernacle or temple to worship. He was flawed, and he could not approach God.
Nevertheless, God is faithful and His word cannot fail. In fact, God sent the Babylonian exiles a prophesy from Jeremiah instructing them how to live during their time in Babylon:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:4–7).
God asked His people to trust Him, to live their lives and settle in, making homes and having families, during their seventy years in Babylon. Moreover, He promised that their welfare in Babylon would reflect the welfare of the city where they were aliens…and they were to pray for the welfare of their captors and the place they lived!
Even though they were exiled without any trace of their national religion or heritage, He was still God. Even though they couldn’t practice the law and offer sacrifices and perform temple rituals and feasts, He would still bless them if they honored Him, trusted Him, and submitted to Him. They were not to fight against their captors; they were to pray for them and be blessings to them.
Significantly, Daniel did not live his life in Babylon as a vegetarian and teetotaler, as Adventism suggests. Daniel 10:3 describes Daniels response to his mourning for his people near the end of their captivity when he was praying for the meaning of the shocking vision he had received:
“I did not eat any tasty food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth, nor did I use any ointment at all until the entire three weeks were completed” (Dan. 10:3).
In short, Daniel’s faithfulness to God was not about his obedience to the law or his being a faithful “witness”. He was not, after all, trying to get the Babylonians to become Jews. Daniel was there as a captive, and his entire life was dedicated to trusting God while doing the bidding of a pagan king as an official in the king’s government.
Daniel never stopped trusting, believing, and worshiping God, even when his circumstances made it IMPOSSIBLE for him to keep the law. Yet God used Daniel in a unique way. The book of Daniel is the one book of the Old Testament that is specifically written both to Jews and to gentiles.
In fact, Daniel was written in two languages: Daniel 1—2:4a are written in Hebrew, and that part of the book deals with Daniel’s refusal to eat the king’s food. Daniel 2:4b through 7 are written in Aramaic, the gentile language, and those chapters tell of the destinies of the nations of the world—gentile nations, including Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation, Belshazzar’s downfall, Daniel’s deliverance from the lion’s den, and his vision of four beasts—the four gentile empires which would rule the world. Finally, Daniel 8—12 are again in Hebrew, and these chapters tell of the long-term destiny of the nation of Israel.
God used Daniel to foretell the future of the gentile world and the future of the nation of Israel. This ceremonially violated, perpetually “unclean” castrated Jew who could not worship God as God commanded in the law, could not offer sacrifices for his sins, could not keep the feasts—this man was used specifically to reveal the future of the gentiles and of the Jews. God honored Daniel’s unrelenting trust in God. He believed God’s written word, and he believed the words of God’s prophet Jeremiah, who was writing concurrently with Daniel.
Daniel honored God by believing His word and trusting Him, acting in faith. Law-keeping was not part of Daniel’s obedience; worshiping the One True God in the midst of a pagan empire was what marked this man.
God cared for Israel and flourished them, placing a Jewish presence in the eastern nations and most probably establishing the source of the prophecies “in the east” that caused the magi to watch for the star that signaled the birth of the King of the Jews!
Daniel is not primarily a moral example. Rather, Daniel is one of the witnesses to us of faithful living, trusting God even when life snatched away everything one believes is real and true. Daniels’ faithfulness is an example to us—not faithfulness to keep laws and perform acts of piety, but faithfulness to give every thought and impulse to the God who forms and saves us.