Seventh-day Adventists have a passion for prophecy. We love our prophecy seminars and prophecy events. The billboards and the flyers about knowing the future have been a major evangelistic tool for our church. I remember as a young pastor in the early 80s, the invention of a new evangelistic format. The Revelation seminar. More of a teaching format than a preaching format and unfortunately those early Revelation seminars didn't have a whole lot of revelation in them. We improved them over time. If it's not a Revelation seminar, it's a Daniel seminar. I still remember back in the good old dark ages of my childhood, the folk at church who loved to get together to study Daniel and Revelation on Sabbath afternoon.
But most of these studies tend to focus on trying to decode the symbols so we can tell the future. When will the close of probation happen? Is it before or after this. When will the Sunday law come? And when will this happen? So forth and so on and so on. While there is truth to that, I wonder sometimes if we've also missed some key points.
Today I want to re-examine an old prophecy and look at a point that we don't often emphasize in our evangelistic series. Something that we often miss. Possibly a deeper message. Not that I disagree with who we think the little horn is and so forth and so on, but I think it too easily degenerates into kind of a finger-pointing contest and may not leave us more Christlike when we're done.
Now by way of review, Daniel 7 is the second of four prophecies involving a four-part sequence and in this particular prophecy, we have three animals. We have the winged lion for Babylon, followed by the bear humped up on the one side for the Medo-Persians, the four headed leopard as Greece and all named in the text and then this iron-toothed, terrible beast with 10 horns who stomps everything, who is not named, but who follows Greece and therefore has to be Rome.
But then this little horn comes up out of the ten, uproots three, and Daniel finds this horn troublesome. He spends some time describing the horn to us, and it speaks great things at the end of Daniel 7, verse 20. Verse 21, as I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them. He comes back to this in verse 25. He speaks words against the most high and shall wear out the saints of the most high. He shall think to change times and laws, and they, that is the saints, shall be given into his hand for a time, two times, and half a time. Daniel spends a fair bit of his focus on the fact that this little horn power wars against and wears out the saints, and he's going to do it for a long time. Time, two times, and a half-time, which most of us recognize as the equivalent in other places to the 1260 days, which in a day for a year means 1260 years, that this power prevails over the saints and wars against them.
This raises an important question. If you were one of those saints who was being warred against at say, the 443 year mark and there's 817 years to go, what kind of hope do you have? 1200 years is a long time and as I say, if I'm one of those saints getting worn out in the middle and I see no hope of escape from this warring, oppression, wearing out, possibly martyrdom, what hope do I have? How do I cope with this situation?
This raises a classic literary theme, for the fact of the matter is that in some way we can have our own little horns in our own lives. David, for example, had a little horn in his life named Saul. Saul became jealous of David after a military victory in which the ladies sang a song, Saul has slain slain his thousands and David his 10,000s, and getting that extra praise to David gets Saul jealous and worried. Do we have a coup attempt in the making and so he starts to war against David. But there's a problem for David, because Saul is the King. This is the Supreme Court. There is nowhere David can go for adjudication of the injustice, because the Supreme Court's against him. All he can do is run into the wilderness and try to hide. And I've seen that wilderness and the springs at Engeddi, and just let me tell you, those were some tough dudes. Running around the dry hot desert with no water. But I digress. David was running for his life, hiding in caves, hiding with the Philistines at times, because he had nowhere to go to resolve the problem. An oppressive power was after him and there was no way to get relief.
Asaph makes a similar complaint in Psalm 73, if we can turn there. We'll hold Daniel 7 for now. Psalm 73. It opens on a positive sounding note but quickly changes. Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart, but as for me, my feet had almost stumbled. My steps had well nigh slipped. Why is Asaph, who is clearly considering himself to be one of the upright, who's supposed to be getting God's blessing, how is it that he almost stumbled and fell. Verse 3. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. Now he proceeds to describe the prosperous state of the wicked and their moral debauchery. For they have no pangs, as in hunger pangs. Their bodies are sound and sleek. They are not in trouble as other men. They are not stricken like other men, therefore pride is their necklace, violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out with fatness, again going back to they're not hungry, they have got all the food they want. Their lives are comfortable. Their hearts overflow with follies. They live in luxury. They scoff and speak with malice. Loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens and their tongues strut throughout the earth. Therefore the people turn and praise them and find no fault in them, and they say, how can God know? Is there no knowledge in the most high? Behold, these are the wicked. Always at ease. They increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and chastened every morning. Asaph's fundamental complaint is that the wicked seem to prosper and I, the righteous, have trouble. Saul was prospering, David was hiding in the desert.
How then can we have hope when things don't seem to be going the right way? When there's no recourse to fix it? Or to put it in a different way, Asaph's question that has vexed many intellectuals, why be good? What difference does it make to be good when the good seem to suffer and the wicked seem to prosper? Why! be! good!? How do I have hope when the little horns of my life oppress me and seem to be able to get away with it, scott free?
What we're dealing with here then, is the issue of unresolved justice. Injustice happens when personal power and free choice synergize to victimize a weaker person who has no power to fight back. Whom we think we can prevail over and get away with it. Cases like that as we see them in the news vex our sense of justice. Whether or not you think she was guilty, I happened to be at a friends house in Connecticut the daY that the Casey Anthony trial verdict was announced in Florida. The woman accused of killing and covering up the death of her child. Not guilty. My friend about lost it and started hashing all the evidence why she thought this woman was guilty and what a miscarriage of justice this was because the baby has no power to advocate for itself.
Last time I preached I mentioned Elizabeth Fritzl, imprisoned by her father at age 18, 24 years in a basement dungeon, fathering seven children for him. Never seeing the light of day. What if her father had died first and then they found her and released her? What's her hope for resolution of justice. What if she had died in there? Last thing she knew.
The fact of the matter is that natural law and natural consequence does not adequately address issues of justice, and history is replete with people who have oppressed, tortured, murdered and otherwise been nasty creatures and who fed off of that to give their family a cushy, comfortable life and they lived to a ripe old age and died a natural death and appear to have gotten away with it. Or they lived comfortably enough, but when they saw the handwriting on the wall they took their own life to escape facing justice. So whether it's the Adolf Hitler's and the Stalin's, or like the girl who sat in my office who had been abused by a church elder, but he has since died so there is no way to take him to court and prosecute him.
We all have little horns in our lives that have made us miserable and we've got no way to solve the problem. Possibly our little born dies and gets beyond our reach, or we die and can't do anything about it. Or the situation is such that evidence cannot be gathered for justice and so in natural law and natural consequence it appears they will get away with it. Natural law and natural consequence has proven to be a very ineffective arbiter of justice.
Natural law and cause and effect deal with the predictable automated patterns God has created into this universe. It's a good thing we don't have to think about breathing or our heart beat, because we might die if we fell asleep. Right? On the other hand, gravity works the same whether you're righteous or unrighteous. If one of our folks slips and falls, gravity doesn't say, you know, they're a good person, I'm going to let them down easy so they don't break their hip. It's going to act the same way regardless, regardless. So when we, as some say, try to equate moral law with natural law, what you have done is created a sophisticated legalism. God tells you the rules, here's how the system works, now you simply follow the rules and your blessed, and if you don't follow the rules, you're cursed.
There are some natural laws that work. If I eat a certain way it helps prolong life. If I eat a certain way it shortens life. So there are some things that are affected that way, but the book of Job stands as a testament that there are bad things that happen to good people and it's not because they disobeyed the rules and are therefore reaping natural consequences. It's because they are the victims of free will choices by those with greater power than themselves.
And morals deal not so much with natural cause-and-effect. They deal primarily with how we use our personal power. History has shown that natural law and natural consequence do not adequately address misuse of one's power to victimize others. If anything, natural law looks suspiciously like survival of the fittest, and so those who are stronger and more fit victimize, sometimes with apparent impunity, and go to their graves feeling smug that they have beaten the system.
How then do we have hope? I come back to Daniel 7. And to those who have a little horn without apparent hope of resolution, verse 26 is good news. But the court shall sit in judgment. There is someone bigger who is watching and understands these injustices and this someone promises a court date that death itself will not skip, which is why we have a second resurrection, because there is something therapeutic for the victims of oppression to see the oppressor face justice and have to take responsibility for their actions. God promises that there is a court who will hold accountable and break the power of the little horns and vindicate the oppressed saints, and the tide will be turned.
Now God has given some agencies where we can seek justice now. We have the civil government and its court system and so forth. We also have the church. Paul talks about settling things in the church. And we have the family government. This leads us to an important point. Justice is not your work or my work. Romans 12, Paul says, don't avenge yourselves, leave it to the wrath of God and his agencies, because if we take justice into our own hands, we're likely to overdo it and not act justly. So God says, justice is not your work, you've got to go to a higher authority in order to get justice. You don't take that into your own hands. And so, we don't recommend that the abused child get a gun and shoot the abusive parent. Right? They should work through the police and the courts, right? As parents, do you want your children taking justice into their own hands, or do you want your children to come to you as the more professional arbiter?
This is the basis of those martyrs in Revelation 6 who cry out to God, how long oh Lord, till you avenge? We're waiting. Unresolvable justice. They've been killed for their faith by the little horn power. Powerless to resist injustice, and they've died and they're representated as still crying out, because the good news is, there are two resurrections and it is resurrection from the dead that makes justice still possible. If you have no hope of justice, folks, it will toxify your life.
So we go back to Asaph in Psalm 73. Asaph has been vexing and he said he almost fell over this. How is it that the wicked prosper and I, the upright, am in pangs and hunger and distress? What good does it do to be good? He continues in verse 15, if I had said I will speak thus, I'd have been untrue to the generation of thy children, but when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task until, what? I went into the sanctuary of God and perceived their destiny.
What did Asaph see in the sanctuary that would tell him about the destiny of the wicked? That would tell him that even though they live in fatness now, and seem to die beating the system, they're not going to beat it. I would suggest it's the day of atonement and the scape-goat ceremony. And hence the parallel passage to the judgment scenes of Daniel 7 is the day of atonement and the cleansing of the sanctuary in Daniel 8. The day of atonement shows us that not only will the righteous be vindicated but that the wicked will be held accountable for the injustices they have perpetrated. And he says, now it doesn't look so pretty. Their feet are in slippery places.
We need God to conduct a court and a judgment because natural processes will never adequately adjudicate issues of justice.
From our side, this leads to two points. Number one, it takes faith to trust that God will judge when you can't see it happen, and particularly if you are one of those folks being oppressed by the little horn before the judgment's even started, to trust that God won't forget, will bring it into judgment. Why is it that we have to hang on and rehearse in our mind, that so-and-so did this to me and on and on and on. It's precisely because we're afraid that if we forget about it, no one else will remember and the person will get away with it and escape justice. But if you trust that God won't forget, you can give that burden to him and say, you worry about the justice. Tremendous mental health tool, cause you have hope.
But this sets up something else. Because as long as you have no hope of justice, it makes it terribly hard to be gracious and initiate a forgiveness healing process, but when you can entrust the work of judgment to God, that is what frees you to be courteous, kind and gracious to your little horn and to offer overtures for healing the dysfunction between you that allows your little horn to repent and change. And the process then can be solved either through your little horn repenting and changing, but if they're unrepentant and want to be a continual perpetrator, we've got a backup net called judgment that's in God's hands. So I don't have to worry either way.
Now a lot of people today are afraid of judgment. We want to whitewash it and minimize accountability with God, but if you've got a little horn in your life, folks, judgment is good news, because it means that the oppressors will be called to account and their power broken. This is why we have the second resurrection. The two resurrections there in Revelation 20. Particularly the second resurrection of those two. Why raise the wicked back to life so they can just die again? It's so that they can stand before the great white throne in the great white throne judgment and experience justice. And this is necessary for the healing of the victims throughout the ages. It is not that God is mean. It is that God is merciful to the victims to uphold their cause.
And may I remind you, in Daniel, that when that judgment scene opens and they take their seats, it says, what was open? Books. God's judgment is not arbitrary, it is evidence-based. It is based on perfect evidence, infallibly correct. And if there is miscarriage of judgment in the courts of man, the good news is there will be no miscarriage of justice in the courts of God.
Judgment then, is good news, unless you're a perpetrator and an oppressor. If you're a perpetrator and oppressor, then it's not such good news. But if we're willing to renounce our misuse of our power and use it self-sacrificially and be like Jesus, judgment's good news cause we'll get vindicated against our oppressors. And judgment is necessary to lay the foundation for forgiveness and repentance. Why repent if there's no judgment to be avoided. It does make a difference. God is not only a God of love. He is a God of justice, and in fact, if he were not a God of justice he would be unloving. Like a good heavenly parent, he wants us to yield the work of judgment to him instead of taking it into our own hands and botching it.
The truth of the little horn then, is this. When we have unresolvable justice issues in our lives, there is a God who will someday hold accountable and we don't have to go crazy wondering if justice will ever happen. The second truth that comes out of that is, we then can afford to be gracious and to seek healing and change because we know that justice won't be subverted.
May God bless us as we think about deeper issues of prophecy than simply who the identity of these characters are.
Lord Jesus, help the truth of the little horn to give us hope for those unresolvable issues, to trust you to take care of it. In Jesus' name, amen.
Hymn of Praise: #223, Crown Him With Many Crowns Scripture: Daniel 7:19-22 Hymn of Response: #415, Christ the Lord, All Power Possessing
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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 11/10/11