Lessons on Leadership from Nehemiah
What would you give for a glimpse of the future? That’s one of the most incredible features to the book of Daniel. This faithful follower of God is shown through amazing imagery the will and purpose of God which is to take place in the future. When we read through Daniel 7-12, the word that come to mind are what Daniel says in Daniel 12:8, “As for me, I heard but could not understand; so I said, ‘My lord, what will be the outcome of these events?’” I’ve read it, but it’s tough to understand what’s going on. What we have to help us understand Daniel’s vision is a greater perspective – we look at the events of the Old Testament this side of the cross.
The last chapter in the book of Daniel points us to several important events that were to take place in the future. The conflict described in this chapter seems to be pointing to the destruction of Jerusalem. Much of what is said here is echoed by the Lord in Matthew 24 and Mark 13. Thus the “end of time” seems to not be describing the actual end of all things, but rather is describing the end of Jerusalem, and what the Old Covenant was in representative form. There will be strong persecution. And time periods are described, giving an indication that it will not last forever.
The final words are words of comfort and peace, “But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age.” We call that hope. Conflict will come. Wars will rage. But there’s hope ahead. That’s seen in the language of resurrection through this chapter – not of the bodies when Jesus returns – but of the souls and hearts of those who submit their life to the Lord (Ezekiel 37:12-13).
This ends our month with Daniel. This book is such an inspiring section of Scripture. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have the faith of a Daniel, to face threatening situations with an unyielding trust and devotion to our God? We need that kind of faith today. Our culture continues to drift further and further from God, and the more it does so, the more God’s people will find themselves in conflicting situations. Daniel shows us that it is possible to be faithful to God throughout one’s lifetime. As a youth, and as an old man, Daniel remained loyal to the Lord. And we can too. We can have a determined spirit to stand upon our convictions. We can lead a disciplined life, molded by daily time in prayer to God. We can be so devoted to our King, that whatever tests or trials may come our way, there is no question where our loyalties lie. We stand with the Ancient of Days. Our devotion is to the King of kings. Thank you Daniel, for reminding us it can be done.
Our great and glorious King we give you thanks today for Your words. How inspiring and enlightening they are. We thank You for recording the life and example of Your servant Daniel. We see how You used him in amazing ways through difficult times. We are so thankful for his faith, his devotion, and his loyalty to You. It is our desire to live that kind of life – so true to You, so trusting and depending on You. We ask You help his example to spark a fire of commitment and zeal in our hearts. As the world drifts further from You, Father draw us closer and closer to You. Use us as lights in this dark place to point others to Your glory. You are the God of Daniel, the God who quenches the fire, who stops the mouths of lions – You are the Ancient of Days – and we like Daniel love You, serve You, and long to be with You forever.
Most of Daniel chapters 10 through 12 contain a long vision which Daniel received. The reading for today, Daniel 11, contains the bulk of this vision. In many ways, this vision describes the same thing we saw in the visions of chapter 8. We see kings rising and falling. We see a large kingdom split into four dominions. We see kings continuing to grapple for power among the kingdoms of men. In fact, most of Daniel 11 is spent describing the back-and-forth power struggle between “the king of the north” and “the king of the south.” And what a struggle it is!
At first, we see them attempt an alliance, but it quickly becomes ineffective (v.5-6). The king of the south invades the king of the north and plunders the kingdom. As the king of the north becomes more powerful and conquers territory, the king of the south will again attack, but will fail against the king of the north this time. We continue to see the back and forth as the two nations attack one another and attempt to take advantage of one another’s vulnerabilities. There is another attempt at some sort of treaty, but it fails. There is deceit and intrigue. New kings rise and some are quickly cut down.
In verse 21, we are introduced to an intriguing new king of the north who is “contemptible.” He musters an incredible army to advance on the king of the south. The king of the south fights back, but to no avail as he is betrayed by those of his own country. Again, the north will attack, only this time, they are driven back. It is at this point, that the king of the north turns his attention and anger towards “the holy covenant” – that is, God’s people. The king’s armies desolate the temple and the people of God begin to stumble, led away by the flattery of the king of the north. This king will continue to exalt himself, seizing more power and as much honor as he can – even proclaiming himself above any god!
The final five verses of chapter 11 depict the overwhelming power of this northern king as he crushes the king of the south and many other nations. But after all of this conquering, and just as it appears that the king of the north cannot be stopped, the narrative ends, being summed up in just a few words: “Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him” (11:45).
All that struggle; all that lust for power; all that conquering; and it ends with a simple, undramatic, and helpless death. There are many possible ways to view this vision. But on a big-picture level, this chapter is similar to chapter 8. It reminds us of the simple fact that the wars and conflicts of human nations are nothing when compared to the victory God possesses. The nations of earth will fall. God will never be overcome. And – thankfully for us – the hope of God’s people transcends the kingdoms and empires of men.
Daniel Receives Help
Daniel is a man deeply distressed. He is in mourning, and not for a day or two, but for three weeks. He doesn’t feel like eating. Putting on lotions and oils to make himself more comfortable seems like a waste of time, because nothing could make him feel better. He is distressed. Now, what is it that is making Daniel’s life so miserable?
He is distressed about the present. We find an important clue in Daniel 10:1. This event took place, “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia.” Now, this puts Daniel well into his 80’s. More importantly, it tells that the exile is over. God’s discipline of His people is complete. In the first year of king Cyrus, just as the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah had prophesied, the king released the exiles from captivity. Nearly 50,000 Jews have returned to Jerusalem to begin the task of rebuilding the city and re-consecrating the temple of God. Isn’t that great news? The day Daniel has waited for his whole life to see is finally here, so why is he so distressed?
When the exiles returned to Jerusalem, they did not find things to be easy at all. They ran up against great opposition. Under Ezra and Zerubbabel, the people began an ambitious plan to rebuild the temple and the city. But their neighbors did not want that to happen. So, they wrote a letter to the king of Persia, asking him to put a stop to their work. They told him that Jerusalem had always been a city that caused trouble, and if he allowed it to be built, they would not remain loyal to Persia. The king considered this and put a stop to the work (Ezra 4).
Additionally, Daniel is distressed about their future. Recently, through the vision recorded at the end of chapter 9, God has told Daniel that this seventy year of captivity was not all the discipline Israel would receive from the Lord. They would continue to reject His ways and would reject even His Messiah. As a result, God would utterly destroy them. In a matter of moments, Daniel went from the joy of God’s people being released from captivity, to the horror of her future demise. This resulted in his deep distress. He set his mind to understand (Dan. 10:12), and God gives him a vision (Dan. 10:14).
Daniel prays and he is allowed to see something closer to God than he has ever seen before. This profoundly affected him (Dan. 10:4-9). Then something amazing happens. God hears his words and Michael the arch angel comes to him (Dan. 10:13-14). He comes to give Daniel understanding of what will happen to His people in the latter days. Three times Michael touches him. Each time is in preparation for a revelation from God. Daniel sees his own unworthiness and inadequacy.
God tells Daniel, “Yes, it is bad on earth but that is not the only place a battle is going on.” Michael had been fighting the prince of the kingdom of Persia for twenty- one days and the battle was still not over (Dan 10:13,20). All through this, Daniel is encouraged not to be afraid but to be strong (Dan. 10:12,19).
Bringing it home: No matter our struggle on earth we are not alone. The knowledge that God is ever working on our behalf should give us peace in a world where we feel so alone. It should give us strength to live for Him, even when others are not. It should give us the courage to say, like Daniel, “Speak, my Lord, since you have given me strength” (Dan. 10:19).
No individual is ever alone who has fellowship with God. God is fighting for us in ways we do not know, and we do not understand. Daniel was allowed to see that
In Ezekiel we are told that Daniel had the kind of faith and righteousness that men like Noah and Job possessed (EZEK 14:14, 20). One of the reasons Daniel had such a strong faith in God is because he was a man of prayer. Chapter 9 of Daniel records one of his prayers.
This chapter begins telling us that Daniel has devoted his time to studying the Scripture, specifically the book of Jeremiah. He reflected on God’s promise of punishment on Jerusalem, and the ending of the punishment 70 years later. With those truths on his mind Daniel opens his heart and his lips in prayer to God.
Daniel expresses his appreciation for God, His righteousness (v. 7, 14, 16), His mercy and forgiveness (v. 9), His faithfulness (v. 12). He also admitted the fault of the people, how they have sinned and rebelled, and have been punished for their disobedience (v. 6, 13, 15-16). But Daniel ends with a plea—(1) restore the sanctuary (v. 17), restore the people (v. 19), and restore your name (v. 18). He pleas for forgiveness (v. 19) - the request came not because they were so righteous, but because God is so merciful (v. 18).
The amazing thing is how this chapter ends. Often we end our prayers and wonder what God thinks—how will He respond? When will He respond? Daniel didn’t have to wonder because while he was still praying the angel Gabriel appeared . He brought a swift and soothing words (v. 23), but also troubling words that God’s people would not remain faithful to the Lord and they would be punished once again (v. 24-27).
What’s the point from today’s reading? Men and women of faith build the habit of praying to God—thoughtful, consistent, humble prayers. Prayer connects us to God. Prayer renews our admiration for our King on the throne. Prayer realigns our purpose – no longer is it my will be done, but from leaving that prayer it is, “Your will be done.” Prayer reinforces our trust in God – the things I cam asking of God, bringing before Him, I am trusting that He will answer and handle in His time. Thus I won’t worry, I won’t complain about it, I won’t let it eat me away – not if I truly trust in the One I have cast my burdens upon.
Daniel’s prayers affected his daily walk. He was a man who lived as if he had spent one on one time with God. What if we were a people who lived as if we prayed – as if we daily spent time before the throne of God – as if we daily filled our schedule with God’s purposes over our own – as if we daily trusted in God to hear our cries and care for His people? What if we didn’t merely pray, but after amen lived like a people who just spoke with God?
Wonderful God in Heaven, what an honor it is to speak with You this day. I hope to never take for granted the blessing You have given to me of unlimited access to You through prayer. What a blessing to know that I can come with whatever lays on my heart – joy or sorrow – and to know that You are always there, always ready to listen. I’m so thankful for the example of Daniel, this incredible man of faith and prayer. Help me to pray more like Daniel, more often, more focused on You, more shaped by Your words. As You used Daniel for Your will and purpose I ask You to use me. Let my words, my actions, my life be used to teach, to influence, to be of positive service to others, to point others to You. Thank You for this moment spent together. I long for the day we meet and speak face to face. I love You Father. Thank You for loving me.
Daniel chapter eight, like much of the latter part of the book, is very strange to read. The visions Daniel was shown are bizarre and often push the limits of our imagination. It is important that we recognize this up front. If we find chapter eight to be strange and difficult to understand, that is okay. Daniel thought the same thing: “I was overcome and lay sick for some days. . . I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it” (Daniel 8:27, ESV). Daniel was shown this vision by God and given the interpretation directly and still had trouble understanding it! It should be no surprise if we face a similar difficulty.
The vision of chapter eight can be summarized fairly quickly. Daniel first saw a ram with magnificent horns, one slightly more magnificent than the other. The ram roamed the earth with great power and nothing was able to stop it. Soon after, Daniel saw a goat with a great single horn on its head, flying in from the west. In a gruesome battle, the goat broke the ram’s horns and trampled him underneath his hooves. Just as the goat reached the height of his power, his mighty horn broke and was replaced by four lesser horns. One of these grew in greatness and power, even to the point of challenging the stars and the “prince of the host.” This little-turned-mighty horn is said to have overthrown the sanctuary of the ruler, leaving it desolate for “2,300 evenings and mornings.”
Yes, that’s a weird vision. A few of the questions we might have are answered shortly when Gabriel interprets the vision for Daniel. The ram’s horns are the kings of Media and Persia. The goat and its first great horn are the king of Greece. The four horns are the four kingdoms that arise from Greece, one of which will rise to power and destroy many righteous people. The ruler of this kingdom will even try to match wits with the “Prince of princes,” but will end up being broken “by no human hand.”
There is much argument and speculation about the application and interpretation of this vision. Should it be taken literally to refer to the kings of the now-ancient nations of Media, Persia, and Greece? Should it be interpreted as some sort of analogy for the end of time here on earth? Could there be elements of both? While some arguments are certainly stronger than others, there are some over-arching principles which remain visible in Daniel chapter eight no matter what the interpretation:
- No human ruler will last forever. No matter how great or powerful, all nations of men will eventually fall and be destroyed.
- No power of earth will ever be able to match the power of heaven. To challenge God is to seal one’s own defeat.
- Even if the powers of evil appear to win in the short term, God will always be victorious in the end.
How encouraging it is to know that the Lord we serve will always be the victorious deliverer of his people!