Please read Daniel 8:15-27 in your Bible.
A man who lived on Long Island, New York ordered an expensive barometer. It was advertised as a precision scientific instrument, a reliable guide for predicting the weather. When it arrived he was extremely disappointed to find that the dial was stuck, pointing to “Hurricane.” After shaking the barometer very vigorously several times, its new owner sat down and wrote a scorching letter to the store from which he had purchased the instrument. The following morning, on his way to his office in New York, he mailed the letter. That evening he returned to Long Island, to find the barometer missing – along with his house! The barometer had been right. There was a hurricane!
When we receive bad news we have an unfortunate tendency to blame the messenger. That tendency is at play in Daniel, the scene of our first Advent Angel Sighting in this series of messages. Daniel lived during the time the Old Testament people of God (Judah) were conquered by the Babylonians. They suffered this setback in fulfillment of God’s prophecy of 70 years of captivity in a foreign land. Daniel was the best and brightest young men of Judah. The Babylonians cultivated his leadership skills and gave him considerable authority in their government. The story of the lion’s den is a small part of the life of this extraordinary man of God.
CONTEXT: Chapter eight records the second of Daniel’s prophetic visions. This one involved a supernatural ram and goat locked in an epic struggle. The appearance of the angel Gabriel is to explain the meaning of the imagery employed in chapters two and seven, which were beyond Daniel’s understanding.
God’s messages demand a faithful – not fearful – response.
- Angels are God’s messengers:
their messages can be disturbing.
Here in Daniel eight we learn two things about angels. The first is that angels can take on the appearance of a human being (verse fifteen refers to Gabriel as ONE WHO LOOKED LIKE A MAN). The Hebrew word for MAN (geber) is literally, “strong man.” The visitor is named Gabriel, which means “man of God.” Note the similarity of geber and Gabriel: we could translate his name as “strong man of God.” If it helps, picture Arnold Schwarzenegger in a robe.
In the Old Testament, only Daniel names angels. Those named are Gabriel and Michael. The fact that they are named distinguishes them from the innumerable host of angels and may imply they are of a superior rank.
Notice how Daniel down-plays this event: the angel Gabriel “looks like a man” and the voice of God “sounds like a man’s voice.” But there is no doubt this is a divine visitation.
Secondly, angels are messengers who deliver God’s messages to people. As we read in verse sixteen, “GABRIEL, TELL THIS MAN THE MEANING OF THE VISION.”)
Daniel was disturbed by the vision and the visitation. In verse seventeen he wrote, I WAS TERRIFIED AND FELL PROSTRATE. Elsewhere in the Bible, we see this self-humiliating pose as typical when approaching royalty. This was how Esther approached the king in Esther 5:2. The Apostle John took this position when he encountered the SON OF MAN (Revelation 1:17).
We see this again in verse eighteen: I WAS IN A DEEP SLEEP, WITH MY FACE TO THE GROUND. This wasn’t a sudden urge for a nap or a swoon. This word for SLEEP is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe a trance-like state in which a prophet receives a vision. The fact that Gabriel lifted Daniel to his feet with a touch is another detail that gives this scene a supernatural quality.
The encounter took its toll on Daniel, as we see in verse 27: I, DANIEL, WAS EXHAUSTED AND LAY ILL SEVERAL DAYS. I WAS APPALLED BY THE VISION THAT WAS BEYOND UNDERSTANDING. We’ve all had the experience of having a nightmare that affected us so profoundly we lose sleep over it. But not many of us have been so deeply affected that we were ILL for DAYS afterward.
But why was Daniel APPALLED at the message he’d received? That Hebrew word can also be translated as “desolate, devastated, wasted, helpless,” so it is an extreme condition. The simplest explanation is that he understood verses nineteen to twenty-five as warning of additional persecutions that would befall God’s people. He may have understandably felt they had already suffered enough and was saddened to hear more was to come.
What can we understand about this vision? This passage, like all of Daniel’s visions, has been the subject of much speculation by people looking for clues to the end times events that are part of our future. Based on the text alone, there are three things we can say with certainty.
Firstly, the vision looks to the future from Daniel’s perspective: to THE TIME OF THE END (verses seventeen and nineteen), a time in the DISTANT FUTURE (v. 26). The expression THE TIME OF WRATH is used four ways in the Old Testament:
– One, for God’s wrath against His people for their unfaithfulness.
– Two, for God’s wrath against the foreign nations who made themselves enemies of His people and persecuted them.
– Three, the term marks the end of one historical era and the beginning of another.
– Four, the end of reality as we know it; the putting away of the physical universe to replace it with an eternal creation. We are tempted to assume the vision depicts God’s WRATH against the wicked at Judgment Day, but we need to be careful to note the context and determine which of the four meanings is appropriate to the text before and after it.
Secondly, verse 25 tells us this vision depicts the victory of God over the forces of evil in the world. The fact is that the time of evil is limited and that God will win. Apocalyptic literature like Daniel’s visions are given to encourage the faithful to resist the temptation to give up. We are to be steadfast in our faith because we are assured the time of our trials is limited and that the end of the story is that God wins.
Thirdly, as this vision was BEYOND the UNDERSTANDING to a great man of faith like Daniel, we must approach it humbly. As God gives us wisdom to attempt to understand it, we must give grace to others whose interpretations may not agree with ours.
- How are we to react to disturbing messages?
We can do no better than to follow Daniel’s example – humble yourself and pray (as we read Daniel’s prayer in chapter nine). It was humbling for Daniel to admit he could not UNDERSTAND all the implications of this vision.
Chapter nine records a prayer of worship, recounting God’s mighty deeds on behalf of His people in times past. It’s as if Daniel is reminding God He has been merciful with His people in the past in the hope He will show them mercy in the present.
In the Bible anyway, angel sightings are almost always shocking events. Again, following Daniel’s example, we should be shocked into action, not frozen with fear. Notice in verse 27 that the vision laid Daniel out for SEVERAL DAYS, he GOT UP AND WENT ABOUT THE KING’S BUSINESS.
After the vision had been explained to Daniel, the angel Gabriel ordered him to SEAL it up until the time the prophecy was fulfilled. This command was a common feature of apocalyptic literature.
However, Daniel obeyed this command in an interesting way. He did not put a physical seal on it, but a linguistic one. Chapters two through seven of Daniel were written in Aramaic, a commonly used language in Daniel’s time, one his Babylonian captors would have readily known. From chapter eight on, Daniel wrote in Hebrew – his home language – something his Babylonian overseers would not likely have been able to read.
The Apostle Paul would come along 100s of years later and explain the MYSTERY of the Gospel, revealing God’s plan for salvation as realized by Jesus Christ. In effect, he was opening and explaining the salvation significance of OT prophecies like Daniel’s.
God’s messages demand a faithful – not fearful – response.
Preparing this message, I searched “angel sightings,” and as you can guess, there was quite a variety of stuff on the web related to that title. One website had a page where they had photographic evidence of the existence of angels. Another one offered similar claims of sightings of Santa Claus. This is a problem that occurs when we try to convince people of the reality of spiritual things by using earthly means. I wonder why an angel would bother to mask his appearance to the naked eye but allow his picture to be taken.
It is a hard balance to achieve, but I believe it’s good to retain a healthy dose of skepticism when people want to use science to prove faith. Angel sightings and miracles are a couple instances where the line gets blurred and it makes me skeptical about the means and the motive.
So we will limit our search for angels to the pages of Scripture. My prayer is that our search will be part of for our Advent search for the Christ child, our personal spiritual preparations to celebrate His birth. Keep your eyes and your heart open to God’s messages to you in this Advent season.
Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance
Zondervan Bible Commentary, Daniel, A. R. Millard
Kingdom Come, Sam Storms
The Daily Study Bible Series, Daniel, D. S. Russell
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Daniel, Gleason L. Archer, Jr.