As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: ‘As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever—for ever and ever.’
Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped what was left with its feet; 20 and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and concerning the other horn that came up, and to make room for which three of them fell out—the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke arrogantly, and that seemed greater than the others. As I looked, this horn made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them, until the Ancient One came; then judgement was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time arrived when the holy ones gained possession of the kingdom.
This is what he said: ‘As for the fourth beast,
there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth that shall be different from all the other kingdoms; it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces. As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them. This one shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings. He shall speak words against the Most High, shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time. Then the court shall sit in judgement, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and totally destroyed. The kingship and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’
Here the account ends. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly terrified me, and my face turned pale; but I kept the matter in my mind.
Readings of this kind don’t appeal so much to the kind of people who like parables from everyday. The writer tells us that ‘the visions of my head terrified me’ repeating this for us at the end, making sure we know that ‘my face turned pale’. This is the kind of Biblical passage that, if it were a TV drama, would be described as ‘dystopian’. It evokes the stuff of nightmares, of sweaty awakenings and anxious dreams. Perhaps there is reassurance in finding echoes of our most disturbed moments recorded and repeated in the Bible. This too we can bring before God – for others certainly have.
On the 6th August, Hiroshima Day, such a reading as this one from Daniel bears echoes of events from history, the repeated visions of which might justly terrify us. For anyone who grew up in the Cold War period, fears that the world would bring itself to nuclear destruction were terrifyingly real and many a political conscience was forged in the midst of fears that ‘beastly kingdoms’ might tear the world apart. Our visions of dystopia have changed over the years, but they have not left us. They emerge to terrify us from time to time, just as Daniel’s visions put into words the terror of his people then.
This day is also, for some Christians, the Feast of Transfiguration, a day on which the disciples were terrified, but then inspired. They saw a vision that day that was holy, full of love, not of this world’s kingdoms, but of the kingdom of God. I pray and hope that, as the followers of Jesus, we shall know that we belong to that everlasting kingdom of God, the one in which fear is overcome with love. Daniel seems to foretell such a hope, a hope we need today as much then, or as in 1945.
O God, I lay before you the things that terrify me, and I trust to you my deepest, even unspoken, fears. Let your light and your love possess all that is in me, to bring healing, comfort and hope. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Susan Durber, Minister, Taunton United Reformed Church.