In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after the one that had appeared to me at first. In the vision I was looking and saw myself in Susa the capital, in the province of Elam, and I was by the river Ulai. I looked up and saw a ram standing beside the river. It had two horns. Both horns were long, but one was longer than the other, and the longer one came up second. I saw the ram charging westwards and northwards and southwards. All beasts were powerless to withstand it, and no one could rescue from its power; it did as it pleased and became strong.
As I was watching, a male goat appeared from the west, coming across the face of the whole earth without touching the ground. The goat had a horn between its eyes. It came towards the ram with the two horns that I had seen standing beside the river, and it ran at it with savage force. I saw it approaching the ram. It was enraged against it and struck the ram, breaking its two horns. The ram did not have power to withstand it; it threw the ram down to the ground and trampled upon it, and there was no one who could rescue the ram from its power. Then the male goat grew exceedingly great; but at the height of its power, the great horn was broken, and in its place there came up four prominent horns towards the four winds of heaven.
Out of one of them came another horn, a little one, which grew exceedingly great towards the south, towards the east, and towards the beautiful land. It grew as high as the host of heaven. It threw down to the earth some of the host and some of the stars, and trampled on them. Even against the prince of the host it acted arrogantly; it took the regular burnt-offering away from him and overthrew the place of his sanctuary. Because of wickedness, the host was given over to it together with the regular burnt-offering; it cast truth to the ground, and kept prospering in what it did. Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one that spoke, ‘For how long is this vision concerning the regular burnt-offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled?’ And he answered him, ‘For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.’
How often we enjoy a well told apocalypse: a vision of the world passed through refining fire. We want to hear that those who deserve a comeuppance will inevitably get one, some will die nobly, others succumb needlessly, but somehow life will begin anew. We like the satisfaction of seeing tyrants fall. The reassurance that justice will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Who is the ram and what of the horned goat? No spoilers today, tomorrow’s reading gives answers. Best not to Google it, lest you lose hours contemplating our time as the End Times, caught up in a giddy excitement that we will witness destruction unfold around us. Unless you are drinking the Kool-Aid you may feel slightly nauseous.
The prophet feels sick to his stomach. He sees the Temple of God falling, and being despised. A whispered voice asks: how long will this last? The reply depends on how you read it: if 2300 days then around seven years, but (like a prison sentence) the time served might be half of that, if Daniel means 2300 missed offerings, one each morning and evening. But are these human days or symbolic ones? Getting caught in the maths can distract from the story.
It is wickedness that allows the Temple to fall. The perversion of the little horn headed ruler who dares to pretend to rival heaven’s power has cast truth to the ground. This is not a reference to fake news, but to the audacity of believing that God’s people would be subdued by a show of power. The Israelites have learned to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land (Psalm 137) and wondered if the best of sacrifices is a clean and contrite heart, not the Temple offering (Psalm 51). Losing the form and ritual of the Temple is traumatic and brings deep grief, but the people of God will persist faithfully, reading the signs of the times and looking for symbols of hope.
If it be your will, may even the worship I love, the buildings I know, and the certainties I cling to fall away. For if it be your will, it shall be done on earth, in heaven, and within my heart. Amen
The Rev’d ‘frin Lewis-Smith is a Healthcare Chaplain in Salford.
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