By PAUL J. SCHARF, M.Div.
Editor in Chief
The growing threat of ISIS and global terror…
Shifting allegiances among the nations of the world…
An exploding national debt…
The possibility of a worldwide economic collapse…
These and a host of other events of our time have many people perplexed, wondering where to turn for answers to such insoluble problems. Add to them the incredible moral confusion of the day.
We have watched with astonishment in the past year as the leaders of the United States have attempted to overturn God’s immutable moral standards. The implementation of same-sex marriage and encouragement for the futile dream of transgender transition—and the real threat of prohibiting opposition to these notions—remind us of the warning of Isaiah 5:20:
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Neither these ungodly behaviors nor the leaders who promote them are the root problem, however. They are symptoms of far deeper spiritual problems in the heart and mind of man. When practiced en masse, such moral anarchy bears witness to the state of a culture that is under what might be called God’s age-of-grace judgment. This is the teaching that the Apostle Paul outlines in Romans 1:18-32.
Dispensationalists agree that during this church age God is not working directly through the nation of Israel, nor does He intervene immediately in judgment on Gentile nations—such as He did in the Old Testament (cf. Amos 1-2) and will do again during the coming seven-year tribulation (cf. Dan. 12:1) and the millennial kingdom (cf. Zech. 14:17-19).
In this dispensation of grace, God’s judgment for sin is often the allowance of sin to run amok at a given place or time. Paul describes the basic mechanism by which sinful practice grows through rebellion as follows:
They… became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools. God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting. (Rom. 1:21-22, 28)
In the context, one of the major evidences of such “futile … thinking” (Rom. 1:21, ESV) is certainly homosexual behavior (i.e., “men committing shameless acts with men” [Rom. 1:27, ESV]), which is borne out in our own day.
Many other cultural phenomena could be listed to demonstrate that we do, indeed, live in “perilous times” (2 Tim. 3:1). For the first time in the modern history of America, there is a bona fide threat of persecution against the practice of Christian belief.
Where do we turn for wisdom to live in these days? We must look to the book of Daniel.
Wisdom from Daniel
The prophet Daniel gives us a model of a faithful believer living near the very center of power in a foreign, heathen land—outside the presence of the visible kingdom of God. By his inspired writing, including his example and his extensive prophecies of the future, we draw principles that we can employ during our time “as sojourners and pilgrims” (1 Pet. 2:11) and thus gain hope for the future.
The wisdom of Daniel was widely known even during his lifetime (Ezek. 28:3). The final revelation of his book, chapters 10-12, shows us that others may also apply a special use of wisdom that they could learn from watching his life. It is based on the Hebrew word שָׂכַל, forms of which are used 63 times in the Old Testament, including 13 times in the book of Proverbs and the following instances in Daniel (see the words in bold):
- Dan. 1:4—”Young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom.”
- Dan. 1:17—”God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom.“
- Dan. 9:13—”That we might turn from our iniquities and understand Your truth.”
- Dan. 9:22—”I have now come forth to give you skill to understand.”
- Dan. 9:25—”Know therefore and understand.”
Here are the uses of the word in the last three chapters of Daniel:
- Dan. 11:33—”And those of the people who understand shall instruct many.”
- Dan. 11:35—”And some of those of understanding shall fall.”
- Dan. 12:3—”Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament.”
- Dan. 12:10—”None of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.”
The first of those two references relate to those who displayed courage and boldness fueled by wisdom at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria (167-160 B.C.).
“The phrase the end time literally reads ‘time of the end’ and refers to the end of Antiochus’s oppression of the Jewish people, not to the end of days. At that time, the Maccabees would defeat Antiochus, rededicate the holy temple in Jerusalem, and establish the festival of Chanukah (Dedication), which the Lord Jesus celebrated (Jn 10:22) and Jewish people still observe today.”
A full exploration of the rich history of this time is beyond the scope of this article. John C. Whitcomb’s note in his commentary on Daniel will serve to summarize its importance:
One rabbi explains: ‘On Purim [cf. the book of Esther] we celebrate the annulment of the royal edict to destroy the body; but on Hanukkah we were rescued from the decree which would have destroyed our souls.'
The latter two verses above (Dan. 12:3, 10) offer great promises to Jewish believers who display similar attributes during the tribulation, when “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time” (Dan. 12:1)—a period that was first typified by the persecution led by Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C.
These stalwart Jewish believers—found both in the intertestamental past and the tribulational future—serve as models from which believers may draw motivation today.
Just as the three friends of Daniel—when confronted with an order to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s “image of gold” (Dan. 3:1)—would not bow, bend or burn, so we who live in this declining culture must “seek mercies from the God of heaven” (Dan. 2:18) in the times of temptation and crisis that are certain to follow.
As Christian faith becomes more and more marginalized in postmodern, post-Christian America, believers will need a special combination of wisdom, courage and boldness to know how to respond to the demands of our turbulent times.
May God help us to follow in the tradition of Daniel.
Editor’s Note: You can listen to Scharf discuss this topic further in the following three episodes of “Ask the Theologian”:
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