This weekend in Bible School we taught on apocolyptic literature in the intertestamental period with a focus on the visions of Daniel (chapters 7-12). The vision of the four beasts in chapter 7 is explained later in that chapter as identifying four kingdoms. Like everything in Bible interpretation, the identities of the kingdoms is debated. I find the strongest argument to be Babylon (winged lion), Medes (devouring bear), Persia (4-headed winged leopard), and Greece (iron-toothed monster).

Living in Estonia at a time of blatant illegal aggression from a persistently threatening neighboring empire, the image of the an enraged bear with three ribs in its teeth is a bit too close to home. If you know bear behavior, the image in Daniel suggests that there is a disemboweled carcass at the bear’s feet. But what is even more disturbing is that the voice of an off-stage onlooker cries out, “Arise and devour much flesh!” As if the rage of empires is a spectacle that we can observe in domestic comfort during Sunday night football commercial breaks.

It is important to realize that Daniel is in exile as the vision plays out. He is not in a place of comfort or power, but between the jaws of first beast. This vision and the ones that follow all indicate that this existence between the jaws of empire is what the Israelites have to look forward to for a very long time.

But at the same time, it is crystal clear that when God – “the Ancient of Days” – sits in court to judge the empires, his decision is final and its effects are decisive. It seems to be an unfortunate truth of human society that in spite of the humanity with which human empires may begin, eventually they exchange humanity for beastliness and set about to the work of dehumanization. This is unfortunately true of ALL empires in all ages. But no matter how beastly, all empires exist within the boundaries set by God and will be judged by him in the course of his time.

The hope for humanity is not to exist within the comfort of the winning empire but to be aligned with the Ancient of Days, no matter where we live.

(This image was created using an AI generator.)

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