Biblical wisdom is commonly misunderstood. The gray-haired may think it is the provenance of living on the planet longer than others, where experience is held up as the criteria for living prudently. The wisdom book Proverbs says it is a “crown of glory” when one has lived a righteous life. Thus, it is the quality of life lived that makes the aged worthy of a hearing.
The young may believe it is a grasp of modern “facts” and innovation that allows one to make better sense of the world. But the wise man says that it is the youth’s strength which is their glory. Young people today may have a higher technological aptitude for learning but knowing facts does not guarantee wisdom.
The place of wisdom in the Christian life, in my opinion, has not been valued as part of our prophetic heritage because the books of Daniel and Revelation have not been studied carefully for insights on how to live a moral life with wisdom. Too often this focus has evaded the faithful because of the tendency to allow secular definitions to frame subjective feelings which override and overrun divinely revealed truths—truths that should guide our lives by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit; truths that transform our actions and attitudes into the likeness of Christ (God’s ultimate wisdom) and enable us to live righteously in the “end times.”
Speaking of living in the “end times,” the Advent Movement, which is grounded in the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, initially came on the heels of the Second Great Awakening, which for all its helpful features was fueled with a high pitch of emotionalism and reaction to the political and social enthusiasm of the day.
When confronted with solid biblical teaching on the prophetic messages of Daniel and Revelation, most of the churches of that time rejected the true wisdom of God and closed ranks around their Reformers’ views:
- Followers of Luther became Lutherans
- Followers of Calvin became Calvinists (Reformed)
- Followers of Wesley became Wesleyans (Methodists)
Sadly, they would move no further in their reformation. The biblical message of Christ’s second coming and the rapid fulfillment of the prophecies was an unwelcome message especially in light of the great changes in America at the time. What transformed and sustained our pioneers when confronted with such resistance—and in many cases downright antagonism—in the face of such a hopeful future? How did they move forward in faith in such a rapidly changing world they lived in? To most minds in the 1840s, the world seemed to be on a tremendous galvanizing footing, due to the incredible advancements in travel, communication, national expansion and politics, education, religion, and health.
Responding vs. Reacting
Now the average person may ask, so what? What does that have to do with my life today? Interestingly, the same reaction of utopia and terror in light of the changes in the 1840s are being repeated today. There is a generation of people, young and old, whose consciousness may not be grounded in the wisdom of God and prophetic history.
As a result, instead of possessing wise and godly responses to the challenges of the day with evangelistic fervor, we too often are seeing a reactionary spirit which results in our polarization and isolation in ways that our pioneers wisely steered clear from for the most part, thanks to dedicated Christian men and women who studied the prophetic books and followed the wise counsel of the servant of the Lord.
A response usually shows preparation, foresight, a strategy, and principle. However, a reaction usually shows an unplanned, impulsive, unforeseen, and unprincipled attempt to address a crisis.
We need to go back to those prophetic books to see how we should respond to God’s leading (instead of reacting to the world around us), see where we are in His story, and what we need for the journey ahead of us. I want us to reflect on three lessons or dimensions in Daniel briefly.
Lesson 1—The Place of Daniel in Our Thinking
By placing chapter 1 first, Daniel makes an important point: Before prophecy, wisdom is needed. The placement of Daniel demands that we rethink how we assess and apply the purpose of the book and how it impacts our lives. Most Christians today follow the Protestant ordering of the Bible. However, it makes a big difference if you read the Bible Jesus learned from and lived,to get a sense of where Daniel was when He read the Bible.
The three-fold, “Old Testament” Bible which Jesus had was the Torah (Moses), Prophets, and Writings (Psalms).
|Torah (Moses)||Prophets||Writings (Psalms)|
|Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy||Former Prophets
(Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings)
|Psalms, Job, Proverbs,|
(Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, 12 minor prophets)
|Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther|
|Ezra-Nehemiah, DANIEL, 1-2 Chronicles|
Daniel focuses on the whole of history (Universal). With its striking contrasts—righteous & wicked—and symbolism—images, beasts, and horns—the visions and dreams in the book strike a chord different than his fellow Israelite prophets. In this book, the sovereignty (ultimate power and control) of God is in view in a new and meaningful way not known up to this point in Israel’s history, and the enemy of God’s people spans the cosmic realm. In the Hebrew Canon, Daniel is among the Writings (Wisdom Literature) and not the Prophets (cf. Ezek 14:14; 28:3). The book demands the gift of wisdom first to hear and then live in a world of conflict, change, and expectation. The need for wisdom is alluded to in this universal context in several ways.
First, the prophet of the end is associated with wisdom, and the wise are God’s agents in the end. Second, now that we know Daniel is placed among the wisdom section of Jesus’ Bible, the wisdom of God is seen as a necessity for the end times.
Wisdom is the gift of God that true faith is open to, not the result of any other ideology or system of belief. It is a gift that recognizes God’s control in every situation and understands where history is headed. We see this in a simple phrase that carries so much meaning “God gave”:
- He gave the king of Judah into a foreigner’s power
- He gave Daniel grace and mercy in the eyes of the enemy
- He gave wisdom, knowledge, and skill
So, whether on a worldwide, inner-personal, or interpersonal scope—Daniel saw God’s hand in control of life. Sadly, some Adventists in America are becoming more susceptible to the political and social forces in society that state they want to make the world a better place. The problem always is that God is not Lord in those plans. According to prophecy,this is not the mission of the church.
On the secular side of things,
- God is portrayed malevolent
- His will is an impediment
- and, His Word is irrelevant.
In the religious side of things,
- God’s will is not respected
- His grace is not effective
- and the use of His Word is selective.
Thus, the Wisdom of God is needed to live in the “end times” as the problems of the world intensify and reactions multiply. For Daniel, all the prophets that preceded him and even a few after him, talked about the “end of the world” as it was revealed to them when the Messiah would come and change the world.
Daniel’s captivity in Babylon was an “end of the world” moment because, according to the prophets, after Israel’s exile the Messiah was to come. The surprise for Daniel, the “Dance of Daniel” was that God would later reveal to him that the “end” would be the end of world history when there would be no other kingdoms. Not only would the Messiah come as a sacrifice, but He would also serve as our High Priest and Judge—and that’s Good News!
As Daniel wrote and put his book together, under divine inspiration, at the end of his life, he did so in a way that his experience shows us that the Wisdom of God is needed to understand how prophecy applies to our daily lives.
Taken to a faraway land, to a place where his God, the true God, was not honored, a land that Daniel calls in Daniel 1: 2 “The Land of Shinar.” If you remember this is Babylon’s name in Genesis 11 that refers to a time of ultimate worldwide rebellion where God came down and judged the people.
By focusing on the house of God and the House of Babylon’s god, Daniel sets up a contrast. Marduk was the god of the Babylonians, the god of victory in their creation narrative, and the god of wisdom. Daniel contrasts two ways of wisdom available to mankind, both expressing a way for the future. Jerusalem vs. Babylon.
It would be easy to think that Jerusalem was a failure because the people were taken into Exile. But Daniel knew the Word of God and no matter what the appearance, Daniel knew Isaiah 46—Babylon’s god was no match for his God. Daniel knew that Cyrus was prophesied to come and displace Babylon. He alludes to this by ending chapter 1 with a note about Cyrus.
There are only two classes of people in the world according to Daniel: the wise and the foolish. Wisdom and folly in Daniel are not about being smart vs. unintelligent, but about accepting God’s prophetic word and grace vs. all other attempts to change the world or make a name for ourselves.
The 4 Hebrew worthies’ actions no doubt were based on God’s prophetic Word (cf. Dan 9). This perspective begins the book in a Cosmic Battle- The House of God (Jerusalem) vs. The House of Nebuchadnezzar’s God (Babylon). The pivotal question the book leaves us with is whose House are we in—the Wisdom of God expressed in His prophetic word OR the folly of Babylon expressed in its premise of power, personified prestige, and popular platitudes?
Lesson 2- Enduring faith in the LORD and His Word in the face of trials.
The test of Daniel and his 3 friends’ fidelity is central to the chapter, central to the book, and central to our lives. First, note the characteristics of the men Nebuchadnezzar wanted for his court. The best, the brightest, and those “skilled in wisdom” (1:4): Educated, with keen insight and capable. He wanted young men who were already physically and intellectually capable, which should help us understand that the “Daniel plan” wasn’t primarily about health, they were already healthy!
How did Nebuchadnezzar intend to subjugate their wisdom, which was a gift from God? He did this in 3 main ways.
(1)By changing their names, which was a sign of having power over another person: 2 Kings 23:34 (Jehoiakim from Eliakim); 24:17 (Zedekiah from Mattaniah). But Daniel did not accept that change as he regularly refers to himself by his Hebrew name Daniel which means “God is my Judge.” We can only endure the trials of life if we live in the truth that God is our Judge!
(2)By controlling their sustenance regimen. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not bring himself under judgment. A keyword here that is lost in translation is the word “defile” It is not the typical word for food defilement used in Lev 11 and Deut 14. It is the word used in contexts of bloodshed and judgment (Isa 59:1–3). Thus, Daniel purposed in his heart not to bring himself under judgment because God is his Judge and when God is your Judge you can endure the attempts to make you conform.
(3)By directing their education with his own type of wisdom (everything was religious, so that wasn’t the problem). These practices were grounded in three aspects of the foolish:
- Polytheistic in nature (many gods) COEXIST
- Superstitious in character (many spiritual influences)
- Pluralistic in practice (many ideas)
But Daniel and his friends were able to learn what others believed without accepting their worldview. So, the test was primarily about allegiance. Daniel did protest, but it was a protest predicated on wisdom!
Deuteronomy 4-11 deals with Israel’s education, identity, and the source of their life and livelihood. It took wisdom to resist in a way that would not bring about chaos. So, we too can live wisely, by understanding the culture we live in, even though it is often at cross purposes with God. And we can do without becoming conspiracy theorists, radical dissidents, or indifferent observers. We too can make a positive impact on society when we stick with God’s plan for our lives!
Satan always presents two alternative routes to the wisdom of God: fanaticism or compromise! He tried to control their education, their identity (names) and their provision (food/drink) to show that his god Marduk (the god of wisdom) ruled the world. It is a demonically clever strategy because it is easier to get the people out of Babylon than it is to get Babylon out of the people. Remember, according to Jeremiah 25 it was God’s providence and the people’s negligence that brought the people to Babylon and brought about the situation where the test was needed. God teaches us to endure trials by bringing us into tight places to gain the crown.
Ellen White comments,
As I saw what we must be in order to inherit glory, and then saw how much Jesus had suffered to obtain for us so rich an inheritance, I prayed that we might be baptized into Christ’s sufferings, that we might not shrink at trials, but bear them with patience and joy, knowing what Jesus had suffered that we through His poverty and sufferings might be made rich. (Early Writings, 67)
Considering all the “progress” that the people in the mid-1800s achieved, what people couldn’t foresee was the fracture that was about to hit the world like a tsunami and confront them in ways that would challenge their view of reality.
- The Kansas-Nebraska Act would not stave off the lust for free-labor (slavery) and led to the Civil War.
- Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species
- The political and social revolutions of the mid-1800s hit everywhere, and political chaos ensued.
- By the 1870s four parties had emerged regarding educational focus and the secular view won out.
Because of these changes, many beliefs were put to the test in the hearts of the people and often times the outcome was not a passing grade. Daniel prods us not to repeat those mistakes, but to learn to endure with faithfulness in the face of trials and change.
Lesson 3- Avoid the Spirit of the Little Horn
Remembering that this book was written for the people of God after the Exile, the message for us is to Avoid the spirit of the little horn.
Each of the first six chapters of Daniel are composed of historical narratives pointing forward to the coming crisis, and in chapter 1 Daniel has set the table for understanding the narratives, which in turn help us understand the prophecies! So, the narratives have lessons to teach us about being a part of the wise and avoiding the foolish Little Horn of Daniel 7 & 8.
All the kings in the chapters 1-6 tried to substitute true worship with a false one; they exalted themselves and even put themselves in place of God; they made people worship either themselves or their pagan gods, and they persecuted those who did not obey using decrees and power all under the guise of religiosity.
But what does that have to do with us? If Daniel was written for us and not for the kings, then we should ask why Daniel organized his book the way he did. Often overlooked are the practical lessons of the connections between the narratives (Dan 1-6) and the prophecies (Dan 7-12). The spirit of the Little Horn shows up in three ways.
First, the Misuse of Law-Darius and the Little Horn (Dan 7). If we are perceptive students of Daniel, we will remember that according to 2:21 it is God who “changes times and seasons” and the Little Horn’s major sin is that it attempts to “change times and seasons” (7:25). Its rebellion is against God’s Law, God’s authority, and God’s revealed will.
Why did Judah go into Exile in the first place? They were not Babylon, but they had Babylonian ideas—that they could change what God said to make it suit their own lives. Daniel 6 gives us insight into the spirit that would lead someone to this type of activity. The connections between this chapter and chapter 7 are clear: “law” (6:8, 12, 15), “time” (6:10, 13), and the verb “change” (6:8, 15, 17) with 7:25. The attempt to control the conscience leads people to enact laws. For the people of God, Law emerges out of God’s Grace. Do we believe in grace? The Little Horn doesn’t, and it will misuse law. What was Daniel’s response to the attempt to change the Law of God? His faithful habit of prayer.
“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Dan 6:10).
Daniel was able to wisely respond (instead of reacting) to the enforcement of an ungodly law because he had a habit of fidelity to the true Law of God!
Second, the Tyranny of Worship-Belshazzar and the Little Horn (Dan 7). Like the Little Horn in Daniel 7 & 8, the king here is lifting up himself against the Lord of Heaven (v. 23). The king’s problem is one of arrogance. This is the same problem of the Little Horn 7:8, 20, 25! Judgment is necessary to stop the affront of blasphemy! Our message is: Have we wisely taken heed, though we knew all of this? How will we respond?
Last, is the Spirit of Persecution-Nebuchadnezzar and the Little Horn (Dan 7). According to Daniel 7:14 all “peoples, nations, and languages” are to worship and serve “One like a Son of Man,” But Nebuchadnezzar has called all “peoples, nations, and languages” to worship his image in defiance of the prophetic image he was shown earlier.
This is clearly an attribute of the Little Horn, to dismiss God’s prophetic Word where He will reign forever. The Little Horn will try to subvert the work of the Messiah, who will reign, but it will be decimated not with the force of arms but with the power of love, seen on Calvary and in the Heavenly Sanctuary! Like Nebuchadnezzar, the little horn expresses the ultimate pride, so the eschatological warning would be about pride leading one to associate or even worse affiliate with the little horn in persecuting others in any way, form, or fashion.
The greatest danger is to think that just knowing that the Little Horn is the Papacy will protect us from falling prey to Satan’s end-time deceptions. The enemy knows that if he can dupe us into adopting a critical, harsh, and unforgiving spirit the next step to persecution won’t be so big. How did the 3 Hebrew worthies respond (instead of reacting)? In essence, they wisely said, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”
So, to recap and conclude.
- Wisdom to understand God’s prophecies and apply them rightly, that we may
- Endure the test of our faith,so we won’t give in to
- The spirit of the Little Horn
And what is the result? God can use us in ways that will validate and vindicate that He is our Wise Judge and His ways are the wisest!
J. R. Fitzmier, “Second Great Awakening,” in Dictionary of Christianity in America, eds. Reid, Daniel G., Robert Dean Linder, Bruce L. Shelley, and Harry S. Stout (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990).
Travel: In 1843 the first ‘wagon trains’–the wave of migration starting westward—on what is now know as the Oregon Trail. More importantly, by 1840, 3000 miles of railroad track had been laid down, which meant that travel between directly connected cities could be much faster than before. Within a few years, the railways grew faster, more powerful, and more efficient. They would become America’s primary mode of transportation east of the Mississippi, sweeping away the stage lines and even making some of the canals obsolete. For a more in-depth look at these issues, see James L. Roark et. Al, The American Promise: A History of the United States (Combined Version), 5thed. (Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012), 333–393.
Communication: In 1836 Samuel Morse had created an electromagnetic telegraph and had written the code that was to be transferred on it. The first telegraphed news dispatch was published in the Baltimore Patriot (May 25, 1844).
Expansion and Politics: The march towards “progress” would lead to Florida becoming the 27th state of the USA (March 3, 1845). Texas became the 28th state of the USA. Iowa became the 29th state of the USA. Eventually, to preserve the balance of power in Congress between slave and free states, the Missouri Compromise that was passed in 1820 admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854). The development of the Whig party excited a new political dynamic to American politics. Frank Towers comments, “Democrats stood for the ‘sovereignty of the people’ as expressed in popular demonstrations, constitutional conventions, and majority rule as a general principle of governing, whereas Whigs advocated the rule of law, written and unchanging constitutions, and protections for minority interests against majority tyranny.” (Frank Towers, “Mobtown’s Impact on the Study of Urban Politics in the Early Republic,” Maryland Historical Magazine 107 (Winter 2012): 472, citing Robert E, Shalhope, The Baltimore Bank Riot: Political Upheaval in Antebellum Maryland (2009): 147.)
Education: The Smithsonian Institution was established as an educational and research institute; it is administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment. Accordingly, “In the 1840’s an evangelical consensus of faith and ethics was so firmly planted in America that a majority of Protestants were willing to entrust the state with the task of educating children, confident that this education would remain rooted in Christian principles.” W. Andrew Hoffecker and Gary Scott Smith, Building a Christian Worldview: Volume 2, The Universe, Society, and Ethics(Acton, MA: Copley Custom Publishing, 1998), 276.
Religion: In 1844, George Williams met with twelve young men in his London home in what was to be the first meeting of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The purpose of the YMCA was to win young men to Jesus Christ. Williams’s Bible studies grew, and the movement spread to the United States, France, Holland, and throughout the British Empire. Gradually, recreation and relief work were added to its programs, and eventually, the movement was secularized. Sharon Rusten with E. Michael, The Complete Book of When & Where in the Bible and Throughout History(Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2005), 366.
Health: Antiseptic use in Hospitals stemmed from Surgeon Joseph Lister (Scotland), who began cleaning wounds, surgical equipment, and insisting his surgical team clean hands with Carbolic Acid before operating. In 1840, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, the world’s first dental school, was established.
I highly recommend on The Great Courses Series Utopia and Terror in the 20thCentury by Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius to get a sense of the type of reactions to world change. For a sense of the philosophical and religious underpinnings that served as a precursor to frame reactions to change in the 19thcentury, see Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2004).
To my knowledge I do not know if the pioneers were aware of the three-fold division of the Hebrew Bible. But I do the place of Daniel in their thinking was predominant.
cf. Luke 24:44.
For a helpful exposition on the Wisdom themes and focus of the book of Daniel, see Tremper Longman III, The Fear of the Lord is Wisdom: A Theological Introduction to Wisdom in Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 86–93.
See Daniel 1:17-18; 12:2.
See Proverbs 2:6.
Daniel 1:2 (Land of Shinar- Balal“confusion”—Babel “Gate of God”).
For a helpful review of some of the changes and how Adventists addressed them, see E. A. Sutherland, Living Fountains or Broken Cisterns: An Educational Problem for Protestants(Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald, ©1900).
I’m concerned that some among us in the United States are willing to use the civic system along Liberal political lines just as much as Conservative political reactionaries are trying to rule through law. For a much-needed discussion on this issue, see Michael Younker, “Adventist Eschatology in Relation to the Religious Left and the Religious Right,” Journal of Adventist Theological Society23 no. 2 (2012): 190–241.