A Conversation With My Daughter
In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: I,Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it. Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth and was told, ‘Arise, devour many bodies!’After this, as I watched, another appeared, like a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly. – Daniel 7:1-8
Last night while I was getting dinner ready, my younger daughter, Miriam, sat down in the kitchen and asked me a question. Now, Miriam attends a private, fairly conservative unaffiliated Evangelical high school. As she had told me last week about watching MLK’s entire speech during the 1963 March On Washington, I knew that her English teacher was using religious speech as examples in a section they’re doing on persuasive speech. Like I said, I wasn’t surprised either that Miriam had a question or that she’d ask me a question. What did surprise me was what followed.
“So, Dad, what’s Daniel chapter 7 all about?”
I do pretty well most of the time with Biblical references like this, but it’s honestly been a few years since I’ve perused Daniel, so I asked her to remind me what was in the chapter. When she said, “The beast with . . .”, I nodded and said, “OK.”
Before I said anything, I wanted to know why she was asking. In her English class that day, her teacher had shown the class a sermon – I have no idea who preached it but it sounds eerily like John Hagee – in which, as an example of “persuasive speech” the preacher used Daniel 7 to warn the congregation of the coming horrors. “I love how some people just take stuff out of the Bible and think they can just paste it into our reality,” she said. A wise 14-year-old.
So I told her about Alexander the Great. I told her about Antiochus IV. I told her about Antiochus’s bust being placed in the Holy of Holies. I told her about the Maccabean Revolt and the reason for Hannukah. I’m sure I told her way too much, but sometimes I can’t help myself. Anyway, I circled back and said that the Book of Daniel was about the Maccabean revolt. I didn’t tell her it was written in code because I don’t believe any part of the Bible is written in “code”. If it was written in code, we today would have zero idea what the heck any of it was about unless we had a decryption key. Of course, there are some folks out there who believe it is written in code and believe they have the key. These folks are called Gnostics and should be avoided. Anyone claiming to have secret, real knowledge and understanding of the Bible should be avoided. Anyway, I told her that the folks who read Daniel when it circulated as . . . well, as a kind of war propaganda . . . understood it clearly. The reason it seems so odd to us, and why some people think they need a key to understand it and are therefore exploited by those who claim to have the key is simple: We aren’t Jews living in second century BCE Palestine under Greek rule. Rather than a “key” to unlock the “code”, we need things like common sense, a bit of understanding about similar books written in similar styles, and either Biblical Hebrew or someone who understands Biblical Hebrew. As these aren’t “secret” things, but publicly available to anyone, it isn’t about cracking a code but reading and thinking about what we are reading.
Anyway, back to our conversation. She told me that the preacher was saying that the prophecies of Daniel were coming true right now, and we had to pay attention to the signs, and blah-di-blahdy-blah (that’s technical stuff right there). I asked her what she thought. “The whole time I was watching it, I kept thinking that all that bad stuff happens all the time. So what makes this time special?”
I love how smart my kids are.
Then Miriam told me a story:
Back when we lived in Poplar Grove I went to Mom and told her the world was going to end in 2012. Because everyone at school was talking about 2012 and stuff. So I told Mom the world was going to end and Mom said, “So . . . if the world ends, who do you belong to?” And I said, “Jesus.” Then Mom was like, “And if the world doesn’t end who do you belong to?” And I said, “Jesus”. So I realized no matter what happens, I’m good. I’m covered.
So I guess whoever preached that sermon on Daniel wasn’t very persuasive. At least not to Miriam. I just wish other folks would use the tools she did – her faith informed both by her experience and a little common sense – in order to work through things that trouble them. You see, I don’t think Miriam wanted me to give her information. Miriam wanted me to confirm her 14-year-old hunch that preacher was trying to sell listeners a bill of goods they didn’t need.
Just remember: And a little child shall lead them