Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Don't speak too soon!

I'm reading through Daniel these mornings and have been quite taken with the structure of the book, (any atheists / unbelievers reading - please stick with this article, it's for you!)

The first six chapters are what we could call prophetic history, and the last six chapters are historic prophecy. What we mean by that is that the first six chapters are chapters of history, chapters of narrative, but in those chapters we see illustrations and pictures of the future. In the last six chapters we read things that were future prophecy from Daniel's standpoint but the prophecies (largely) have been fulfilled and from our point of view they are history.

However, people have looked at the prophecies in the last six chapters and thought there is absolutely no way Daniel ever could have made such precise and accurate predictions (because such a thing would be humanly impossible and would be a miracle, which would necessitate the existence of God and imply the inspiration of Scripture, and we can't have that, can we??)

So unbelievers have been forced to say that Daniel's prophecies were actually written after the event, and instead of Daniel being written during the Babylonian / Medo-Persian empires it was written during the Greek empire and looked back rather than forward.

However, this view runs into serious difficulties. Let me give three.

Firstly, there is absolutely no dispute about the fact that Daniel was written before the time of Jesus Christ, and in Daniel 9 v 24-26 we have a timeline given for when the Messiah would come and atone for sin. We are given the very year and told that it would happen before the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. The death of the Lord Jesus at Calvary happened right on time. Whether that was written in the Greek empire or earlier it is still a stunning proof of the existence of God, and the fact that Jesus is the promised Saviour.

Secondly, some of the prophetic details have a near and a far fulfilment, which means that a figure like Antiochus Epiphanes, who is so clearly prophesied in the book, actually is a foreshadowing of a person still future. This is why there are some things said about this figure in Daniel that were not completely fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes. Now the point is this, if the book was written in the Greek empire why would the writer include things that weren't true of the supposed fulfilment? It must have been written beforehand. The accurate description shows this is not guesswork or fluke, but the additional details point forward to a fuller and final fulfilment.

Thirdly, for many years critical scholars have pointed to the reference to Belshazzar as a proof that Daniel was not written at the time it claims for itself, because no ancient historian (such as Heroditus, approx. 450 BC) ever made any reference to this man, but rather all agreed that Nabonidus was the king of Babylon at the end of the Babylonian empire, and so it was claimed that this is proof that Daniel is a far later work that is not based in the Babylonian empire, Belshazzar is fictional, thus the Bible is wrong and therefore can be ignored. However, it is well established by historians that Nabonidus was in North Arabia when the Babylonian empire fell, so presumably he would have had a viceroy in charge during his absence. I wonder who that could have been? After some digging in Ur (Iraq) sometime around 1854 a cylinder was uncovered which has been called the Nabonidus cylinder. It dates back to the 6th century BC and contains prayers of Nabonidus for himself in his reign, and also for his firstborn son whose name was...Belshazzar!
As for me, Nabonidus, king of Babylon, save me from sinning against your great godhead and grant me as a present a life long of days, and as for Belshazzar, the eldest son - my offspring - instill reverence for your great godhead in his heart and may he not commit any cultic mistake, may he be sated with a life of plenitude.
We should just point out in the passing that Nabonidus was worried about his son offending the pagan gods - he ought to have been concerned about the true God, for whom Belshazzar had no reverence.

The fact that Belshazzar is mentioned in the prayer shows that he had a position of authority in the kingdom, and this is why in Daniel 5 v 7 whoever interprets the writing gets third place in the kingdom, not second, because Belshazzar was second.

What this shows is that there is no way Daniel was written in the Greek empire or later, because by then Belshazzar was a forgotten man that no historian knew about. Clearly the book of Daniel must have been written at the time the book claims for itself, and thus this discovery of the Nabonidus cylinder not only confirms the historical accuracy of the book, but the divine authority of the book: these descriptions of the four world empires, and personalities like Alexander the Great and Antiochus Epiphanes were prophesied, and the prophecies came true. That means we need to take it seriously when it talks about what will happen in your future, e.g. you will either experience everlasting life or shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12 v 2), and it is based on what you do with the promised Messiah who died to make atonement for sin.

So something that critics held up as a proof the Bible isn't the Word of God actually ends up being overturned to show that it is.