Thursday, July 27, 2017

Daniel and Hosea: a study in dreams, visions and warnings

This month’s study is on two books, Daniel and Hosea, and will be a bit longer than usual. Daniel was one of four men who were chosen to learn the language and literature of the Babylonians. He was even given a Babylonian name, Belteshazzar. Everyone knows the stories of the fiery furnace, the lion’s den and the writing on the wall. Few remember Daniel was also an interpreter of dreams and had dreams himself. These dreams foretold the future. Some were fulfilled quickly while others have yet be fulfilled. Hosea is a prophet in the northern kingdom. Hosea’s life is an illustration of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God and his desire for reconciliation. Hosea takes a wife who is unfaithful to him. Despite her unfaithfulness, Hosea remained married. His life became a living, prophetic example of Israel. Hosea also proclaims to Israel the changes against them and the coming punishments.

Daniel interpreted two dreams. First, in Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a large statute. The statue had a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze and legs and feet of iron and clay. And a stone destroys each part, leaving no trace. No one could tell him the meaning of the dream until Daniel sought God’s guidance for the meaning (verse 18). Daniel interpreted the dream, telling the king that he is the head of gold. After his kingdom’s time, another kingdom will rise, inferior to his. Each succeeding kingdom will be inferior to its predecessor. The last kingdom is a mixture of iron and clay, mixed but not united. In this last kingdom, God will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. Many scholars believe this alludes to Christ’s earthly kingdom. Many scholars believe that the silver represents the Medo-Persian Empire, the bronze the Grecian Empire, and iron and clay the Roman Empire. Although, some scholars now believe the iron and clay represents modern world powers and we now wait for the coming of Christ’s kingdom. Second, Daniel 4, King Nebuchadnezzar, once again, has a dream. This time he dreams of a tree. A large and strong tree which gave food and shelter until a messenger, an angel, comes to cut down the tree. Before Daniel gave his interpretation, verse 19 says he was deeply perplexed and it terrified him. The tree is the king and God has issued against him. He will be driven away from the people, to live among the animals. Seven times will pass by until the king acknowledges the Most High is sovereign. One year later, the dream is fulfilled with Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his kingdom (Daniel 4:28-37).

Daniel has dreams and visions himself. First, the dream of the four beasts in Daniel 7:1-14. The first beast was a lion with wings of an eagle. Its wings were torn off and it stood like a man. The second beast, a bear with three ribs in its mouth. A voice told the bear to get its fill of flesh. The third beast is a leopard with four wings like a bird and four heads. It was given the authority to rule. The last beast is the most terrifying, frightening and powerful with large iron teeth and ten horns. It crushed and devoured its victims. God reveals the meaning of the vision to Daniel (Daniel 7:15-28). The four beasts represent four kingdoms that will rise from the earth. Many scholars believe this is an end times vision. Second, the vision of a ram and a goat (Daniel 8:1-14). In it, there was a ram with two horns and a goat with one horn. The goat attacked the ram and the ram was powerless to overcome the goat. The goat’s horn would break off and four more grew in its place. The angel, Gabriel, gives Daniel the interpretation of the dream at God’s command (Daniel 8:15-27). The ram represented the kings of Media and Persia. The goat was the king of Greece. The four horns represent the four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation. These kingdoms will be less powerful than the original kingdom. 

In chapters 4, 5 and 7, Hosea details the charges against Israel. They have no faithfulness, no love, or acknowledgement of God (Hosea 4:1). God is angry at the priests who relished in the people’s sins for they profited from it. Hosea 4:7-8 says “The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful. They feed on the sins of my people and relish in their wickedness.” The more the people sinned, the more they offered as atonement. The priests would live on the offerings as stated in the Law (Leviticus 7:28-36). However, what they could not eat, the priests would sell. They were making money from the people’s sins. So what motivation would the priests have to help the people leave behind their wicked ways? God places the blame on the priests and the kings for the people’s sins. In Hosea 5:1, Hosea writes “Hear this, you priests! Pay attention, you Israelites! Listen, O royal house! This judgment is against you; You have been a snare at Mizpah, a net spread out on Tabor.” Mizpah and Tabor may have been prominent sites of worship to the god Baal. Leaders encouraged the people to worship and sin at these sites. With the kings and priests encouraging sins for their own benefit, how could the people of Israel stand a chance to obey God. God still held the people responsible for their sins; however, when the civil and religious leaders whom they looked to for guidance were disobeying God, why should they? God wants to save Israel but they do not call out to him, they do not repent (Hosea 7:13b-14).

The coming punishment for Israel’s unfaithfulness Hosea 9: 17 says “My God will reject them because they have not obeyed him; they will be wanderers among the nations.” Due to their disobedience and their failure to repent and turn back to God, Hosea 10:13 says that the Israelites “have planted wickedness,” they have “reaped evil” and “have eaten the fruit of deception” and depended upon their own strength and “many warriors.” They believed they were safe due to the military might of the northern kingdom. God promised them that with the roar of battle, their fortresses will be devastated (Hosea 10:14). They will live in tents once again like they did when they were brought out of Egypt (Hosea 12:9). However, God still loves this people. He still wants to see them turn from their wickedness. Hosea 14:9 states “Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them? The ways of the Lord are right, the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.” It is an appeal to listen, learn and benefit from God’s word. To those who receive the message from Hosea, it meant the difference between life and death. God judges the sin but shows mercy to the sinner when the sinner repents and turns back to God.

In conclusion, the dreams in Daniel were messages, warnings to things to come. Some events could not be stopped like the dream of the statute. It was a look into the future of the major world powers. Some dreams were a warning from pride like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the tree. God used these dreams and visions to how his people that he is in control of heaven and of earth. He is the one directing the forces of nature, the destiny of the nations and the care of his people. In Hosea, God is the one who is forever faithful to an unfaithful people. In the book, God lists Israel’s sins against him and the terrible consequences if they did not repent and turn back to God. Despite Israel’s sins, God still loved the people. No matter what we do, God still loves us. There is still hope to turn away from sin and turn back to God. He waits for us with open arms, if only we are willing to walk into them. However, if we do not, we will suffer the consequences of our sins just as Israel did.