THE COSMIC STRUGGLE: HOPE IN DISTRESSING TIMES

In ‘Rumors Of Another World, Philip Yancey tells of ‘a short story by the Spanish writer Carmen Corde.

Corde tells of a young woman who gives birth to a blind son. ‘I do not want my child to know that he is blind!’ she informs family and neighbors, forbidding anyone to use telltale words such as ‘light,’ ‘color,’ and ‘sight.’ The boy grows up unaware of his disability until one day a strange girl jumps over the fence of the garden and spoils everything by using all the forbidden words. His world shatters in the face of this new reality. In modern times, Christians resemble the strange girl who brings a message from outside. To a skeptical audience they bring rumors of another world beyond the fence…[i]

That world is a supernatural and invisible world that many people wonder if really exists. Yet there is a growing interest today in the paranormal. People are curious. In the May 2002 issue of Harper magazine, there was a very interesting statement that supports the idea that what we see is only a fraction of what actually exists. The quote was that the “estimated amount of matter in the universe determined this year to be invisible is 98 percent.”[ii] In other words, the vast majority of reality is invisible. Occasionally, the Scriptures pull back the curtain in order for us to gain some insight into that invisible world and its impact on our lives.

Daniel 10 brings us behind the scenes to understand that there are spiritual entities that are at war with God’s purposes for our world. What we discover is a great cosmic struggle occurring in the spiritual realm. For most people they may feel like they are pawns in a great chess match, but the reality is that God is working out His purposes in which we are a vital component in that cosmic plan. However there is a great struggle or battle transpiring. Tremper Longman reminds us that “The Bible as a whole calls us to a life of a warrior in a world of conflict.”[iii]

We end up fighting in three areas, and what we learn from the Old Testament to the New is that the weapons change. While there is a spiritual component in both Testaments, we see that the battle is also transpiring on a different plane. There are spiritual beings engaged in the battle. In the present earthly sphere, we find a culture in rebellion with God, which Scripture describes as ‘the world.’ This wickedness is inspired and orchestrated through deception by evil spiritual entities generally perpetrated by earthly authorities in various realms including politics, education, medicine, media, the arts and even within the church. Peter Obrien summarize the work of darkness and its impact on our lives individually and collectively.

The devil and his minions are able to rule the lives of men and women who belong to his ‘tyranny of darkness’ (Col. 1:13)- they are called ‘children of disobedience’ at Ephesians 2:2- and the powers exploit culture and social systems in their attempts to wreck the creative and saving work of God.[iv]

Evil can rear its ugly head in every institution. But before we decry institutions, we see evil raging in families because ultimately the battle is being engaged within each human heart. The weapons or the strategy of engagement is how we relate to people who are trapped in Satan’s kingdom. Whereas in the Old Testament there were literally physical battles, what we see happening in the New Testament is our engagement with people in the context of the gospel. Bringing God’s message of hope and deliverance is a fundamental weapon in this spiritual battle. We are commissioned by God to do this with respect and gentleness (1 Pet. 3:15-16). Yet, for God’s children, the greatest battle is actually an internal conflict within our own souls, as we deal with an old, sinful nature that wants to rebel against the nature of Christ now being established in our hearts. “There is a part of us that still acts as if we are part of this world rather than pilgrims looking forward to the realities of heaven.”[v]

Covid, with its interruption of our lives, is a reminder that we are living in a battlefield, not a playground as most would prefer. We have a supernatural enemy that can only be defeated in this earthly realm by spiritual weapons.

One of the greatest weapons we have is our communication with God. In Daniel’s answers to prayer in Daniel 10 we see this glimpse into the cosmic struggle that is happening in a realm that we often forget or ignore. In the vision that is seen in Daniel chapters 11 and 12 of the future, what we discover is the true nature of prophecy. Prophecy is not designed so that we have a clear understanding of what is about to transpire in the future, but rather it is designed to encourage us and give us hope in life’s most difficult situations. Prophecy is given to show us that God and His purposes will triumph. “To know that such a great salvation is coming in spite of the present circumstances cannot help but deeply encourage the godly.”[vi]

So who are these evil forces that facilitate conflict against God’s people and God’s kingdom? How do they work? In the concluding chapters of Daniel, we see that these spiritual authorities of darkness are at work in human empires to oppress God’s people.

Both the prince of Persia and the prince of Greece in these passages are not references to human rulers, but to angelic forces. There is a clear consensus among Bible scholars on this foundational point. …What the angel reveals to Daniel only whets our appetites for more insight into the nature of the heavenly warfare. More is not given. What the Book of Daniel does impress on our hearts and our minds so clearly is the absolute sovereignty of God. He is in control of world history. God knows and predetermines the succession of empires. …Daniel models for us earnest intercessory prayer to our Almighty Father on behalf of the people of God. This made a dramatic difference.[vii]

So, how do our prayers make a difference in this cosmic struggle? What can we learn from Daniel’s approach to the challenges he and his people were facing in that time of exile and captivity, where there were many limitations and restrictions in the lives of God’s people, similar to our own time with this pandemic in our world? Here in the book of Daniel we find two elements that bring encouragement in seasons of distress.

THE FIRST ELEMENT OF ENCOURAGEMENT IN A SEASON OF DISTRESS IS TO PRAY AND FAST WHILE SEEKING GOD FOR ANSWERS

Often we see prayer as a last resort, or we may see prayer as a waste of time in addressing the key issues of life. In the demands of a busy life, with incredible challenges, we just want to roll up our sleeves and get to it, or we are so overwhelmed that we are paralyzed. However, the Scriptures point out over and over again the battle is the Lord’s. I think there are many pictures to show us the necessity of prayer in shaping outcomes in life. One of the most dramatic is found in the book of Exodus where Moses is seen on the hilltop praying with Aaron and Hur, while the military engagement led by Joshua against the Amalekites is being determined by the actions of the three men on the hill.

So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill.

As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.

When Moses’ hand grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up-one on one side, one on the other- so that his hands remained steady till sunset.

So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.[viii]

The uplifted hands represents prayer, as understood by God’s people. Paul in writing to Timothy relates, “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing (1 Timothy 2:8).” Our communication with God is the key to the spiritual battle that is being engaged all around us. This battle is for the souls of people. The enemy’s purposes are to bring confusion and chaos, destruction, and death to our world. It is to destroy relationships, families, and the wellbeing of people (cf. John 10:10).

A. Daniel understood that prayer was a key in dealing with the uncertainties of life.

What we often do not understand is that all our human efforts come up short as there are spiritual entities battling and influencing our lives behind the scenes. Often when we find things exasperating, and we cannot seem to get ahead, or we are unable to resolve things, what we are missing is a view into the realm of the invisible. 

The power of prayer, the power of putting the things of the spirit first does not come naturally to us. It is something that we learn over time, as we truly understand the nature of how life really works. Daniel is seen wrestling in his mind with some of the things that God had revealed to him regarding his people’s future. Chapter 10 really is the introduction of Daniel’s last vision which extends to the very end of the book. This vision comes to Daniel late in life. Biblical scholars estimate that he may have been in his eighties when this vision came to him, possibly 84-85 years old. The Babylonian empire had come to an end. One of the powerful things that occurred under the Persian Empire was the return of the Jews to their homeland, where they were instructed by the King to rebuild their city and temple. Now, in Daniel 10, we find a message of a great war in which God reveals its meaning to Daniel.   

In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision. At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks.

I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.[ix]

Daniel Wallace reminds us: “In Old Testament times people took seriously the idea that physical fasting helped them as they sought to receive revelation and guidance from God.”[x]

B. Gaining insight and discernment for our times and circumstances.

It is obvious that Daniel is not one of the returning exiles, but he is concerned about the welfare of his people, and how they are doing. As you read through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah you will discover that there was continuous opposition to this plan of God’s people being restored. This is the background to this tenth chapter. 

We learn from Daniel that there are things that are concealed to us and the only way to understand what is happening is through spiritual effort on our part. This introduction to the vision shows us the importance of seeking God. This also suggests to me that there are things that God conceals and will only reveal to those who earnestly seek him. One of the reasons that Jesus spoke in parables was in order to conceal spiritual truths to those who only had a superficial desire to understand their meanings. They were designed to stimulate inquiry. To raise question, and cause an honest search for the answers.

The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.[xi]

We are in a challenging moment in human history. The right response to this hour is not panic, fear or indifference. We need to realize that we are in a spiritual battle and the greatest need is for us to engage God in serious prayer seeking His help through this challenging season. We need God’s wisdom and understanding in order to see breakthroughs with this pandemic.

THE SECOND ELEMENT OF ENCOURAGEMENT IN A SEASON OF DISTRESS IS A VISION THAT EXPLAINED THE UNSEEN WORLD AFFECTING THE WORLD IN WHICH WE LIVE

It is while Daniel is seeking God that he has messengers from God, called angels, to show him what is about to transpire.

On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist.

His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.[xii]

Some have thought that this might be a theophany or an appearance of Jesus before his incarnation, but the fact that this messenger struggles in battle against the forces of darkness probably argues against that view, and it may be best to see this as one of God’s arch angels. Some argue that this may be Gabriel as he is mentioned in the previous chapter as the angel who had previously come to Daniel to give him insight and understanding (cf. 9:22). “I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves (Daniel 10:7).”

When we are pursuing God, it is possible to see and hear what others are unable to. In the apostle Paul’s conversion story, he of all his traveling companions sees and hears what the others do not. All they know is that something is happening. “The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone (Acts 9:7).” What we do learn is that this supernatural interruption in the normal course of life causes fear in the human heart. It said of the apostle John that when he had his vision of Jesus on the island of Patmos, of the risen Jesus, he fell down as if he were dead. These heavenly visions are almost beyond what our earthly bodies are able to sustain.

So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, ‘Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.’ And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.[xiii]

Listen to the words of encouragement that the messenger brings to Daniel, as a person who is described as highly esteemed in God’s sight.  Tremper Longman points out the significance of this title.

The Hebrew for this English phrase is really two words, is-hamudot, the first noun being the common word for ‘man’ and the second a noun derived from the verbal root hmd (best known as the main verb of the tenth commandment, ‘to covet’). Daniel is a highly desired, precious man, coveted by God.[xiv]

Here is a man that God covets (desires). What an amazing statement. To be desired by God. Yet, as I consider Scripture, I see this idea being expressed over and over again. The fact that God sent Jesus to suffer for our sins, suggests to me how much God covets, desires or longs for all of us. When we think of God’s amazing love for us, we need not be overwhelmed by life’s challenges. God is with us and for us. So as we walk through this challenging season in our world, it does not make us bullet proof, but we can have a deep assurance that God’s eye is upon our lives. His plans for us will not be thwarted. This is a message of reassurance and hope. It is design to encourage and inspire us. Why do we need to seek God? To be reassured, to be encouraged, to find comfort in His presence.

Then he continued, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.[xv]

I love how Tremper Longman reminds us that this vision is to teach us that “In spite of present appearances, God is in control and will win the victory.[xvi]

We gain an understanding as to why our prayers are at times delayed. Here is where we see the invisible world impacting our world. We know that Michael is one of God’s chief angels, and so we gather from this text that the prince of Persia who is in conflict with the angel who was bringing this message is one of Satan’s fallen angels who is doing all he can to influence the king of Persia to hinder the work of God. What we do not see is this great battle is that angels are contesting for the souls of men. The battle that was fought between the ‘prince of Persia and Michael, the prince of the people of God. Ultimately, the battle will move to another field of struggle with the prince of Greece.

So he said, ‘Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come…[xvii]

Here we have some clarity of how the enemy used nations against God’s people. Often when we think of the Persian Empire we see that the nation of Judah was helped by them defeating the Babylonians, but let’s remember from the book of Esther that a huge threat arose against the people of God in the Persian empire under the administrator, Haman, who gained the support of the Xerxes to “completely destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews – young and old, women and children – on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods (cf. Esther 3:13). This was so unexpected that it took the people by surprise.

“The couriers went out, spurred on by the king’s command, and the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa. The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered (Esther 3:15).” Even the Persians and other ethnic groups within the empire were stunned by this unexpected turn of events. What this chapter in Daniel teaches us is this originated in a spiritual realm of conflict. What may be even more critical for us is how the people of God responded.

“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes [a sign of grieving], put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly (Esther 4:1).” The expression of sackcloth and ashes is a also a picture of prayer and fasting. Once Esther fully grasped the significance of this event she asked for support in prayer and fasting.

Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish. So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.[xviii]

There was a huge spiritual battle in which we are seeing both human and angelic beings in this conflict. The battle is spiritual; but it has huge ramifications in our world. What is happening in our world originates from the spiritual realm. We are not fighting against ‘flesh and blood.’ “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).” Daniel Wallace relates:

A tension between Persia and the people of God is reflected in the heavenly realm, and are also being fought between the prince of the kingdom of Persia and Michael (verse 13). …Even more remarkable is the fact that Daniel’s most intense agony, when he fasted and prayed with great conflict of soul, took place during the period of a great struggle in heaven between Michael and the prince of Persia (verses 3, 12).[xix]

Just as we see these spiritual conflicts in the past, even now a battle is raging in our world today. I see this tremendous battle happening in our nation and province affecting many areas of life: from the medical aspect with Covid, to the battle over how we are going to educate our children with the introduction to new curriculum and the powerful backlash that has arisen against it. What we teach children is critical for the future of its people. We also see how our economy is under tremendous assault. Do we really understand where this is all coming from? Its origin is spiritual in nature and is designed to bring devastation to people. Our primary response should first of all be spiritual. The weapons employed should be spiritual. That is why seasons of prayer and fasting are so critical. Here in our text we see that Daniel participated in that battle that was happening. He was also encouraged as God showed him the many future empires, but each would be supplanted, until eventually God’s kingdom would arise and be established. This prophetic message was to encourage Daniel and us that the kingdoms of this world will one day be fully the kingdom of our Lord and Christ.

So, what is the takeaway from this text today? The idea of what is transpiring on earth reflects the spiritual conflict happening in the spiritual realms. Our participation in prayer is part of the great conflict and solution to the issues that are before us. What we need to understand is that our God is in control. Even though there are evil entities at work, we can appeal to our God in prayer, and he releases his angels, his messengers to communicate his will on earth as it is in heaven.

The greatest work we may ever do is learn to pray, learning how to seek God for wisdom and direction in life’s perplexing and challenging events, rather than trying to manipulate people and things to suit us. That is how the enemy works. He manipulates and influences people to do evil. When God works, He makes all things to work together for good to those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). He makes all things beautiful in His time (Eccl. 3:11). Our problem is that we so often give up on prayer because we do not gain the desired results immediately. Daniel prayed until the answer came.

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[i]   Philip Yancy, Rumors Of Another World, taken from Fresh Voices: A Collection Of Bestsellers, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 2003), 9.

[ii]   Harper’s Index,” Harper’s (May 2002), 11.

[iii] Tremper Longman III, Daniel, The New Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 266.

[iv] Peter T. Obrien, The Letter To The Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 468.

[v]   Tremper Longman III, Daniel, 262.

[vi] Tremper Longman III, Daniel, 245.

[vii] Clinton E. Arnold3 Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997), 154-55.

[viii] Exodus 17:10-13, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.

[ix] Daniel 10:1-3.

[x]   Daniel S. Wallace, The Message of Daniel, The Bible Speaks Today, (Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 177.

[xi] Matthew 13:10-11.

[xii] Daniel 10:4-6.

[xiii] Daniel 10:8-11.

[xiv] Tremper Longman III, Daniel, 249.

[xv] Daniel 10:12-13.

[xvi] Tremper Longman III, Daniel, 246.

[xvii] Daniel 10:20.

[xviii] Esther 4:15-17.

[xix] Daniel S. Wallace, The Message of Daniel, 179.

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