In addition to the angel of the Lord’s appearance in the fiery furnace of ancient Babylon, we should briefly review the well-known story of Daniel in the lions’ den, paying particular attention to Daniel’s report to Darius the Mede, the ruler of Babylon, “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths” (Dan. 6:22). Who is this angel? Could it be the angel of the LORD?
You may recall that Daniel has distinguished himself among Darius’ appointed leaders. In fact, he is one of three administrators who oversee the work of one hundred twenty satraps, or provincial governors, and Darius now plans to set Daniel up over the entire kingdom (6:3). This arouses jealousy among the satraps and the two other administrators. They try to find grounds for charges against Daniel but discover he is neither corrupt nor negligent (6:4).
So, they hatch a plan to use Daniel’s devotion to Yahweh against him. They convince Darius to sign an irrevocable edict that anyone who prays to any god or human over the next thirty days shall be thrown into a den of lions. In effect, this makes Darius the only priestly mediator during this period. Prayers to the gods are to be offered through him rather than through the kingdom’s pagan priests. Perhaps Darius believes this to be a unifying decree among his subjects in the Middle and Near East. Or, he may be convinced this is a good test of loyalty for the people, especially his appointed rulers.
In any case, punishment is severe for anyone who breaks the law. The Assyrians and Persians are known to capture lions and keep them in cages, so a large natural or manmade pit into which lions are placed is one particularly gruesome venue for those who displease the king. Further, the Persians are known to employ an array of ghastly forms of execution, including crucifixion. Tossing humans into a pit of ravenous lions is as certain to cause death as crucifying them, although the latter method could prolong the excruciating pain by a matter of days.Continue reading
In the first year of King Belshazzar’s rule – 553 BC, some fifty-two years after the first exile under Nebuchadnezzar – Yahweh gives Daniel a vision of four huge beasts rising out of the sea. Each beast is unique and represents successive earthly kingdoms, as we discover later in the chapter. These are the same empires represented by the four elements comprising the colossal statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2).
The first beast, appearing as a lion with eagle’s wings, symbolizes Babylon. The second beast, a bear raised up on one side and clenching three ribs in its teeth, depicts the Medo-Persian Empire. The third beast, a leopard with four wings and four heads, foretells the Greek Empire under Alexander the Great, whose kingdom is divided into four parts after his death. Finally, we encounter a fourth beast, which Daniel describes as “frightening and dreadful, and incredibly strong, with large iron teeth” (Dan. 7:7).
The fourth beast devours and crushes, trampling what remains beneath its feet. What’s more, this beast is different from the other three, and it sports ten horns, with a little horn rising up to supplant three others. This little horn has human eyes and speaks arrogant words. Generally, this is considered the Roman Empire, although some commentators argue that the beast more accurately depicts the Islamic caliphate, rising up to become the false religion of the last days.
The vision distresses Daniel’s spirit and terrifies his mind. He asks “one of those who were standing by” (perhaps an angel) for clarification and receives additional details, particularly about the fourth beast (Dan. 7:15-28). While much could be written about these beasts, we are focusing on what Daniel sees between the vision and its interpretation – a scene from the divine court in heaven:
As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of his head like whitest wool. His throne was flaming fire; its wheels were blazing fire.
A river of fire was flowing, coming out from his presence. Thousands upon thousands served him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was convened, and the books were opened.Daniel 7:9-10
Daniel is a contemporary of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. He is exiled to Babylon in 605 BC, along with Judah’s King Jehoiakim. Daniel, whose name means “God is my Judge,” records events and visions that span seventy years, indicating he lives through the entire Babylonian captivity. The central theme of the Book of Daniel is God’s sovereignty over the people of Israel and the nations of the world, as noted when Daniel recalls the fate of former Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar:
He was driven away from people, his mind was like an animal’s, he lived with the wild donkeys, he was fed grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with dew from the sky until he acknowledged that the Most High God is ruler over human kingdoms and sets anyone he wants over them.Daniel 5:21
The book consists mainly of historical narratives (chapters 1-6) and apocalyptic prophetic visions (chapters 7-12). For our purposes, we examine two events featuring a divine figure, one from each section of the book. In Daniel 3, one who “looks like a son of the gods” visits three Hebrew exiles in a fiery furnace. And in Daniel 7, “one like a son of man” arrives before the Ancient of Days with the clouds of heaven. In each case, we survey Daniel’s description of the divine visitor, ask whether it is the same figure in both events, and explore whether this could be the angel of the LORD.
In the next post, we briefly observe the angel God sends to rescue Daniel from the lions’ den (Dan. 6), as well as a “man dressed in linen” in Daniel’s final recorded vision (Dan. 10). Could these figures also be the angel of the LORD?Continue reading
We pick up this post where Part 1 left off.
All that we’ve seen in Ezekiel’s vision begs the question: Is this theophany actually a Christophany – an appearance of the preincarnate Christ? It seems so, based on several observations. First, the Bible teaches that no human may see God and live (Exod. 33:20; John 1:18). So the LORD must reveal himself to us in a limited way: a voice, a pillar of cloud and fire, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, or even a man. Ezekiel sees the likeness of a man in his vision, and this is one of the more common ways the angel of the LORD appears.
Even more significant, the apostle John tells us Jesus is the revealer of the true nature of Yahweh: “No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side — he has revealed him.” (John 1:18). Jesus himself tells Philip, “The one who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-13 and Mark 9:2-13 declares that Jesus is God in human flesh, which veils the glory of God.
Second, the voice of the LORD in Ezekiel’s vision is described in the same way the voice of Jesus is recorded in Revelation 1:15: “his voice [was] like the sound of cascading waters.” Ezekiel hears the deafening flutter of cherubim’s wings and likens them to the voice of the LORD Almighty (1:24; 10:5; cf. 43:2).
Third, consider that Ezekiel describes the LORD as a human-like figure. We never see the Father or the Holy Spirit depicted in this way in Scripture, and yet the prophet clearly sees the glory of the LORD. This suggests we are catching a rare view of the second person of the Trinity prior to the Incarnation. Harry Ironside confidently notes, “It was the preincarnate Christ that the prophet beheld, ‘the likeness of a Man.’ Now, since redemption is accomplished, the Man Christ Jesus sits in His glorified human body on that throne of the Eternal.”
Even so, we want to avoid being too dogmatic in this interpretation. Mark Rooker shares a more balanced perspective:
It is possible that this representation of God in human form would be particularly appropriate to Jesus Christ, as he alone of the Trinity was manifest in the flesh (Phil. 2:7; 1 Tim. 3:16). Moreover, when Isaiah in his vision saw God sitting on the throne (Isa. 6), John records that what Isaiah saw was the glory of Christ (John 12:40-41). On the other hand, when no distinctions are made with the other members of the Trinity, it may be that all the Godhead is represented in the vision. At the same time, the vision is at least a prelude to the incarnation of Jesus Christ.Mark Rooker
Verse 28 summarizes three important truths about God captured in Ezekiel’s vision. First, the vision reaffirms the nature of God as holy, powerful, and majestic. Second, the rainbow serves as a reminder of God’s covenant-keeping character. And third, the appearance of Yahweh to Ezekiel in exile is an assurance that nothing, including geographic location, separates us from the love of God (cf. Rom. 8:38-39).Continue reading
A Rider from the North
If Isaiah sees the LORD of Armies seated on a heavenly throne, Ezekiel witnesses the same LORD blazing across the skies in a chariot of fire. Chapter 1 of Ezekiel records the most elaborate theophany in the Old Testament, combining clouds, fire, flashes of lightning, and a human-like figure in the company of cherubim. In this otherworldly scene, Yahweh prepares a Judean priest for prophetic ministry and authenticates his message. Above all, this thundering charioteer displays his divine glory, while proclaiming imminent judgment and future deliverance.
Three visions form the backbone for the Book of Ezekiel. In the first vision (chapters 1-3), the LORD appears to Ezekiel and commissions him as a prophet to his fellow exiles. In the second vision (chapters 8-11), the LORDabandons Jerusalem and withdraws his protection in judgment for the people’s idolatry and wickedness. In fact, Ezekiel witnesses the glory of the LORD departing the temple. In the third vision (chapters 40-48), the glory of the LORD returns in connection with the restoration of Israel in the last days. Yahweh’s judgment falls hard, but it succeeds in curing the Israelites of idolatry.
Ezekiel is in exile as part of the second Babylonian deportation in 597 BC. Taken captive with King Jehoiachin and other citizens of Judah (2 Kings 24:10-16), he receives God’s prophetic commission four years later while living at Tel Abib in southern Mesopotamia. His ministry extends perhaps twenty-two or twenty-three years. And while he remains faithful to the LORD, Ezekiel experiences personal setbacks. He suffers a speech impediment that allows him to speak only when the LORD wishes to speak through him (3:26-27; 24:27; 33:22), and his wife dies as an omen of the impending fall of Jerusalem.
The story of Ezekiel contrasts the sovereign power of Yahweh and the frailty of human beings. Ezekiel is called “son of man” ninety-three times in the book, a term that punctuates the prophet’s humanity. In fact, the phrase may be rendered “member of humanity” or “descendant of Adam.”Continue reading