Bible Text: Daniel 7:1-8, Psalm 149 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Things That Go Bump In The Bible | Well, here we are in a new month and that means we have a new sermon series. In honor of how October is often associated with Halloween, trick-or-treating, and scary movies, our new sermon series is called Things That Go Bump in The Bible. During this month we will be focusing on some of the monsters and scary things that we find in the Bible.
I think when a lot of us begin thinking about Halloween we tend to focus on kids getting dressed up in their costumes of favorite characters like superheroes, cartoon characters, ghosts, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and many other classics. Most aren’t really scary, but every now and then some can be a bit frightening. Probably not many we would get nightmares from usually.
Now is also the time of year that many TV stations begin to show all those scary films, and children and adults alike may experience nightmares from some of them. Some of the classics include Omen, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Psycho, The Exorcist, and of course, A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Those are some scary movies. They feature people losing their grips on reality, the presence of evil, murder, torture, and complete mayhem. Personally, I’ll take a good comedy or kids cartoon any day myself. Not that I am afraid of these films, I just don’t get into that genre much. I’d rather laugh and smile than scream and be freaked out. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just my personal preference.
So, what do these movies have to do with our Scripture reading from the Book of Daniel? Well, in our reading today Daniel is describing a dream he had the night before. And as we read along, we find him describing a fairly odd occurrence. Four great beasts coming out of the sea. Each one more deranged than the first? A lion with eagle’s wings. A bear with tusks in its mouth in addition to its teeth. A leopard with four wings and four heads.
And then the last one. “…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.”
I don’t know about you, but those four things definitely sound like the things that nightmares are made of. They may not be serial killers hunting down people to murder like in many horror films, but these might be worse. Even though serial killers are very really in our world today, we have seen them defeated by local and national law enforcement. Creatures like these may not be ones we have come across in our lives, but if we did do, we feel confident they could be overcome?
These four beasts were meant to represent four kingdoms that were going to arise in the neighboring lands and rule over the area. From Babylon to Medo-Persia to Greece and then finally Rome, these beasts were symbolizing a progression of time under the rule of these different beasts. And it’s interesting the description of the last beast that was meant to symbolize Rome. A creature so terrifying and frightening because of its power and devouring of its prey, which in this case was the people and kingdoms of Israel.
Just put yourself in the shoes, or rather sandals, of Daniel or another Israelite. As you see these different kingdoms and empires come through and they overtake you and rule over you. And there is not a whole lot that they could do. At least not if they wanted to live. So not only is the dream itself nightmarish, but so was the real-world reality. People were being taken over and forced to live under the rule of some of these other kingdoms as they rose to power.
Let’s think about this in somewhat more recent events. Imagine what the people of France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, and other European countries felt when Germany began to invade their countries during World War II. How nightmarish would it have been to see your friends and neighbors being subjected to the ravages of war, being removed from their homes, and if you were Jewish, being sent away to concentration camps and the horrors that were found within. Thankfully that the war came to an end and these countries were freed, and the survivors of the concentration camps were rescued.
Or what about the people of Kuwait when the troops from Iraq were taking control of their country. How frightening would it have been to see armed soldiers coming through the towns and taking over? How do the locals protect their children and loved ones? This again sounds like the things that nightmares are made of when we look at it in the context of what Daniel was experiencing. Thankfully Coalition forces were able to free the people of Kuwait and return their country to them.
Or what about some of the most recent unrest in our world? We are still in the midst of the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, and the challenges there. Can you imagine what it would feel like to see armed troops coming into your neighborhood and declaring their rule? Sounds awful scary to me, especially when we consider the history of this part of the world and how some of the past rulers of Russia have dealt with people, including mass execution.
So, our nightmares are not just in our dreams, but can be real life events right in front of us. Daniel’s dreams of the four beasts can be seen as very nightmarish all on its own. But then when we look at what it symbolized and the aftermath, the reality was just as bad, if not worse. The nightmare of the dream became a nightmare in reality. And that might be the worst part of it.
So, what are we to do? How do we combat these nightmares, both in dreams and in reality? What are we to do? Well, if we read a little further in chapter seven we find the following, “As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.
I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.”
So, some great being has come and proclaimed judgment on these four beasts. But the story continues on and we read, “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”
Hmm…kinda sounds familiar doesn’t it? One like a human being? So, one that maybe was both human and divine? This one is given dominion and glory and kingship. Hmm…dominion that is everlasting and kingship that cannot be destroyed…who could this be talking about potentially? I feel like we have heard this story or a similar one before…
Of course, I am talking about Jesus. Now I am not claiming that Daniel’s dream is definitely proclaiming the coming and rule of Jesus. But you have to admit there are some definite similarities found here. Jesus was both human and divine. Jesus and God have dominion over all creation and are everlasting. So, it is easy to see how a reader would see Jesus being described here.
And what is great about these passages that follow our original reading is that it offers us some comfort and confidence. They tell us how the beasts are defeated. The scary, nightmarish creatures that we feared have been defeated. And the real-life nightmares they symbolized have also been defeated. God is triumphant over all nightmares and reigns forever.
But does God still do this for us today? Is God still defeating the nightmares in our dreams as well as the nightmares of our world? Well I suppose that depends on what you believe and how you understand God’s work in our world. It depends on how you understand the world and creation in which we live.
One could make the argument that God and Jesus were active when World War II ended and countries were freed, and the survivors of the concentration camps were rescued. One could make the argument that God’s hand was active during the conflict in Kuwait and helped to free those people. One could even make the argument that God is active in the situation with the Ukraine and Russia as news that might have been buried in the past have instead come to light through the Internet and social media.
When it comes to the nightmares of our dreams, God can be active there too. We awake from our dreams and nightmares. We still may be upset or feel stressed by the dreams, but we have been freed from them by waking up. And for some, things like prayer can help to lessen that stress and bring us peace from the memories of those nightmares. God’s presence and action can be found here. It all depends on us.
And I say it depends on us because it ultimately comes down to how we interact with God and our relationship with God. Do we easily allow God to be present in our lives and active? Or do we push God away and ignore His desire to be in relationship with us? Do we turn to God when we are afraid and shaken, asking for his peace and comfort? Or do we try to just deal with everything on our own and ignore the Holy Spirit’s presence? God is always there, but it still at some level comes down to our free will and if we want to be in relationship with God who desires to be in relationship with us.
We have to remember that there are scary things in life and in our dreams, and it is how we chose to deal with them that affects us and our lives. As you leave here today, I ask that you contemplate your relationship with God. Do you trust God? Do you bring everything to God in prayer? Do you open yourself up to God? Do you seek the protection and grace of God? Consider these questions and think about what your answers might be.
Our God is all-powerful. Our God is the God of grace and unconditional love. Our God wants to be in relationship with us. Our God can defeat the nightmares of our dreams and our realities. I pray that you always open yourself up to God’s love and grace and I pray that you find joy in that relationship with Him. Amen.