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"How Long, O God?"

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Archives / 1974 / September



"How Long, O God?"

Desmond Ford
-chairman of the theology department, Avondale College, Australia, at the time this article was written


THE monumental pillar upon which an atheist hangs his doubts is the existence of evil. If there is a good God, why doesn't He do something about the tragedies of existence? Why is He indifferent to sorrow, pain, war, poverty, and the like?

Of course it never occurs to most atheists to ask another question, one that is far more significant. If there is no God, how can we account for the good things of existence? If chance is our father, and chaos our source, how is it that the riches of life, personality, intelligence, beauty, love, and their kin abound?

For every thousand persons who inquire regarding the fact of evil there is hardly one who inquires concerning the fact of good. Yet surely the second is more important than the first— and even a key to it. Evil might be expected if this world just happened, but the plethora of beneficent factors cannot be explained that way. On the other hand, if a merciful and righteous heavenly Father launched life it might be expected that existence would be a training school, and thus "hard" things could be anticipated.

But will evil be permitted to endure forever? If there is a God, has He appointed no end to the discords in His creation? Are broken hearts and stomach ulcers always to be the badges of man?

We have now come to the eighth chapter of the book of Daniel—a chapter vitally concerned with the issues raised above. This chapter asks the question, "How long, O God, wilt Thou permit wickedness to prosper?" And a reply is given concerning the time of the end and the judgment day, which will right all earth's wrongs.

It is important that we recall Christ's own emphasis upon this chapter. This prophecy was given by Him in His preincarnate days, as a comparison of Daniel 8:13-16; 10:4-6; 12:1; Revelation 1:13-18; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; John 5:28, 29 makes clear. He also referred to it in His Olivet discourse. The gospel writers urge those who read to "understand . . . Daniel the prophet" and particularly the references there to "the abomination of desolation." (See Matt. 24:15 and Mark 13:14, and compare Dan. 8:13, 14.)

The Climax of the Symbols

It is no exaggeration to say that this chapter forms the basis of the entire eschatological scheme of the New Testament. Each section that deals with latter-day events in detail (the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, 2 Thessalonians, and Revelation) quotes from Daniel, chapter 8. (See 2 Thess. 2:3, 4 and Rev. 11:2.)

Daniel 8 is the climax of the symbolical presentations of the book. In chapters 2 and 7 we have a line of symbols succeeded by an interpretation. In this chapter we have the same arrangement—symbols succeeded by explanation. But at the point of verse 14 the presentation of new symbols in the book ceases. All the rest of Daniel is a commentary upon the symbolic vision of chapter 8; upon verse 14 in particular.

There are no more dreams concerning metals or beasts. Instead the language is direct and literal, ever referring back to the key vision of our present chapter. Thus at the close of this chapter we read that Daniel "did not understand." The next chapter opens with his seeking for further understanding. Then the visiting angel admonishes him to "consider the vision," saying, "I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. ... I am come to shew thee; . . . therefore understand the matter, . . . know therefore and understand" (chap. 9:22-25). Chapter 10 introduces the last prophecy of the book, and it begins with the statement that as a result of this final revelation "he [Daniel] understood the thing, and had understanding of the vision."

Each successive chapter has shown God's ability to vindicate His threatened people as well as His own name. But here, for the first time in the book, the actual word for vindication appears. Daniel 8:14 literally reads: "Unto two thousand, three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be vindicated." The Hebrew word here used for "vindicated" springs from a root term that is used about 500 times in the Old Testament, but the form of that word in chapter 8:14 is unique, as if to call special attention to the verse. Daniel 8:14 is thus one of the most important verses in the book, summarizing as it does the key motifs of all the other chapters.

The words from Gabriel which follow in Dan. 8:16-26, make it clear that this vision covers the same ground as Daniel, chapters 2 and 7, except for reference to the empire of Babylon, which was about to fall, it begins with the time of the prophet himself and terminates with the kingdom of God referred to in verse 25 by the allusion to the stone spoken of in chapter 2:34, 35.

Why then is this vision given if it covers the same ground as the preceding prophecies? It seems to me that this is because it enlarges the latter-day elements of the earlier outlines. For example, note the parallels in the chart below, particularly the last point.

Because in Daniel the sanctuary is a symbol of the kingdom of God on earth, the symbolism here used unites both the histories and the prophecies of this book and sets forth the truth that the holy things of God, which have been profaned through the ages by unbelieving powers, are soon to be vindicated in the judgment, and likewise the holy ones—the worshipers. In view of the apparent crumbling of God's visible kingdom on earth as indicated by the treading underfoot of the sanctuary by profane powers, this prophecy foretells the vindication of truth and its believers and the final establishment of God's eternal kingdom. An integral part of this theme is the destruction of wicked powers, and thus their prominence in each vision.

One of the surprising aspects of the judgment as presented by Daniel is that it is shown to begin before the return of Christ. The need for a judgment prior to the Advent is made evident by the truths presented in Revelation 20, where we are told that the resurrection will be in two parts, separated by a thousand years. Only "the blessed and holy" are to rise at Christ's coming. (See Rev. 20:6.) If then the righteous alone are to be raised at the Advent, it is obvious that decisions must have been made prior to that event. The judgment of the saints must precede their receiving of the resurrection reward.

The judgment of the professed people of God is shown in Daniel to cover the period referred to as "the time of the end." Note that this expression does not mean the same as "the end of time." Rather, it refers to a period of time during which climactic events before the Advent transpire. Daniel was told that the 2300 days reached to the beginning of "the time of the end" (Dan. 8:17). He was also told that he must stand in judgment "at the end of the days" (the 2300 days). (See Dan. 12:13.)

Next month's article will deal with the all-important beginning point of this prophecy. In the balance of this article, we need to attempt to better understand the place of the sanctuary in this prophecy.

The "Cleansing" of the Sanctuary

The symbolic prophecies of Daniel the prophet find their climax in the promise "unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed [vindicated]" (chap. 8:14). What was the sanctuary and what did it signify?

The entire structure consisting of a tent with two apartments, placed within a spacious court yard and erected according to the precise blueprint of inspiration, witnessed to Christ and His work. Outwardly the tabernacle appeared black and unattractive. But the priest within was surrounded by shimmering gold. Above him the wings of the cherubim were woven in blue and purple and scarlet and fine-twined linen. All the beauty within was dependent upon the illumination granted by the golden lampstand. Thus it is with Christ Himself. When we first hear of Him we are rarely attracted. Only as the Holy Spirit illuminates our minds and unfolds the glories of the One altogether lovely are we captivated.

Christ Our Righteousness

Each item of furniture in the sanctuary prefigured some of the glory of Christ: the showbread pointed to Him as the Bread of Life, the candlestick spoke of Him as the Light of the world, the sweet-smelling rncense told of His righteousness, which alone can make our prayers acceptable. The ark testified to the One who declared "Thy law is within my heart," and the mercy-seat that stood between the Shekinah and the violated law spoke of Christ as our propitiation. God views the believer's sins only through the atoning blood of His Son.

A direct line through the door of the courtyard to the Shekinah in the Holy of Holies indicated the true "pilgrim's progress" for every believer. The initial gate (veil) was wide, as if to say, "Whosoever will, may come." And once inside, the first view was that of the altar of burnt offering against the back drop of the white walls of the court. The one who responds to Christ's invitation to come must first hover by the place of the offering, the cross, for it is there that he learns he is now "complete in Him," "made the righteousness of God in Him," as surely as the penitent of ancient times found himself completely surrounded by the spotless white curtains.

Legal cleansing, which we call justification, is not enough. The power of sin must go as well as its guilt. Thus there was the cleansing laver where the priest washed before entering the first apartment. In the initial room stood the gifts of food and light, testifying to our need of the sustaining Bread of Life in the Word, and the illuminating Spirit of Christ. The prayer altar reminds us of the privilege of communion. In the Holy of Holies we see symbolized the mature Christian experience whereby the law of Cod, accompanied by principles of mercy, controls our hearts and minds. Then indeed we have Christ within, our Shekinah, "the hope of glory."

The Church's Progress

The sanctuary not only illustrates the individual Christian's progress but also the historical progress of the church as a whole. Its spring and autumn festivals signified the major events in the history of redemption. While Passover, First Fruits, and Pentecost respectfully typified the cross, the resurrection and the gift of the Spirit to the church, the later feasts—Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles—prefigure events associated with the second coming of Christ—the worldwide proclamation of the imminent end, the judgment, and the harvest of earth's multitudes.

It was only on the Day of Atonement, for example, the most solemn day of all in the Jewish calendar, that the high priest entered the second apartment to make the climactic atonement or "cleansing" for the sins of Israel. Certainly our Lord Jesus Christ entered into the presence of God immediately upon His ascension, but the distinctive work of the second apartment regarding the allocation of sins upon the scape goat prefigures solely His work at the end of the age.

On that solemn day the Israelites fasted and abstained from secular occupations. They watched as lots were cast over two goats, one being sealed as the Lord's goat and the other being marked as the goat for Azazel (the devil). Thus they saw symbolized the ultimate disposition of all men into two camps, those numbered with Christ, and those aligned with Satan, the initial and final antichrist.

The day was a day of judgment and prefigured Christ's closing work in heaven above. Leviticus 16 describes this day of the cleansing of the sanctuary, and it should be particularly noted that the three terms found in Daniel 9:24— "sins," "transgressions," "iniquities," all occur in this ancient record. The same verse from the seer of Babylon speaks of the Messiah making "atonement for iniquity." (See most modern versions, which use "atonement" rather than "reconciliation.") Complete atonement for sin was provided on Calvary and is finally applied in the judgment. Lives are examined to see whether the fruitage points to an abiding trust in the merits of the Lamb of God. To this event Daniel 8:14 and Daniel 7:9, 10 point.

Thus the prediction that "unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed" is fraught with allusions to other passages of Scripture concerning the Day of Atonement in type and antitype. Many other passages such as Zechariah 3; Revelation 6; 11:19; 15:5 point to the same reality.

How intensely relevant is the symbolism of the sanctuary and its cleansing for our own day! The ancient tabernacle testifies to the reality of the law, sin, the blood atonement, and the judgment. These are the very matters that have become exceedingly dim for church-goers in our days of skepticism. Even pulpits echo the doctrine that the Ten Commandments are no longer binding. All standards are declared to be relative except the standard of situational ethics. But where there is no law, there is no sin. We might as well think we could convulse the universe by declaring matter effete as believe that the law of God—the reflection of His own character—could be abolished. But if law remains, then sin does also. And sin cries out for either atonement or judgment. Your sin and mine demand either one or the other. Which will it be?

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