Florence Chadwick was the first woman to swim the English Channel. In 1952, she decided to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast, about 26 miles. No woman had ever done that before.
It was very foggy when she started her swim. To keep her safe, she was shadowed by a small boat, just in case she had any problems. After 15 hours in the water, she looked up at her mother in the boat and said, “Mama, I can’t make it; I can’t go any further.”
Her mother encouraged her to keep going, but after swimming for another 55 minutes, she gave up and got in the boat. When she did, she found that she was only half a mile from the coastline. When asked later why she quit so close to her goal, she said, “It was because I couldn’t see anything. If I could’ve just seen the coastline, I know I would have made it.”
Seeing the end of a difficult journey can often make it easier to finish the trip. Knowing how much longer we have to hang on can help us not lose our grip. Seeing the finish line can help us complete the race. But not knowing makes time slow down and the end get further away instead of closer.
Thus far in the book of Daniel, Daniel has been the man with great insight and understanding. He’s had moments with the Lord that bordered on the miraculous. He is distinguished and faithful, an interpreter of dreams as God gives him insight and is able to discern great mysteries. You would never expect him to get all out of sorts when he has a couple of visions and doesn’t know what they mean.
Let’s go back a few years before the incident with the lion’s den to when Belshazzar was king of Babylon.
Dan 7:1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel saw a dream and visions in his mind as he lay on his bed; then he wrote the dream down and related the following summary of it.
The first year of Belshazzar was 553 B.C. In this vision Daniel saw four beasts coming in sequence, one after the other. We know they are: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, the same as Nebuchadnezzar saw. But they were presented differently to Daniel than to Nebuchadnezzar. Where Nebuchadnezzar saw a great statue of four different materials: gold, silver, bronze and iron, Daniel saw four beasts. So, he didn’t make the connection.
Then, he saw the throne room of Heaven.
Dan 7:9-10 I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing And coming out from before Him; Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; The court sat, And the books were opened.
And as the dream went on, he saw Jesus.
Dan 7:13-14 I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.
I don’t know about you but seeing what Daniel saw would be exciting beyond anything we could imagine. But realize, Daniel didn’t know about Jesus or what God had planned. He had no idea God would so love the world that He would send His only begotten Son.
Dan 7:15-16 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed within me, and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. I approached one of those who were standing by and began asking him the exact meaning of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth. But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.'
Why would this be confusing to someone like Daniel? Because there was no concept for how God would present the Messiah to the world and how that would translate into a kingdom possessed by His people. In fact, the word Messiah is only found in the Book of Daniel in the OT. The same word is used other places but it is translated Anointed. Here, we’re given a concept and term totally unknown at this time.
Remember, God gave glimpses of truth along the way. Nobody saw the whole picture. Isaiah saw the suffering servant. David saw the crucifixion. But now, Daniel is seeing Jesus’ reign. But there is no running context for understanding.
Prophecy with no context often leads to wild speculation and confusing scenarios.
A prophet describes things he doesn’t understand with words that don’t always make sense. He is describing the indescribable. With images that represent things in the future or things in Heaven that we have no concept of, the prophet must try to explain those images by comparing them to things that don’t compare.
Read the Book of Revelation and tell me you understand all the symbols John uses. Read the Book of Ezekiel and tell me you understand all the images he presents.
If we’ve never seen a lion and someone says, “Oh, it’s like a big cat,” our image of lion would never be as powerful and massive as a lion really is. Our comparison wouldn’t compare.
A prophet sees spiritual sights that require spiritual insight to understand. And yet when we read prophetic scripture with natural eyes, trying to connect those words with things we’re familiar with, much of it just doesn’t fit. We have no point of reference without the rest of the Bible to help explain what we’ve read.
But even whatever Scripture Daniel had, there was little there that would help him. Much of the prophetic writings were works in progress. Isaiah was completed but Jeremiah was still being written during this time and Ezekiel didn’t start writing until now. You can understand Daniel’s frustration. He has no natural resources to use to understand what he’s seeing.
Then, Dan 8:1 In the third year of the reign of Belshazzar the king a vision appeared to me, Daniel, subsequent to the one which appeared to me previously.
Another dream comes a couple of years later in 551 B.C. This one about a ram, a goat and a small horn. How on earth do you make sense out of that?
Now, when we put known history into Daniel’s vision, we understand Persia is the ram and Greece is the goat. The vision is telling of Persia’s downfall and what would happen in the final days of Greece being divided up and parceled out to four leaders. One of those leaders would be Antiochus Epiphanes who would desecrate the temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a pig on the altar. It would bring the Maccabees into the story to remove Greece and restore the Temple in 167 B.C.
But we’re reading backwards. Hindsight is always 20/20. It’s much easier to see God looking backward rather than forward. Put yourself in Daniel’s place where you don’t know any of these specifics, other than what you learned in interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that certain nations would come one after another to rule the world. Now, through these visions, you have more details but no insight into how it all fits together. You’d be frustrated, too.
So, God responds to Daniel’s frustration:
Dan 8:15-17 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it; and behold, standing before me was one who looked like a man. And I heard the voice of a man between the banks of Ulai, and he called out and said, "Gabriel, give this man an understanding of the vision." So he came near to where I was standing, and when he came I was frightened and fell on my face; but he said to me, "Son of man, understand that the vision pertains to the time of the end."
Dan 8:26-27 “The vision of the evenings and mornings Which has been told is true; But keep the vision secret, For it pertains to many days in the future." Then I, Daniel, was exhausted and sick for days. Then I got up again and carried on the king's business; but I was astounded at the vision, and there was none to explain it.
Daniel had been stuck with information but no explanation. It’s like the switchback roads on the way to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. We know there is a destination out there but the way to it is so disorienting, we think we’ll never arrive. And then we read the sign: Yes, you can; a million others have. So, we just keep going.
What did Daniel do? He kept going. He got up and carried on the king’s business. We can’t stop living just because we don’t understand what’s going on.
Ever get stuck in the switchbacks of your mind? Our thoughts are going one way, then they suddenly go another way. Been there? Of course. We get information all the time with no explanation of what it means. Without explanation, we’re left to our own imaginations.
One of our men was passing around a text with a video. In the text he said: Please pray for Tommy. He’s been in a bad wreck. Immediately we started asking questions: How bad was it? Was Paula with him? Is he okay? Was she hurt? Are they in the hospital? Then we noticed the video.
We have a hard time when we don’t understand what’s going on. We raise questions that cause more confusion than clarity. It can be a dangerous time. Speculation can overwhelm us.
In that zone between information and understanding we’re prone to: misunderstand, creating false impression, misinterpretation, distortions, even delusion. Why? Because our emotions want to take us to worse case scenarios.
When we hear something with no explanation, we start imagining what it means. The longer it takes to find the answer, the more distorted the picture becomes.
Back in the old days we had to adjust our TVs to get a clear picture. Sometimes just a minor tweak would clear things up. But when we didn’t know what to turn to make things better, we’d often mess it up more than it was to begin with. I remember trying to make the colors natural. I’d turn the hue knob and then the tint knob and go from green to yellow to blue to red. Then miraculously, I’d finally turn something the right way and things would balance and the picture would become clear.
Several years ago, I went to my dermatologist to get a spot checked out. He removed it and sent it off for analysis. A few days later, someone from his office called and said, “Mr. Smith, we got your results back and it’s cancer. You’ll have to come back in.” Then she hung up.
That was it. You have cancer. What does that mean? What kind? What treatment? Is this serious? I went through a dozen questions trying to understand what she had said. I started twisting knobs to clear up the confusion and only made things worse.
What do we do when we don’t understand what’s going on?
We go with what we do understand. The doctor knows what he’s doing. He has a plan for taking care of this. All I have to do is schedule an appointment and show up. He’ll remove the cancer. I don’t have anything to do. It’s all in his hands.
When what we don’t know is frustrating us, go back to what we do know.
· I know God loves me, and He’ll never leave me.
· I know He is for me and not against me.
· I know God’s Word is true, and His heart is kind.
· I know God is working everything out for good.
· I know God will accomplish what concerns me.
· I know God never fails His children.
We have to stop demanding to know what God is doing before we’ll trust Him. “God, if you want me to trust you, You’ll have to show me what’s going on.”
Ecc 11:5 Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.
We can’t place criteria on God for what He must do in anything. Neither must we know the activity of God to know He is active.
Look how Daniel resolved his confusion and frustration.
Dan 9:1-3 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans—in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes.
The first year of Darius the Mede is 538 B.C. Realize for Daniel, his captivity had gone on for right at 60 years. Add that to him being captured as a teenager, and by standards of that day, Daniel’s an old man and doesn’t know any details about this captivity until he gets a copy of Jeremiah and finds God had placed a limit on the captivity at 70 years. But that didn’t fully satisfy Daniel.
Jeremiah explained the why for the captivity and the length of the captivity but not how God would end the captivity. Was this when his visions get fulfilled? Again, Daniel was having a hard time handling what he doesn’t understand.
He undoubtedly read: Jer 29:12-13 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
Dan 9:4-10 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed…
Daniel begins his prayer for understanding after confessing the sins of the nation.
Dan 9:18-19 O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name."
Dan 9:20-23 Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. He gave me instruction and talked with me and said, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.
Note: God sent the answer when Daniel started praying. He didn’t have to wait until Daniel signed off. Amen doesn’t activate the prayer. It’s not the words of our prayers or the length of our prayers or the fervency of our prayers that gets God’s attention, it’s the fact of our prayers. God is listening to our hearts cry out to Him.
Realize this was 15 years after the first vision, 13 years after the second. At this point, all God had told him was, his visions relate to things in the future. But Daniel didn’t know how long into the future God meant. Can you imagine having to wait 15 years to understand something? Yet, when it was time, God gave Daniel the understanding he asked for.
We’re obsessed with time. God isn’t. We have to kick our demand of urgency into neutral and stop trying to force some answer to come before its ready.
So, what do you do when you don’t understand what’s going on?
- You keep on going.
- You keep on praying.
- You keep on trusting.
- You keep on expecting.
- You quit watching the clock.
- You don’t let what you don’t know rob you of what you do know.
Just because you don’t see God at work, He’s still working.
Just because you don’t hear God’s voice, He’s still speaking.
Just because you can’t feel God’s touch, He’s still present.
Just because you don’t understand what’s going on, He does.
So, when the fog is too thick to see the shore, just keep swimming.
And when you can’t see God’s hand, trust His heart.
I don’t understand why all of this is happening.
I can’t fight this battle.
I hate suffering.
I cannot bear to walk through this one more day, one more hour, one more minute.
My heart aches!
We need You now, Lord.
How long, God?
Please do something!
We are desperate for You.
Strengthen us for this journey.
We cannot endure without You.
Please reveal Yourself right now, Lord.
Perform a miracle in our day.
Show us that You are in the midst of all that is going on and that You care.
Please, Lord, bring healing, hope, and restoration.
Reach down, Father, and rescue us.
Thank You, Lord, for life!
Help me trust You.
Help me trust You when I don’t understand Your ways.
Please help me to trust You in everything.
1. It’s hard to live with more questions than answers.
2. It’s even harder when we think we deserve to know or ought to know what’s going on.
3. But God works best within the mystery of the time between question and answer.
4. It’s the space where trust is demanded and rest is required.
5. Be convinced, God can be trusted with the unknown and when we need to know, He’ll let us know.