Sunday, December 23, 2018

Resting and Standing

“But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.”

The very last verse of the book of Daniel is a personal promise from a mighty angel to an Old Testament saint three times called “greatly loved”. It assumes something the Old Testament refers to rarely and about which Judaism today says next to nothing: a future for godly men and women beyond this present life.

The angel doesn’t formally teach this so much as he simply takes it for granted: “You will lie in your grave for a bit, then God has something specific in mind for you after all that.”

I wonder what Daniel thought about it, but not even the greatest Bible expositor or translator can tell me that. The book of Daniel ends there. As usual, God gets the last word.

A Man Greatly Loved

Daniel was greatly loved. That’s quite a serious commendation for a servant of God. That statement is made about no other man or woman in all the Old Testament.

The English word “loved” is a translation of one of several Hebrew words [all related to chemdah] that mean desirable, precious, delightful, pleasant or even coveted. Achan and Eve both felt the intensity of that same emotion, but what they coveted was forbidden; their response inappropriate and ultimately disastrous. Israel had that same intense desire for a king to reign over them, much to their detriment. When God expresses such a sentiment, there is nothing negative or inappropriate about it. Little better may be said about a human being.

By way of comparison, “greatly loved” is the precise linguistic opposite of what is said about King Jehoram of Israel, who died in agony of an expulsive bowel disease. As the chronicler puts it, “He departed with no one’s regret.”

Not greatly loved. May you and I never go that way.

In Your Allotted Place

If even a “greatly loved” man like Daniel must go to his rest, maybe you and I ought to be a little more okay with going to ours. Human death may be a product of the fall of mankind, but it also provides a welcome relief from the trials and temptations of this life and an appropriate last chapter to the story of our earthly lives. There remains to us a prospect, then, by God’s grace, of ending well rather than merely petering out. I like that idea.

But it gets better, of course. Daniel had an “allotted place” in which he is destined to stand at the “end of the days”. What that means, once again, is not absolutely clear.

The Hebrew phrase is literally “stand in your lot”, a “lot” being the portion assigned to a man by the casting of pebbles. The casting of lots was a common Old Testament practice that had its legitimate uses within the priesthood, in the division of land, and the settling of inheritances.

Indeterminate, But Not Random

The practice survived into the New Testament era, where the apostles used it to determine a successor to take the place of the late unlamented Judas Iscariot.

A lot thrown by the right person in the right spirit was thought to have the blessing of God, so the sense of the word “allotted” is not of some random outcome, but of a specific place in the predetermined counsels of God.

What is Daniel’s “allotted place”? Only the Lord knows. Could a resurrected Daniel have a specific role to occupy during the Great Tribulation or in the Millennial kingdom? It is not ours to say. All we can say with confidence is that he will “stand” in that place just as surely as the two witnesses of Revelation 11 will “stand” before the Lord of the earth. Daniel returned to dust, as do we all, and he will rise from it at the end of the days.

From our limited human perspective, Daniel’s role in that future economy is currently indeterminate. It is certainly not random.

A Promise With Qualifications

Can you and I as believers in Jesus Christ claim a similar promise? With some minor qualifications, certainly. Daniel’s role is not ours. You or I could no more stand in his sandals than those of any of the other great men and women of faith. But I do believe there is a specific place in God’s purposes for each of us at “the end of the days”. Just as Daniel was known and loved by God, we are known not just as members of a great Body, but as individuals with specific personal value to Christ. In Revelation, the promise to the believer who overcomes is “a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

Why mention that? Well, back to the tossing of pebbles.

The word “stone” in Revelation 2 is psÄ“phos. It’s not a gemstone, which might be the first thing we would think of in a heavenly setting. No, it’s a small pebble worn smooth, often cast in ancient courts of justice ... an “allotment”, if you like. There is what may be a double implication here. To have a white stone thrown in your favor was to be acquitted of whatever crimes you may have been accused. To be in possession of a white stone was to have been granted a voice or a vote in judicial proceedings; to have a role in determining the fate of others. Or, as Paul put it:
“Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels?”
Furthermore, each of us is not simply being drafted to fill some slightly inconvenient vacancy on the heavenly judicial circuit. Rather, we receive a white stone with our own personal name engraved on it. We are unique in God’s purposes. What you and I bring to the table because of our individual gifts, experience and personality cannot be replicated. If that’s not a one-of-a-kind award, I’m not sure what is. You have a place in God’s plans that no other being in the universe can fill.

While the details are not spelled out for us, we look to a future in which all the Daniels will surely stand in their allotted places, and in which you and I will just as certainly stand in ours.

Wherever those places may be.

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