Here Is What It Really Means: Reflections on Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

Exactly what or who Daniel may have in mind with this odd phrase "son of man," or better "human one," has been the subject of much speculation. On the one hand the figure appears to be a divine one, but on the other he is a quintessential human one. Whoever he may be in the mind of Daniel, he stands over against the march of human kings that subjugates God's chosen people for a time, and not forever (only "a time two times and half a time" as Daniel claims in Dan. 7:25), but who will finally be completely defeated by the Ancient of Days and the Human One.

And there lies the essence of the meaning and power of apocalyptic writing. Quite simply, all and every human pretentions for power are in the end doomed to defeat in the face of the power of God. But we should not rest easily with this conclusion; we cannot but take very seriously the terrible and monstrous deeds that these human rulers can do in their limited time of what appears to be ultimate power. However, we must not attach ourselves to these short-term leaders, for their end is always near, their predations ever ready to be cut short.

I am writing as another U.S. presidential race is heating up. Though the election remains almost exactly one full year away, the news is full of polls and pundits, of gaffs and glib phrases. On the Republican side, Donald Trump, a billionaire reality show star and Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, neither of whom has ever run or been elected to any post, nor appears to have any of the requisite qualifications to lead a local Lion's club, let alone be president of the most powerful country in the world, currently lead the pack. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, former Senator from New York and Secretary of State, bidding to be the first female president of the U.S., and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Senator with decided left-leaning economic instincts, lead the polls. Who will be our next president is a very important decision, since U.S. policies are profoundly influential throughout the world, both for good and bad. On all sides we hear cries like "a vote for Trump is a vote for bigotry and narrow-mindedness" or "a vote for Clinton is a vote for a lying dynasty of evil-doers." Decidedly small-minded voices are currently ascendant in our land.

All well and good; I surely intend to vote for the candidate I sense will provide leadership toward what I believe to be movement toward the realm of God, however small that movement may be. (Full disclosure: I will not be voting for Trump or Carson!) But U.S. presidents come and go; in my lifetime of nearly seventy years, I have seen many of them, from Truman to Eisenhower to Kennedy to LBJ to Nixon to Ford to Carter to Reagan to Bush to Clinton to Bush (2) to Obama. And I have been passionate in my support of or anger with them all.

But Daniel tells me, even in my older age, that none of these are the "human one," who stands in the presence of the "Ancient of Days." Ultimate loyalty, final devotion, complete allegiance may only be given to that one, to those two, for "their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them" (Dan. 7:27). When I ponder that fact, like Daniel, "my face turns pale, and I keep the matter in my mind" (Dan. 7:28). May we all keep that central matter in our minds whenever we vote and for whomever we choose, not only during this or future earthly elections, but for now and always.

11/16/2015 5:00:00 AM
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    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.