The ending of the book of Daniel is one of the saddest scenes in the Bible, but there is much we can learn from it. A little background: King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked Jerusalem and sacked it. (Daniel 1:1-2) In an attempt to strengthen his own kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar captured some of the best and brightest of Israel, and attempted to make them Babylonians. Daniel was among that number. (Daniel 1:3-6) But Nebuchadnezzar did not capture Israel without God’s permission. In fact, capture by an enemy nation was a specific judgment that was promised by God for Israel’s disobedience. (Lev. 26:33, 39)
There is good reason to believe that Daniel thought he might be brought back to Jerusalem. Solomon, when dedicating the temple, specifically prayed to God that if this happened, and the people of Israel faced towards the temple and prayed to God in repentance, God would bring them back.
“If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ if they repent with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them (for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace). Let your eyes be open to the plea of your servant and to the plea of your people Israel, giving ear to them whenever they call to you
(1 Kings 8:46-52 ESV) (emphasis added)
So it made sense that Daniel, when he would pray, would constantly pray towards Jerusalem, his home from where he was taken. And he was so adamant about this, that he would risk being fed to lions. (Daniel 6:10-13) But if that really was Daniel’s prayer, which I think it was, it was never answered. Our best evidence suggests that Daniel died in exile. So picture Daniel speaking to Michael the archangel in Daniel chapter 12. Daniel is likely an old man, having been torn from his home from a young age. Rabbinic tradition says that he was made a eunuch, so he had no descendants to carry on his name. Was there any hope he could go back to Jerusalem? Micheal essentially answers no. “But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.” (Daniel 12:13 ESV) Micheal tells Daniel he will go home, but it will be at the end of the age, to the heavenly Jerusalem, not the earthly one.
What about us?
We live in the tension between the kingdom of God being here and the kingdom of God being near. What that means is that although we can correct a lot of suffering in this world (kingdom is here) we also won’t see the full abolition of suffering and evil until Jesus comes back (the kingdom is near). And if we are honest, at least in my neck of America, we lean way too hard on the kingdom is here part. We see broken things that need to be fixed, and we expect to be able to fix them. But the sobering reality is that much of the wickedness we see, even in our own heart, will only be fixed when Jesus comes back and makes all things new. Iain Duguid writes in his commentary on Daniel,
“We live in an age in which we expect everything to be fixable. There is a pervasive air of pragmatic optimism in our society, born out of a generation steeped in the notion that if every morning you just repeat the saying “In every way and every day I am getting better and better,” you surely will. If your teeth aren’t straight, orthodontics will set them right. If you don’t like your body shape, try cosmetic surgery. If your job frustrates you, search the classified advertisements for new opportunities that will fulfill your potential. If you can’t get along with your wife, get a different one. Whatever our problem is, we have been trained to believe that someone out there has the answer that will fix it…The idea that evil is intractable and powerful, with deep roots and sharp claws, and that no amount of education, activism, or democratic reform will ever eliminate it, is distinctly countercultural.”
Some things won’t be fixed this side of heaven. This knowledge is not meant to depress us, it is meant to loosen our white-knuckled grip on this world, and set our eyes on the next life. Sometimes God in his grace answers our prayer, but sometimes our lot is just to suffer. Jesus doesn’t promise us relief in this life, or even the reasons why does not grant it, but he does promise us his presence. He promises us comfort rooted in the fact that he walked through a life of suffering first. And he promises to be with us as we together await the restoration of all things.