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Today's Study

Daniel 12:8-10: Clarity of Prophecy?

It has been argued that the prophets who wrote Scripture often did not understand what they wrote. Daniel's plain assertion, "I heard, but I did not understand," is used to prove that prophets often "spoke better than they knew."

But this conclusion is too simplistic. It fails to ask the question, What was it that Daniel did not understand? Was it the meaning of his scriptural writings?

Not at all! The incomprehensible words were not his own, but those of the angel who had been speaking to him (Dan 12:7). Moreover, the angel's words were never clarified. They were to be "closed up and sealed until the time of the end." This expression echoes Isaiah 8:16, "Bind up the testimony and seal up the law." In both of these texts, the "sealing" of the testimonies referred to the certainty of their predictions, not their mysteriousness to the prophet to whom they had been disclosed or unveiled (as the word revelationmeans).

In this case, Daniel's question was a temporal one, "What will the outcome of all this be?" Daniel wanted to know the state of affairs at the close of the "time, times and half a time" (Dan 12:7). But to this question, as with most temporal questions arising from prophecy, God gives no further disclosure. Even the Son of Man did not know the time of his own Second Coming.

Failure to know the temporal details of prophecy is hardly a basis for asserting that "the prophets wrote better than they knew." Unfortunately this dubious principle has gained widespread popularity. The obvious rejoinder is "Better than what?" What could be meant by the term better? Since our Lord has disclosed all that can be classified as Scripture, how then could he know less than he recorded? And if it is argued that this phrase means that the writers sometimes wrote things down but had little or no knowledge of what they had said or meant, then I will counter that a case for automatic or mechanical writing must be proven. The only biblical cases for mechanical writing are the Ten Commandments and the writing on the wall during Belshazzar's feast in the book of Daniel. But these cases hardly set the pattern for all the other texts.

Because the "sealing up" of the prophecy indicated its certainty, not its hiddenness, Daniel was at times overcome by the meaning of his prophecies. On one occasion he lay sick for days (Dan 8:27).

I conclude, then, that Daniel knew all but two aspects of the prophecies revealed to him: (1) the temporal aspects (an exclusion we share even today, as noted in 1 Pet 1:10-12) and (2) additional information beyond that revealed to him. No prophet claimed omniscience, only an adequate, God-given knowledge of a limited topic of importance.

Let us acknowledge, of course, that we often are better able than the prophets themselves to understand the implications of prophecies because we can nowsee many different streams of history and prophecy coming together. This is similar to one person's accurately describing a country he or she has never visited versus another person's not only reading this author's account but visiting that country as well. Nevertheless, our historical advantages cannot diminish the value of the original contributions by God's earthly spokesmen.

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