I’m studying and taking notes on the books of Daniel and Ezekiel this year, so expect more than a few devotionals coming from these marvelous books.

I just finished looking at chapter seven of Daniel, which carries a lot of similarities to the class I’m teaching on Wednesday nights (if it’ll ever stop snowing!), the book of Revelation. One thing Revelation mentions is a unit of measurement described as “time, times, and half a time.” It’s a phrase that appears originally in Daniel…

And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. 

Daniel 7:25

Without going into too much detail about who is speaking these words against the most High, etc, I’ll just summarize by saying Daniel is prophesying a great villain that will persecute God’s people in the future. In the midst of that prophesy, Daniel says that God’s people will be given into the hands of this evil doer, but then he qualifies that by saying it would only be “until a time, and times, and the dividing of time.”

What does that mean?

Let’s start by treating the words “time” and “times” and “dividing of times” like units of measurement: A time is one unit, times is two units, and a divided time is a half-unit. Together those add up to 3½.

Is that 3½ years? Is it 350 years? Commentators and scholars differ on the particulars, but I think it better to think of this as an idea more than a numerical value: The idea being that 3.5 represents an incomplete number in figurative writing. It is half of seven, which is often used in these sorts of texts to denote completion or wholeness. The meaning, therefore, is that God’s people will suffer persecution but only for a limited period of time; it will not last forever, in other words, because God will not allow it to last forever.

Now, the question may be asked: If God is in charge why are the righteous suffering at all? If God is so in control that He can determine how short or how long a persecution-period must be, why can’t He make it so that there is no persecution period? The answer is of course He can, but He won’t.

Why? Why do the righteous suffer at all?

I would point out first that a question like that is spoken entirely from a worldly point of view. Does persecution hurt the soul or the body? It’s the body that hurts and it’s the body that we want to relieve during persecution. The soul, however, assuming it belongs to a faithful Christian, is protected and safe in Christ. Fix your eyes on things above, not on things of the earth, as Paul tells us (Colossians 3). If we do, yes persecution will still hurt, but it also won’t matter so much.

With that said, I would also point out that God uses persecution as a way to weed out the pretenders, the fakes, the unfaithful of His number. Those sorts of people are fool’s gold that melt when put through the fires. Real gold goes into the flames and the impurity burns away, leaving only a more refined, more pure metal. That’s how God sees it when we suffer; it’s a way to make us stronger. That’s why we’re told to glory in tribulation (Romans 5:3), because we know we’ll be better off for it when we come out the other side.

God’s people will suffer; the Devil will see to that. But God is in control; the Lord Himself has seen to that. So stay faithful, let the fires purify and refine you and, when the trial is over (and it will be over, the 3½ figure promises that), you’ll be more faithful to God than you were before it started.

~ Matthew