How difficult it must have been for Daniel and the others to look over their shoulder as they were exiled to Babylon.
The temple days would now be only a memory.
The splendor and pageantry of the festivals would now seem distant. Nebuchadnezzar and company left the city in ruins, the temple ransacked and what once was used as items of temple worship would some day be used as table ware at a pagan feast.
As Daniel looked over his shoulder, he must have felt as though, God himself, was being left behind.
Surely a restorative God would bring Babylon to her knees in chastising vengeance. God would surely bring Daniel and his people back to beloved, beautiful frequently bodacious, Jerusalem. As it turns out however, Babylonian captivity would serve only as a segue to a Medo-Persian captivity. It would be a long time before Jerusalem would be restored.
Daniel would be privy to visions, dreams and handwriting on the wall, but no message would ever promise his personal return to the cherished holy city.
So why should Daniel look over his shoulder longing for something that might never be? In contrast, Daniel’s view of the reign of God would not be so much of a looking back as it would be a look ahead. It would be a glance straight ahead, straight on….not a mere nostalgic “over the shoulder glance”. God would indeed, promise a restorative and relational outcome, but it would it would be only temporarily tied to a Jerusalem locale. Daniel would look ahead, not back. He would see the reign of God with apocalyptic freshness. Daniel seems to instinctively know that looking over the shoulder toward Jerusalem could make a man go (at least, metaphorically) blind.
Even so, it is recorded in 6:10 that Daniel prayed three times daily with his windows opened to Jerusalem. This practice, as you will recall, got him thrown in with the feline carnivores for a night. It would be Jehovah however, not Jerusalem which would get him through the night in the lion’s den. Nevertheless, Daniel looked to Jerusalem when he prayed.
He was given a vision of what was ahead but he did not forget what was over his shoulder. Jerusalem still loomed large in his memory and his hope of a return was no doubt, on his heart. Daniel knew enough to remember that his people had been restored before only to relapse into faithlessness. And even though God would indeed, see to it that His people are returned (see Ezra/Nehemiah) to Jerusalem and the temple restored, this is no more than a layover on the way to a different destination.
Yet Daniel does not lose hope. He looks to Jerusalem but He keeps his eyes fixed on God. He understands that God will not necessarily do things the same way as He has done previously. Yahweh bids his people to be expectant but He warns that He is on the move and will not be long contained in cities, man-made temples or constructs which might seek to limit or restrict the reach of His Kingdom. He never intended Jerusalem to be his stopping place.
In this moment, I’m thinking of my own tendencies to expect God to work only in ways that satisfy my own nostalgic yearnings.
I find myself at times wondering why God insists that I change and grow and stretch. I look over my shoulder and remember my heritage, my traditions and my history. Some good stuff in all that. But if I look too longingly over my shoulder at that….as though this is the only way God will manifest His Kingdom in the future….. I might become blind to what God is up to next.
Looking over your shoulder for too long can make you blind. While I value all God has done in my life to this point. And I reverently and humbly thank Him for All He has done….I look ahead to what’s next. A new Jerusalem. Another way of letting God reign in my life. Meanwhile, I pray, I open the windows of my heart to Jehovah and I prepare myself to accept His will.