Monday, May 24, 2010

Daniel and the Sovereignty of God

Once there was a kingdom that was united and powerful under a king endowed by God with more wisdom than any other man had previously possessed. And like all kings, this one died and the country was left to his son, a corrupt youth who intended to become a tyrant. In response, the kingdom broke apart into two separate dominions, one under the rule of the corrupt king, and the other controlled by one equally malicious tyrant. Hundreds of years went by, and in the land that rebelled against the son of the wise king, there was not one ruler who honored God. Thus, God allowed them to be taken into captivity, while the other kingdom, because there were a few good kings, repelled conquering nations for several more generations. Yet, in the end, they too fell into rebellion against God, who allowed them to be captured by a powerful empire. So it was that the kingdom of Judah was carried away into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.

Even in their captivity, God did not forget these rebellious Israelites, and sent them a man called Daniel, an interpreter and dreamer of visions. To him, God revealed parts of His eternal plan for the destiny of mankind. The book of Daniel is the record not only of the visions of the author, but also the prophetic dreams of Nebuchadnezzar and the famous stories of the fiery furnace and the lions’ den. While the prophecies of Daniel are specific and direct, the most powerful message of Daniel is not the divulging of eschatological unknowns but the declaration of God’s sovereignty over the nations. The lowest point to which a nation can fall, is to be conquered by a greater nation. It is mass humiliation. Yet, this disgrace prepared the nation of Israel to receive the message of God: a nation that is in on the top is not going to listen to prophecies concerning God’s destruction of future great empires. However, the message of Daniel is not just one of God as He is involved in the affairs of great nations. It is also one of God as He is intimately involved in our lives. He is the God who can plan the rise and fall of nations and can save His followers from the fiery furnace and the lion’s den.

Our lives our as short as a flower in a field, one moment we are alive, and then we die. While we live, it is easy for us to look at the state of the world and despair. The problems that beset us seem too disastrous to be prevented. We can see neither the entirety of history nor God’s eternal plan, thus it is hard for us to grasp the dramatic changes of our time. Through the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, the writing on the wall, and the visions of Daniel, God gives us an outline of His plan from the time of Daniel to the final coming of Christ. Daniel prophesies the rise and fall of four great empires, the rise of three rulers, and the establishment of Christ’s kingdom. The four kingdoms are Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome and the three rulers are Darius the III, Alexander the Great, and Antiochus Epiphanes. Each one of these kingdoms and kings thought they were invincible and their empires would last for eternity. Yet, all that is left of them are ruins and memories, just as Daniel prophesied.
The prophet Isaiah asks
“Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding? Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.”
The nations are part of God’s plan: He sets them up and brings them down as is in accord with His wisdom. In Daniel, we read that
“It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; he gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.”
Later on in chapter four, Nebuchadnezzar, after recovering from the madness he endured because of his pride, declares,
“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’”
God is all-powerful as Daniel testifies. His prophesies always come true, because He writes history before it ever happens.

When we consider how God is at work among the nations, the sense of awe that comes over us might cause us to believe that individual humans are too insignificant for God to notice. After all, why would God consider a single person worthy of the same attention He gives to whole empires? Karl Marx, when accused of creating a government that would result in the death for some, would always say that “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs”. In other words, it is an unfortunate but inescapable side-effect when humans are destroyed for the sake of a nation. If we just read the parts of Daniel that prophesied the downfall of empires, we might assume God has the same outlook on individuals, allowing a few people to die unheeded. But in the book of Daniel, we see a God who is deeply involved in the lives of human beings. When the three men are thrown in the fiery furnace, God is there with them. When Daniel is sent to the lions’ den, God is there to protect him. Paul the apostle wrote in Romans:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The sovereignty of God is so immense He can handle empires that think they will last forever and protect his people who are facing death. 

In the end, the book of Daniel can tell us much about the future, but we can learn the most not from pondering eschatological mysteries but in considering the power of God. He controls the nations and He protects us individually. There is no need for us to be afraid of anything, for everything is according to the purpose of God. And, as He has never failed in what He intended, He is the only reliable security in a changing and dangerous world.

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