Today is Wednesday, one day after our national election day, and because of how much trust has been lost in the government of late, I am looking forward to all that will be unfolding the next few days—and possibly weeks—about as much as when I had to get eye surgery. Due to a hereditary condition, I needed a corneal graft—a tissue transplant—a year ago. I said at the time that the words “eye,” “surgery,” and “transplant” should never be spoken of in the same sentence. Nevertheless, the anticipated day did come, and I had to face it.
As Christians, we have to face tomorrow, even as we battle trepidation. Our precious Lord, as always, demonstrated the right heart attitude when facing the hardest of things when He set His face to Jerusalem, knowing the cross awaited Him.
As I've thought about facing tomorrow in light of writing today's blog, I’ve surely praised Jesus, but I’ve also thought about the Old Testament Book of Daniel. Daniel speaks to Israel's rock bottom moment in history, the fall of Jerusalem. As we consider the sin patterns of our modern culture and wonder where the United States may be headed—perhaps sooner rather than later—studying Israel's experience provides perspective on national failure and a degree of encouragement, if and when such failure comes.
Daniel addresses the lowest point of chosen Israel’s gradual descent from Yahweh’s covenant-backed high expectation for them (Exod 19:6). The book begins with the teenage Daniel being swept into exile amid Jerusalem's cataclysmic fall. Yahweh's righteous judgment on the habitual Mosaic Covenant-breakers—warned of by Moses in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 and trumpeted by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and other faithful prophets—actually happened! God's Judgment became manifest in destruction, death, and loss at the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar, and innocents, like Daniel, were swept up in the chaos.
However, despite the seeming hopelessness of Israel’s downfall and the consequent rise of Gentile rule, Daniel was written through the agency of the Holy Spirit to encourage the exiled Jew—the ones who were able to remain faithful under duress. Daniel revealed God’s program for them, the remnant, both during and after the time of Gentile power in the world.
Specifically, Daniel taught the exiled Jews how to respond to a tremendous political power shift. The book does so by first considering the display of God's sovereign power through His purposeful miracles. The nexus of Daniel's faithfulness and God's miraculous interventions provided a living example of belief acted upon and rewarded. Therefore, the recorded events served as a hope for the exiled Jew living under Gentile domination.
More broadly, the book drove home the prominent theme of God's sovereign control over all rulers and nations' affairs and their ultimate replacement with the true, final, and perfect King, the promised Christ Jesus. With assurances of the good and powerful Yahweh entirely in control of both present circumstances and the promised future, the faithful Old Testament saint was encouraged to navigate the vagaries of life under oppressive temporal rulers. Let’s now look deeper into the miracles.
Though Jerusalem lay in ruins with its temple destroyed, and although God's people suffered exile and wicked rulers seemed triumphant, God remained supreme and greater than all circumstances. The depiction of this truth was the controlling principle of Daniel chapters one through six. Daniel proved it possible to live a faithful life in exile, even as pagan influences and propaganda surrounded him. God met Daniel and his friends' unwavering faith with purposeful miracles, vindicating both them and their all-powerful God in front of their pagan rulers.
Chapters 2 and 4 chronicled how God enabled Daniel with superior wisdom and insight to recount and interpret dreams that revealed God's sovereignty, will, and power. Daniel's inspired interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream regarding the current and future Gentile kingdoms proved an essential formula for the faithful Jew to see and emulate. Facing the King's decree to kill the wise men, Daniel humbly turned to God in faith seeking "mercy from the God of heaven." He received the perfectly timed blessing (2:18–23), which ultimately led to Yahweh being publicly honored by the most powerful human on earth, Nebuchadnezzar, and Daniel being promoted above all the king's advisors (2:46–49).
The second King Nebuchadnezzar dream interpretation scenario found in chapter 4 showed a similar pattern. Daniel prayerfully sought God in crisis and was blessed in his faith to advance God’s sovereign purposes and to bring glory to One deserving of glory, holy Yahweh.
Chapter three narrated the miraculous provision of physical safety for the three men in the flaming furnace, thwarting Nebuchadnezzar’s sinful pride and fury and resulting in the pagan king publicly honoring the one true God (3:29–30). Chapter five recounted Daniel’s strategic placement near Nebuchadnezzar’s son King Belshazzar such that he could interpret the supernatural finger writings on the palace wall proving the power of God in every precise detail of life—a power standing in stark contrast to the limited capabilities of men or their utterly impotent idols
(5:13–31). Finally, God’s supernatural physical protection of Daniel in the lions’ den proved His care for His own and His unchallenged power over the physical world (6:19–28).
Through the communication of all of these miracles, the faithful Jew in exile was to find hope and encouragement to persevere in faith through the vagaries of life under the dominion of the Gentiles. They were to find real hope by following Daniel’s example as chronicled in the inspired word bearing his name.
However, finding hope in temporal conditions was not the only message of Daniel. The book also brought eschatological—end of days—prophesy to reassure the faithful their God was wholly controlling all nations and rulers' sovereign affairs while advancing His covenant promises. Ultimate restoration for Israel would be found in the sure promise of the perfect and final kingdom and King, who would be the promised Christ (2; 7; 8; 9:24–12:13).
Sovereign God, The Coming King
The prominent theme of God’s sovereign control over the affairs of all rulers and nations, and their ultimate replacement with the true, final, and perfect King, was first evident in 2:20–22: "He removes kings and sets up kings." and later in 2:44:
"The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to other people. It shall break in pieces these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever." Daniel 2:44
These and similar verses communicated to the faithful that God did not suffer the failure of His grace plan for mankind with Israel's exile (2:28, 37; 4:34–35; 6:25–27).
Ever faithful Yahweh was instead working providentially to display and exalt His perfect and chosen King, the glorious Messiah, Jesus Christ. Gentiles were sovereignly allowed to dominate Israel through a succession of self-absorbed kingdoms and rulers—Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and then continuing to the second coming of Christ—in order to contrast flawed worldly empires with the glory and permanence of the coming Messiah's rule (2:35, 45; 7:13–14, 27; 9:26). The specific stages in Gentile power were chronicled in chapters 2 and 7, portraying the world as a place of torment and persecution until the end, with things getting progressively worse over time. The Lord has promised to judge these kingdoms and replace them with "one like the son of man” who comes “with the clouds,” a figure who combines the distinctive traits of humanity and divinity (7:13). God is on record, so to say, and we have to believe this!
With assurances of good and powerful Yahweh entirely in control of both present circumstances and the promised future, the faithful saint was encouraged to live by faith. In like manner, we live by faith heading into tomorrow. Although we Christians may suffer disappointments or even persecution in the coming days, we must rest in God’s goodness and perfect plans that humans can never frustrate. The most important thing? Trust God!