The book of Daniel gives the meaning of history more clearly than any other portion of the Bible and, what is more, it tells us how to live for God in ungodly times—like our own. Daniel was one of several young men chosen to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. When Persia conquered Babylon, Daniel was again given a position of power. He remained faithful to God in both of these hostile environments. From the interpretation of dreams, to the fiery furnace, the lion’s den, and the handwriting on the wall, to the prophetic visions, the recurrent theme is God’s sovereignty over human affairs.
Do many people regard Daniel as a clear revelation of the meaning of history – or of anything else for that matter? I doubt it! Yet that is what it is.
Some approach this book as if it were a puzzle given to stretch our minds and put us through our paces as students called to “compare Scripture with Scripture” to figure things out. There is an evangelical version of this that focuses on prophetic portions of the book. It tries to explain the time frame in which Messiah was to come, be cut off, and then come again in glory. There is also a liberal version in which the traditional authorship of Daniel is denied and the chief emphasis is placed on answering questions like: Who wrote Daniel actually? When was it written actually? And why did the writer pretend to be foretelling future events when he was actually only recording history?
No one can doubt that there are puzzling elements to this prophecy. But to think of Daniel chiefly as a puzzle is to miss its extraordinary relevance, which is why I am so eager to examine this book for its illuminating insights into history. Consider these facts:
1. Daniel was a godly man sent to live in ungodly Babylon at a time when God’s blessing upon the Jewish nation seemed to have been withdrawn or postponed. This means that his position was much like that of believers trying to live in secular society today.
2. The Babylon of Daniel’s day was a type of all kingdoms that do not acknowledge God or think they can dispense with him. This is an apt description of most of the world in our time, including so-called “Christian” America.
3. Daniel (and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) was under tremendous pressure to conform. That is, his religion was tolerated, even respected, as long as he did not allow it to intrude into public life or “rock the ship” of state. That is our situation also. We can practice our religion so long as it is not in the schools, at work, or in any public place. We have to keep it “on the reservation.”
4. The world seemed to be winning. Nebuchadnezzar reigned. Nebuchadnezzar believed himself to be above having to answer to anybody.
5. Nevertheless, in spite of these things, God told Daniel that it is He, God, who is in control of history and that His purposes are being accomplished, even in the overthrow and captivity of His people. Moreover, in the end God will establish a kingdom that will endure forever. The destiny of the people of God is wrapped up in that eternal kingdom.
I do not know of any message that is so timely and valuable for Christians living in our own secular and materialistic times as that message is. Indeed, in Daniel we have a stirring and helpful example of one who not only lived through such times and survived them but who actually triumphed in them and excelled in public life to the glory of God. Daniel did not compromise. He did not bow to this world’s idols. He was hated and plotted against. But he triumphed because he knew God and trusted him to do with his life whatever was best.
One of my favorite quotations in all the Bible is from this book, and it makes precisely that point. It is from the scene in which Daniel’s friends have been summoned before King Nebuchadnezzar for their refusal to bow before the golden statue and explain why they will not bow down.
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If this be so and we are thrown into the burning fiery furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.
We need people like that today – people who are aware of the dangers of trying to serve God in this world but who trust God in spite of the danger and who will not compromise. They are the only ones who really triumph, regardless of appearances, and in the last analysis, they are the ones who make a difference.
Jesus is the King of kings, the Son of Man who receives the kingdom. He is the one figure who stands in the place of the saints and whose fate is bound up with theirs. History will be full of rises and falls, terrible wars and rumor of wars, terrorists who target civilians. The people of God groan in this evil world, awaiting their final vindication. It is through this confident hope, in the crucible of the real world that Christians find Jesus. Not only there, but in the unfolding tragic history of the world, Jesus remains the King over all.
For He is the living God, enduring forever; His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and His dominion shall be to the end