The first book of the bible — Book of Genesis — ends with the story of a young man who was carried away from his home and his family and sold as a slave in a foreign land. He is severely tested, but he remains faithful to his God for several years. And as a reward for his faithfulness, God allows him to be falsely accused and sent to prison…! where he eventually develops a reputation as a man who can understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
God’s plan for this young man makes no sense. Until, one night, the king of that land has a terrible nightmare, and none of his magicians or enchanters can explain it to him. Then someone remembers that they have a dream interpreter in prison. So they bring the young man out, he interprets the king’s dream and even tells the king what he should do about it. The king realizes that this young man somehow contains all the wisdom of the spiritual world, so he promotes the young man to Prime Minister.
And in the end God’s plan finally makes sense: because, as Prime Minister, this young man ends up saving the nations from a terrible famine.
Now, I think most of us know that this is the story of Joseph among the Egyptians.
It is also the story of Daniel among the Babylonians.
The details are different, of course — but the overall plot is the same. And we are supposed to notice this, and we are supposed to ask: why? What is God trying to teach his people by ordaining the same pattern of events twice?
For instance: is God trying to teach us that history often repeats itself, that the same kinds of things keeping happening over and over again?
Well…it is true that history often repeats itself. And that is why it is good to study history: so we can avoid the mistakes of the past.
But that’s not really the lesson God is trying to teach here. As we discovered last week, God is really in the business of caring and communicating. And the main thing God likes to communicate with mankind is the revelation of who he is, and how he works in history. And the primary way God communicates who he is and how he works is through the grand narrative of scripture — through the whole story of scripture from Genesis until the Book of Revelation at the end.
Now, that is a big story! But just as a very long sentence is made out of many small words that all work together to reveal the meaning of the sentence, so also the big story of scripture is made out of many smaller stories that all work together to reveal the meaning of the big story.
So when we come to a narrative in scripture that seems to follow the same pattern as an earlier narrative, we are supposed to compare the two stories. And when we compare them, we will often find that the earlier narrative sets the pattern in a much more simplified style, so that the underlying meaning can stand out more clearly. Then, the later narrative picks up the same pattern, but with a lot more detail. And the additional details actually end up adding depth to the meaning of the original story — which also adds depth to our understanding of who God is and how he works in history.
So that is what we are going to do today:
First, we are going to find out what happens to Daniel. Then, when we ask ourselves, “What does it all mean?” we are going to go back to the story of Joseph and remember what that narrative meant. Then we will come back to Daniel’s story and realize how that original meaning has been developed and deepened for our sake.
So let’s get started:
Last week King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that freaked him out. And then, when he asked his wise men to get in direct contact with the gods so that he could understand his dream, his wise men said, “Cannot!”
And Nebuchadnezzar, realizing that his whole empire is running on corrupted software, decided to wipe the system and rebuild. So he sent out Arioch, the commander of his guard, to execute all his wise men — along with the faculty and students at the Royal University of Babylon.
But one of those students — Daniel — realizing he had nothing to lose, asked the king for time to figure out an interpretation for the dream. Then he called a prayer meeting with his three flat-mates, asking God to reveal what they needed to know. And during the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision.
So, picking up the narrative here in verse 24: Then Daniel went to Arioch and said to him, “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.”
 Arioch took Daniel to the king at once and said, “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means.”
We can see from this that Arioch is not just a soldier, he is also a politician: he takes credit for “finding” a solution to the king’s problem, when actually the solution found him.
 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”
This is the first time Daniel’s Babylonian name has been used in a narrative, and the writer included it here on purpose as a reminder that Daniel is only “Daniel” on the inside: to everyone else he is ”Belteshazzar”, the slave of a Babylonian god named Bel.
This is meant to be a reminder to us, as readers, that Daniel is powerless, his life hangs in the balance here: if the king does not like what he hears, Daniel will be literally cut into pieces along with all the rest of the wise men.
But just like Joseph did when Pharaoh asked him if he could interpret his dream, Daniel says, “Nope. Sorry: cannot. No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about…”
And we can imagine Arioch standing by there going, “Ohhhhhhhh die lah me! I just boasted about how I found this guy. The king is going to burn me alive!”
Fortunately, just like Joseph did, Daniel goes on: “But there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:
 “As Your Majesty was lying there, worrying about the future, the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen.  As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.
Daniel is making up for lost time here.
For the last two or three years as a uni student, he and his friends have had to keep quiet, keep their heads down, and focus on learning the Babylonian system of knowledge — even though it was obvious to them that the Babylonian system was bad software, disconnected from reality.
Well: now Nebuchadnezzar himself has become convinced. So now is Daniel’s moment to speak. And in just a few sentences here he has completely ripped out the foundations of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian worldview and replaced them with the foundations of a Jewish worldview:
The Babylonians say the gods do not reveal mysteries to people — Daniel says there is a God who reveals mysteries to people.
The Babylonians say the gods do not care about mankind, we have to survive on our own — Daniel says God cares so much that he has actually sent Daniel as a personal messenger so that Nebuchadnezzar can understand what is going on.
Then Daniel goes on to prove that there is a God that reveals mysteries by reciting the king’s nightmare about this massive statue with a head of gold and feet of clay, and how a rock comes and smashes the statue and then grows into a mountain that fills the whole earth.
But Daniel does not stop there: he also interprets the dream. Verse 37: “Your Majesty, you are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory;  in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.”
Daniel, guided by the Spirit of Prophecy, is continuing his re-education of this pagan king:
Nebuchadnezzar has recently discovered that his empire runs on corrupted software, that his Babylonian gods are useless, and this discovery has absolutely shattered him.
But Daniel is saying: not to worry! Sure, the Babylonian gods are useless. but Nebuchadnezzar’s rule has actually been established by the God of heaven.
And that is great news for Nebuchadnezzar!
But: with great power comes great responsibility. Nebuchadnezzar has been made king of kings by the God of gods. Which means he is obligated to rule as God wants him to. And God has given him this power for only one reason: so that he can use it to lead all of creation into proper orderly worship for the glory of God.
And to make this point clear, Daniel uses the language of Genesis, the foundational book of his own Jewish scriptures: Daniel basically describes Nebuchadnezzar as a second Adam.
And what was Adam supposed to do? He was supposed to use the authority God gave him to lead all of creation into proper orderly worship for the glory of God.
Daniel is basically telling Nebuchadnezzar that there is a God-given meaning and a God-given purpose to his position as king of kings. And his wise use of these gifts are what will make him the head of gold in his dream: the best of the best of all the world’s leaders.
 “But after you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours — it will not use God’s gifts properly. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth.  Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others.”
In other words, that fourth kingdom of iron will bring the opposite of godly order to creation, it will bring destruction and disorder.
In fact, that fourth kingdom will itself become a disorderly kingdom, partly strong and partly brittle. Like iron mixed with clay, the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.
 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.  This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.”
So, in the end, a kingdom will rise and replace all the others. And this kingdom, ruled directly by God, will grow to fill the earth and finally bring all of creation into proper orderly eternal worship.
“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”
And King Nebuchadnezzar is convinced. He fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him.
And, to be clear, Nebuchadnezzar is not worshiping Daniel, he is treating Daniel like a priest: Daniel is supposed to take Nebuchadnezzar’s offering and incense and apply it to the God Daniel serves.
And that is made clear by what the king says in verse 47:
“Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”
And then, just like Pharaoh did for Joseph, King Nebuchadnezzar promotes Daniel to Prime Minister, and at Daniel’s request promotes his three friends to administrative posts in the province, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.
Nebuchadnezzar wanted to wipe the system and rebuild his empire’s foundational philosophy…and that is what he got! 24 hours earlier he ruled an empire disconnected from the gods, with no purpose beyond mere survival. Now, through Daniel’s teaching, he understands that he actually rules an empire established by the God of gods, for the purpose of leading all of creation into worship!
And next week we are going to see how Nebuchadnezzar chooses to interpret this calling from God. His heart is in the right place! but…um…it will become clear that he does not quite understand how God actually wants to be worshiped.
So make sure to come back for that.
But for now we are going to go back and ask the question we like to ask every week: what does this episode mean? What are we supposed to learn from it? What is our practical application?
And as I mentioned at the start, really — in order to understand what this episode means — we need to go back to Joseph’s story and remember what it means.
And when we go back to the story of Joseph among the Egyptians, we realize that it is the first fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham:
See, Genesis begins with Adam, who was supposed to protect the garden from the serpent and gradually guide all of creation into proper life-giving worship. He failed, and the serpent took control over all the nations that descended from Adam, and they started building cities and towers and empires for their own glory.
But then, out of those corrupt and collapsing empires, God saved one man — Abraham — and promised that one day, through Abraham, all nations would be blessed and brought into proper life-giving worship.
Joseph’s story at the end of Genesis is the first major fulfillment of that promise. Through Joseph, descended from Abraham, nations were blessed.
The story of Joseph in Egypt is the bible’s first simplified picture of what God’s kingdom is going to look like as it brings the blessings of life and worship to the nations. Joseph’s experience in Egypt was God’s first hint that, at some point in the future, God’s Kingdom is not going to be a political nation living in its own land, it is going to be a spiritual nation living in exile among other political nations, like salt sprinkled in the midst of corruption, like stars shining in the night sky, pointing the way forward to something better.
The story of Daniel in Babylon is a more detailed picture of what God’s kingdom is going to be like as it brings the blessings of life and worship to the nations. Joseph saved lives simply and literally, by feeding people food. Daniel is also saving lives! but here the picture is more nuanced, more subtle, because Daniel is saving lives by feeding people the wisdom of God.
And this added nuance deepens our understanding of who God is and how he plans to redeem the nations. Yes, God’s people should feed the hungry, but at the same time: man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. The people of Egypt were physically starving to death, so Joseph fed them bread. That is good! but that is just a shadow of true salvation. The people of Babylon are spiritually starving to death — so Daniel feeds them God’s Word: and this is the greater salvation.
And it is fascinating — it is really poetically, ironically, beautiful! — that salvation for the people of Babylon comes through a prophecy about the end of the Babylonian empire and the beginning of God’s eternal empire.
I say it is ironically beautiful because Daniel’s message for the king is actually the exact opposite of what the king thought he wanted to hear.
If you remember, last week, when Nebuchadnezzar asked his wise men to explain his dream, they began by saying, “May the king live forever!” That is the message Neduchadnezzar wanted to hear. The reason his dream was a nightmare is because it made him feel like a mortal man in the grip of terrifying powers. He wanted his wise men to tell him, “Jangan risau lah! The dream actually means you are going to live forever!”
Along comes Daniel, who tells the king — very clearly — that he is not going to live forever, and neither will his empire. Dust is the destiny of every kingdom of man: Judgement Day is coming, and after that the eternal kingdom of God.
And yet King Nebuchadnezzar responds positively. Somehow he hears the voice of God, somehow he hears the Word of God, and accepts it.
Well, it could be that he liked being told that he is the head of gold, that he is closer to God’s favour than any of the kingdoms that will follow him. It could be that he drew comfort from the fact that his empire will only be smashed long after he is gone. Or it could be that he thought, with Daniel on his side — and Daniel’s God on his side — that he would now be able to take control of this future that has been revealed to him.
And, really, Nebuchadnezzar’s actions over the next couple of chapters are going to suggest that this is exactly what he thinks…!
Nebuchadnezzar’s personal journey of faith is an interesting one, and we will be talking more about that as we go along.
But for now we really cannot say exactly why Nebuchadnezzar responded positively, except to say that God had clearly prepared him personally to hear Daniel’s message and to rejoice over this idea that God is in control of history.
So…okay. What we are seeing here is a re-telling of Joseph’s story, but with more nuance, more detail. And the point is to give God’s people deeper insights into what God’s kingdom is going to look like one day, as it grows in exile among the nations of the world. And these deeper insights are intended to help God’s people know how to live as God’s kingdom in exile among the nations.
And as we continue through the Book of Daniel, we are going to gain some real insights into how history is going to unfold — from the Babylonian empire right up to Judgement Day at the end.
And it is this aspect of the Book of Daniel that has made it one of the most popular books in the bible from Daniel’s time until now!
After all, who does not want a detailed map of the future, amirite?
Unfortunately, it is our human obsession with the details of the future that has also made the Book of Daniel one of the most misinterpreted books of the bible, from Daniel’s time until now!
For instance, our temptation, right now, is to try to interpret all the details of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Because the truth is, we think that if we can figure out the details then we might be able to take control of the future and perhaps even predict the day of Judgement!
But that would actually be the wrong way to approach this passage. And there are two reasons for that:
First, because Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is our first taste of ”apocalyptic” prophecy in the book of Daniel. In fact, this is — I believe — the first real example of distinctly apocalyptic prophecy in the whole bible.
Now, apocalyptic prophecy is a special kind of prophecy. The word itself — apo-calypse — literally means “to remove the cover”: to bring something in darkness into the light. As such, apocalyptic prophecy is more visual than normal prophecy, it is more image-based.
And because apocalyptic prophecy is so visual, it is really designed to make us feel feelings rather than think thoughts. Normal prophecy, being word-based rather than picture-based, is designed for us to read and study and understand. But apocalyptic prophecy is not really designed to work quite that way.
In essence, normal prophecy is like a book that we read and think about. Apocalyptic prophecy is more like a Michael Bay movie: we are not really supposed to pick apart the plot and see if it makes sense — because it probably won’t! — we are supposed to just sit there and experience the spectacle and then examine our feelings afterward.
Trying to interpret every single detail of this apocalyptic vision would be the wrong way to approach this passage. Some pieces are explained in detail — for instance, we know that the head of gold is Nebuchadnezzar, and we know that the mountain is God’s kingdom. But everything in between is supposed to go uninterpreted. If we needed to know the names of the silver, bronze, and iron kingdoms, God would have told us! He did not tell us. Therefore, we do not need to know.
The second reason this would be the wrong way for us to approach this passage is because this is how some people from almost every generation since Daniel have approached this passage — and every one of them have been proven wrong, right up until today.
For instance, the earliest readers of Daniel’s book, soon after it was published, thought this must be a prophecy about the Babylonian empire and the kings who ruled it during Daniel’s lifetime: Nebuchadnezzar, Awel-Marduk, Neriglissar, Nabonidus, and Belshazzar. That last one — the weakest one — Belshazzar, did end up getting smashed by the Persian empire. And the Persian empire did let the Jews go home and rebuild Jerusalem.
And rebuilding Jerusalem sure sounds like the beginning of God’s kingdom, right? So clearly this must be be the correct interpretation.
But as time went on, it became clear that the rebuilt Jerusalem was not really God’s kingdom yet. So the next generations reinterpreted this prophecy. They realized that, if the head of gold was the Babylonian empire, then the silver must have been the Medo-Persian empire, bronze the Persian empire, and iron the Greek empire, which smashed everything under Alexander the Great, but then quickly turned brittle and shattered into pieces.
So the people of those generations also fully expected God’s kingdom to begin at any moment and sweep away the Greek empire.
— and, to be fair, later on in the Book of Daniel we will come to some other apocalyptic prophecies that support this interpretation very strongly.
But then, time went on, and so did the Greeks — until they were replaced by the Roman empire. And so, by Jesus’ time, many people had reinterpreted this prophecy yet again: gold was the Babylonians, silver was the Persians, bronze was the Greeks, and iron is the Romans.
And so, yet again, the people of Jesus’ generation fully expected God’s kingdom to begin at any moment and sweep away the Roman empire.
Instead, the Romans completely destroyed Jerusalem, and swept away all Jewish dreams of an earthly political kingdom of God. But then a strange new Jewish denomination began to spread throughout the Roman empire. They called themselves Christians. And these Christians claimed that they were God’s new kingdom on earth — not a political kingdom, but a spiritual one. And as time went on, and the Roman empire turned brittle and began to shatter, some of these Christians reinterpreted Daniel’s ancient prophecy yet again and said, “Ah ha! Soon the Roman empire will be swept away by God’s eternal kingdom! Judgement Day must be right around the corner!”
But time went on, the Roman empire disappeared…and still no Judgement Day.
Instead a new empire rose out of Arabia, and in less than 100 years conquered most of the territories once ruled by the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. And Christians all over the world at that time opened up the Book of Daniel yet again and said, “Ahhhh, now we see it: Islam is the kingdom made of iron that is going to crush and break all the previous kingdoms! Soon Islam will become brittle and divided, it will shatter, and then finally it will be time for Judgement Day and the kingdom of God!”
And sure enough, the Islamic empire grew brittle, and shattered, and collapsed into a thousand little kingdoms! — and still no Judgement Day…
I think you are starting to get the point. For 2500 years now, various Jews and Christians have been trying to figure out every little detail of this vision so they can predict when exactly Judgement Day is going to happen — and they have all turned out to be wrong. Even as recently as 32 years ago there were Christians saying that the Soviet Union must surely be the kingdom of iron! — but the Soviet Union disappeared 31 years ago…and we are still here.
The reason these people have been proven wrong — generation after generation right up until today — is because apocalyptic prophecy is not meant to be interpreted in that way. So:
Instead of taking that approach, and embarrassing ourselves, we are going to follow the approach Jesus and his disciples practiced when they interpreted these apocalyptic prophecies and wrote their own. We are not going to let an obsession with the details distract us from the central point of what is going on here.
So, what is the central point of what is going on here?
Well, the story of Joseph was God’s first preview of Phase Two of his grand plan of salvation. The story of Daniel is God’s second, more detailed preview of Phase Two.
Phase One was the nation of Israel: God’s kingdom defined by political borders, God’s people physically set apart from all the surrounding nations. But the nation of Israel was never supposed to last forever in that form: it was like a seed that was supposed to eventually produce one perfect, eternal king.
Once Israel produced this king, Phase One would be complete, and Phase Two could begin, where God’s kingdom would no longer be defined by political borders, where God’s people would live mixed in with the nations like yeast in dough, like salt, like stars shining in the darkness.
The central point here is this: Daniel’s time marks the beginning of the transition from Phase One to Phase Two. The nation of Israel is dying, just like a seed must die before it can begin to grow into what it was always meant to be — and history tells us the nation continued to die and decline over the next several hundred years after Daniel. And during those centuries, quite naturally, God’s people often wondered if God’s plan has failed somehow.
The Book of Daniel was published to encourage the Jewish people through those centuries, to let them know that God’s plan is not failing, it is simply in transition from Phase One to Phase Two.
And that is the point of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: it is all about the transition from Phase One to Phase Two.
And because this was, for the Jewish people, God’s first apocalyptic preview of this transition, he purposely kept it simple.
There are really just a couple of simple details God wanted his people to know for sure: first, the transition begins with Babylon in Phase One; second, it ends with God’s kingdom filling the earth at the end of Phase Two; third, there will be a number of kings or kingdoms in between.
And these few simple details were really designed to leave just a few simple impressions on God’s people: first, in some ways this transition is going to take a long time, perhaps even centuries; second, some aspects of this transition will happen suddenly, perhaps even violently; third, God is in complete control of the whole thing.
In other words: this apocalyptic prophecy was not designed to make the Jewish people think thoughts, it was designed to make them feel feelings…feelings of certainty and anticipation.
And…it worked! God’s Word always produces the right fruit. Even though the Jewish people were often distracted by trying to intepret the details of this prophecy — and even though their interpretations were often wrong — they did spend those centuries after Daniel anticipating Phase Two, looking forward to the kingdom of God.
Well, here we are, more than 2500 years after Daniel first wrote this down. What feelings are we supposed to pick up from this apocalyptic vision?
The same feelings the Jewish people felt: certainty and anticipation.
In fact, our feelings ought to be even stronger, because we are now actually living in Phase Two of God’s plan. We have the certainty of hind-sight: we have seen how, as the nation of Israel slowly died, it did produce one final king, one last son of David. And even though that king died without being recognized by his own Jewish nation, by this point in history it is obvious that he really is the one perfect, eternal king that was promised: because he has now been recognized as King by people from almost every nation in the world today!
In other words: Jesus’ kingdom is even now in the process of filling the whole earth.
And so what we know now, that the ancient Jewish people did not know, is that the rock in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision is a king, Jesus Christ; and that the mountain is Jesus’ Church, God’s people: us. We have been gathered together here into one new spiritual nation — but at the same time we have been scattered as exiles throughout the nations…like yeast, like salt, like stars pointing forward to the dawn.
We already know everything we need to know about the future of God’s plan: some elements are going to take centuries; some things are going to happen suddenly, violently; and God is in complete control of the whole thing.
And this is why it is generally a waste of time for Christians to debate about whether the iron kingdom was meant to symbolize the Greek empire or the Roman empire, the Islamic empire, the Soviet empire, the American empire? the coming Chinese empire? The answer is actually “yes” to all of them. Empires will rise and fall throughout history: that is what empires do. History does repeat itself, mankind does keep on making the same old mistakes: that is what this apocalyptic prophecy confirms.
But this apocalyptic prophecy also confirms that, in the end, every last empire on earth will be shattered by the rock that is Jesus Christ: mankind’s mistakes will be wiped out — so passes the glory of the world.
And this certainty just strengthens our anticipation. The ancient Jews were looking forward to Phase Two; now we are looking forward to the end of Phase Two and the beginning of Phase Three, when the mountain of God will be complete and all creation finally united in worship under one eternal king. As Peter pointed out to us in the New Testament: we have every reason to look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.
So…let’s get practical now. Since we have this certainty and this anticipation, what should we be doing now, today? What practical lesson can we draw from this episode in Daniel’s life?
Well, last week was about learning how to save our own lives by asking for God’s wisdom while we live in exile among the nations.
This week is about learning how to save others’ lives by preaching God’s wisdom while we live in exile among the nations. That is what Daniel did: he literally saved the lives of Babylon’s wise men by revealing God’s wisdom. But even more importantly, he philosophically saved the life of Babylon’s king by giving him a new foundation and a purpose.
So what is our application, then: we should all do our best to preach to kings and emperors, so that we can convert whole nations to Christianity at once?
And later on in Daniel it will become obvious why this is not God’s central strategy for saving the world.
Don’t get me wrong: if you do ever find yourself before a king or an emperor, feel free to preach!
Just…be aware of two things: first, Daniel was only successful because God led him to speak at exactly the right moment: when the king was ready to listen. Second, when Daniel spoke he told the complete truth, including the fact that Nebuchadnezzar must rule according to God’s standards. Most world leaders do not like to be reminded of this.
So if you ever decide that the time is right to preach to a major world leader…do so! but know that you are risking your future.
More on that next week.
No, our application today is simply this: we are meant to be salt and light among the nations. We are salt and light when we preach and live the Wisdom of God that. And the Wisdom of God teaches us not to panic over the rise and fall of nations or empires. We refuse to panic because we know that we are citizens of a better kingdom, an eternal kingdom. And one of the best ways to preach the reality of God’s kingdom is by refusing to panic over the small stuff.
But even while we preach and live the Wisdom of God, let’s follow Daniel’s example and do this wisely. Let’s make sure to keep things in perspective. The bible tells us we are like salt, we are like stars shining in the darkness of our generation. Salt has a powerful effect on food, it preserves meat and enhances flavours — but it only ever makes up a tiny fraction of the dish as it is served: it must be used wisely. Stars are beautiful and instructive, they mark the seasons and give direction to the traveller — but they make up just a tiny fraction of the night sky: they must be read wisely.
So let’s be careful as we preach, as we live, to remember that we always preach from a place of exile, from a place of weakness and powerlessness in the eyes of the world. We cannot force, we persuade. And this requires tact and timing. Yes, God’s Wisdom can have a powerful effect on the nations of our world! but despite this the preachers of God’s Wisdom will always be outnumbered in this world — God’s people will always be outnumbered in this world.
And this is important! This is important for us to remember! Because it is exactly when our numbers begin to grow, when we begin to see God’s Wisdom begin to take real effect in our nations, when we see a truly righteous man promoted to Prime Minister like Daniel was — those are the exact moments when we are tempted to believe that it might actually be God’s will for us to take over and finally bring true Christian enlightenment to the government, to the economy, to culture, to all mankind — !
We must resist this temptation. Sometimes we do find earthly power thrust into our hands; sometimes a refugee is promoted into a position of authority. The serpent has trained us to think of these moments as a mark of success for the Gospel, but they are not! Those are actually the moments of supreme temptation. And when those moments come we will end up being seduced by that power if we do not have fixed in our minds the fact that we are in fact exiles in this world, not citizens. Like exiles, like refugees, we can and do contribute good things to the nations we live among — but it is not our job to take over those nations, or become those nations. At best we are servants among the nations, servants looking forward to something better, something greater — the Day of our redemption from slavery.
So in closing: let’s not get lost in the details, let’s not get distracted from the central point of what is going on here. We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness, and we are pointing the way.
So let’s do that.