The writings of the prophets are among the least understood and most misinterpreted in all of Scripture. Some of the prophetic writings are almost entirely obscure to contemporary Christians. (Without looking, how much do you know about the context and content of, say, Obadiah or Zephaniah?) Others are more familiar to us. Among the more popular prophetic writings are the books of Daniel and Jonah.
Gleason Archer notes that, while Daniel is the second shortest of the Major Prophets, it is quoted or alluded to more than any other Old Testament book. Sunday school children love the exciting stories it contains. Christians have for centuries taken great encouragement from it.
Structurally, the book is clearly split down the middle into two broad sections. The first section (chapters 1–6) (what we might call Daniel in Babylon’s court) relates various narrative events that unfolded between Daniel, his three friends, and the rulers of Babylon. The second section (chapters 7–12) (what we might call Daniel in heaven’s court) recount visions that Yahweh gave to Daniel to encourage him and his people about Yahweh’s sovereignty over the history and empires of the world—from Babylon to Christ and into eternity.
Daniel lived and wrote in the sixth century BC. The central theme that permeates this prophecy is Yahweh’s sovereignty over history, empires, and kings. Even as his people were taken captive to Babylon, Yahweh’s people needed to be encouraged that he was in control. At no point in the events described in this book did he lose control. But there are at least three important things to observe about his control.
First, Yahweh’s sovereign control is revealed in active relationship with his people. The Bible does not present God’s sovereignty as an abstract truth, as if he stands aloof from his people and impatiently exercises control with no connection to his covenant community. Throughout the book of Daniel, as throughout the Bible, God is revealed in relation to his people. He is a King; they are his subjects. He is a Warrior; they are his soldiers. He exercises his control in conscious relation to his people.
We should be encouraged that God’s control is never exercised without thought to his people. Even in our own lives, God always allows what is ultimately best for us—whether we know it or not. The loss of employment, the diagnosis of dread disease, the delay in saving your harsh, unbelieving spouse, and the subjection to violent crime are ultimately displays of God’s control as he determines what is best for you. His control does not mean that life is easy. His control does not mean that life is understandable. His control does mean that he is working everything out for the ultimate good of your final Christlikeness.
Second, Yahweh’s sovereign control is revealed in the nitty gritty of history and daily life. The Babylonian exile was more than a military conquest; Yahweh gave his people into the hands of the enemy. The extraordinary skills of Daniel and his three friends were Yahweh’s gift, not the result of mindless education. Yahweh displayed his control in giving Daniel the ability to interpret dreams. In all these things, Yahweh displays sovereign control. As Tremper Longman summarises, “Each chapter tells a different story, but each on is a story of divine sovereignty.”
We should be encouraged that Yahweh’s control cannot be divorced from major upheavals in human history and small providences in your personal life. God oversees it all. He manages the rise and fall of empires. He also gives you the gifts and wisdom that you need to face the challenges of the day that lies ahead of you. This all lies within his sovereign control.
Third, Yahweh’s sovereign control is exercised for the encouragement of his people. The Jews were beaten and beleaguered. Their world had collapsed around them. In the ancient worldview, the gods of Babylon had proven more powerful than the God of Israel. But Yahweh stepped into this to remind his people that he was in control and still committed to preserving and purifying them.
We should be encouraged by Yahweh’s control precisely because his control is designed to encourage us. As we see evidence of his sovereignty in our lives and world, we are heartened that nothing has bypassed his sovereignty but that he remains all-powerful and calmly in control despite circumstances that appear to point to the contrary. The book of Daniel is given to us to encourage us in the truth of divine sovereignty even when we can’t immediately see it.
As we head into a short devotional series on Daniel, allow your heart to be encouraged over the next two weeks that, whatever lies your circumstances may teach you, God is in control.