This morning I said that I wanted to recap and reprise the whole book of Daniel since you have received it over a period of 24 months with starts and stops and often long periods between. So what follows is nothing really new but excerpts from previous sermons trying to tie it all together.
What first struck me about the book’s structure was its irrefutable correspondence between chapter 2 all the way through chapter 7. With careful observation we will notice important themes recurring and thus being stressed or emphasized. In chapters 2 and 7 we observe Daniel having a dream or vision about four earthly kingdoms and the coming of God’s final triumphant kingdom. In chapters 3 and 6 we note two stories about courageous Jews being faithful to God in the face of certain death. At the center in chapters 4 and 5 we are given two stories about very proud Babylonian kings being humbled by the Most High Sovereign. Therefore, if I had to preach the Book of Daniel in one sermon these would be my points.
First from chapters 2 and 7: Be prepared. Mighty earthly kingdoms will arise wielding great power over the saints, but fear not God controls even their destinies and will ultimately establish his supremacy by ushering in and setting up his own triumphant kingdom. That lesson is more in the background of chapter 2 but it is front and center in chapter 7 and, I would argue, is the overarching lesson of chapters 8-12 as well.
My second main point in preaching this book would come from chapters 3 and 6, inspired by the faithful lives of Shadrach, Meschah, Abed-Nego and Daniel. We should remain loyal to our God and his laws even in the face of certain death.
Finally my third point from chapters 4 and 5, the center of our chiasm, we must acknowledge our God as the true Sovereign who humbles the proudest of kings.
I. Lesson One – Be prepared, mighty earthly kingdoms will arise but God controls their destinies and will eventually overthrow them and establish his own unconquerable kingdom.
Of all the wicked kings and kingdoms we encounter in the Book of Daniel, Antiochus Epiphanes is the worst. In a previous sermon from chapter 8 of Daniel we read about him, we were introduced to him as the stern faced king, a master of intrigue with powers beyond his own. We learned this about him in our histories that Antiochus died under mysterious circumstances while returning from Persia. He contracted an exceedingly painful disease which according to First Maccabees was accompanied by deep and unrelenting psychological anguish. He met his terrible end. So let us take encouragement from this, the Bible is filled with one story after another, and so is our church history, that for every Midianite oppressor of the church there is a Gideon and for every Haman there is a Mordecai and Esther. For every Antiochus Epiphanes there is a Judas Maccabeus. Most importantly for those that these evil ones point to, for every anti-Christ, there is one who awaits him mounted on a white horse we read about in Revelation 19 whose eyes are like blazing fire and out of his mouth comes a sharp sword and on his robe and his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
What is it that we are to learn from this section? We are introduced to it in chapter 2, made louder in chapter 7 and the overarching theme of chapters 8-12. It seems to me that obviously the saints throughout the ages whoever read the book of Daniel until the Lord returns are to be warned and prepared to steel their nerves.
Secondly, they ought to be encouraged because the final victory belongs to the Lord. He is the ultimate Deliverer that every deliverer in this book points to.
Finally, let us not be overly preoccupied and paralyzed by future decreed events that must take place. Rather, let us do exactly as Daniel does at the very end of chapter 8. Let’s go about the kings business putting together one faithful step after another doing what we know we ought to be doing and leaving the matters of eternity in the hands of our Sovereign God who always does what is right. That would be the first lesson I would preach and say that if we miss that one we have missed an important lesson to be found in the Book of Daniel.
II. Lesson Two – We must remain loyal to our God and His laws even in the face of certain death.
I am not too sure that there are two more clear and inspiring stories in all of scripture of first commandment loyalty than what we are given in chapter 3 and 6, the stories of those three in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lions den. In fact as I began to study this book and ponder how I would go about preaching it the more I read it the more I was impressed with Daniel’s life. I never could find anything he did wrong, everything was so Christ-like. I feel sure we are intended to follow him as he follows Christ. So I spent two sermons talking about his character and said that these three qualities jumped off the pages at me.
First, I was struck by his humility. Secondly, his unimpeachable service to foreign kings. And, finally, his indefatigable, irretractable public allegiance to his God.
A large part of humility is God dependence, God reliance and God boasting. I began to consider the things in Daniel’s life that could have tempted him to be self reliant and arrogant and puffed up. The more I thought about it the more overwhelmed I was because if anybody had occasions, temptations and trials in their life to be proud it was Daniel. But he seems to remain humble in spite of his many privileges of birth. Born into royalty or least nobility, he was good looking, his appearance was without defect, he was handsome we are told. Daniel had many mental gifts, he was a quick study. There were many things he could have boasted in. Besides those privileges there are the positions of power that he rises to, he receives human praise and has a well circulated good reputation and, in spite of beholding heavenly visions, [you remember that the Apostle Paul was given a thorn in the flesh because of the visions he saw to keep him from boasting] nothing like that apparently was necessary for Daniel. I love that one statement from chapter 2 that I drew his humility from. Nebuchadnezzar has a dream and asks his own wisemen to tell him not just what his dream meant after he told them what he dreamt but he required them to tell him what he actually dreamt and then tell him what it means. Of course nobody could that. And so Daniel drops to his knees and is given that revelation from his God. This is the encounter and exchange between Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar:
Nebuchadnezzar speaks: “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it? Daniel replied: “No wiseman, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. As for me this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation.”
That’s humility and that is what we are to follow. But he, too, was an unimpeachable servant of these foreign kings.
In chapter 6:4-5 we get this snapshot of this quality of him. The administrators and satraps of Darius’ kingdom tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs. But they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”
Here are people who are inclined and disposed to find dirt on Daniel and they can’t find it. You don’t have to be inclined to find it on me; it’s all over the place. You can see it plainly. But here is a man these people want to undo and they can’t do it. That is remarkable!
He was a man of indefatigable and irretractable public allegiance to God at a tender age in an unfriendly environment and even in the face of certain death.
Let me speak of his tender age for a moment; remember that he resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine in chapter 1 when he was a mere teen. And so I quoted from length from J.C. Ryle’s book, “Thoughts for Young Men.”
“Remember that it is possible to be a young man and yet to serve God. I have heard it said, ‘You’re requiring impossibilities in expecting so much religion from young people. Youth is no time for seriousness. Our desires are strong and it was never intended that we should keep them under control as you wish us to do. God meant us to enjoy ourselves. There will be time enough later for religion.’ And this kind of talk is only too much encouraged by the world. The world is only too ready to wink at youthful sins. The world appears to take it for granted that young men must sow their wild oats. The world seems to take it for granted young people must be irreligious and that it is not possible for them to follow Christ.” Listen to Ryle’s words: “Young man, I will ask you this simple question. Where in all the Bible do you find that? Give me the chapter and the verse. You won’t find it.”
No one could convince Daniel that he was too young to start taking his faith seriously. Daniel resolved not to defile himself at a tender age. Let’s do likewise. We see in him the principle the son had become the father of the man. That is, the choices he made while young, the habits he had formed determined the quality of manhood he would enjoy and determined the caliber of Christian he would be. Ryle again: “What young men will be, in all probability, depends upon what they are now. Why do I say all this? I say it because of the force of habit. Habits have long roots, habits, like trees, are strengthened by age. A boy may bend an oak when it is a sapling, a hundred men cannot root it up when it is a full grown tree. So it is with habits, the older they are the stronger they grow, the longer they have held possession of the soul, the harder they will be to cast out. The son is the father of the man.”
Daniel’s life is meant to challenge, instruct, rebuke and inspire us to walk humbly with our God, to serve our king, be it at home, be it at work, be it at school, wherever we find ourselves, with unimpeachable character, and to be Christians of indefatigable and irretractable public allegiance to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To be willing to die should that be what he requires. We should remain loyal to God and to his laws even in the face of certain death. That would be my second point as you read the book of Daniel.
My third and final point is: We must acknowledge our God as the true and rightful Sovereign who humbles the proudest of kings. That is modeled for us in chapters 4 and 5. If we were to reduce the central message of this book down to one phrase I think it would be “The Most High is Sovereign over the kingdoms of Men.” And while that phrase occurs most frequently at the center of our chiasm in chapters 4 and 5, it is displayed everywhere. I want you to listen to Dr. Packer show us one more time how shot through Daniel is with the sovereignty of God. The central truth that Daniel taught Nebuchadnezzar in chapters 2 and 4 and of which he reminded Belshazzar in chapter 5 and which Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged in chapter 4 and which Darius confessed in chapter 6 and which was the base of Daniel’s prayers in chapters 2 and 9 and of his confidence in defying authority in chapters 1 and 6, and of his friends confidence in defying authority in chapter 3, and which formed the stable substance of all the disclosures which God made to Daniel in chapters 2, 4, 8 and 10-12 is the truth that the Most High is Sovereign over the kingdoms of men. And so we see in chapters 4 and 5 God humbling very proud men, very proud kings. My approach was let’s go to school with Nebuchadnezzar, let’s go to school with Belshazzar, let’s go with them in the school of humility. What is it the Lord wants to teach us? I mentioned three lessons from both Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar.
If we would go to school on Nebuchadnezzar, we should learn our sinful pride renders us dull to the Lord’s goodness, kindness, mercy and forbearance. In chapter 4 God is now appearing to Nebuchadnezzar for the third time in a vision. Three times he gets to hear from the Most High Sovereign. In this chapter the Lord comes to him again in a terrifying dream and Daniel interprets it and tells him in so many words that he will be driven mad and be the laughing stock of the world if he does not bow down and acknowledge the True Sovereign. So Daniel comes to him and says in so many words, “Repent, renounce these sins or this is going to come upon you!” and he doesn’t after the third time the Lord had appeared to him.
The second lesson we should learn about our pride is that by nature pride places excessive value on oneself and ones achievements. We heard him say from his balcony, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” Daniel 4:30. So pleased with himself, he strolls out to the roof of his palace and says in effect, “All this is because of me, all this is for me and people are going to read about me in their histories – my glories, splendor and fame. My kingdom dwarfs all preceding Egyptian and Assyrian kingdoms, all these people are my people, my property, and they serve me. They live and move and have their being to serve me. I am sovereign, there is no other,” and before he could finish that sentiment The Lord made him insane and he dropped to all fours like a beast. Nebuchadnezzar needed to learn about his achievements what you and I so desperately need still to learn about our own achievements.
This is how C.S. Lewis puts it in “The Screwtape Letters”. “The Enemy (and remember the Enemy here is God) wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world and knows it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbors’ talents.” That is part of the refinement process, that is what he wants to do in us so that we can rejoice with others in that way.
Our third lesson from Nebuchadnezzar’s pride is that pride stymies us from giving due credit, thanks and praise to God from Whom all blessings flow. He was told over and over that the only reason he could do what he could do and had what he had is because the Lord gave to him. Nebuchadnezzar, what do you have that you did not receive?
In the evening sermon in chapter 5 considering Belshazzar our first lesson regarding our own growing in humility and renouncing our pride is this: Our sinful pride renders us dull to moral instruction.
Belshazzar was a grandson, we are pretty sure, of Nebuchadnezzar and he did not learn the lesson his grandfather illustrated for him so profoundly. This is Daniel’s word to him, “But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this.” Daniel 5:22. You knew about your grandfather going insane, becoming mad, eating grass and that did not affect you? It didn’t humble you? You weren’t changed by that? Sinful pride rendered him dull to moral instruction. No stronger argument could have been made to persuade Belshazzar to forsake his pride and pursue humility! Could there? Such is the strength of the bewitching spell our sinful pride casts over us! It makes us slow to recognize the obvious.
So let me ask you as I have asked myself – what are the lessons the Lord wants to teach us? “Lord what is staring me in the face and I’m just not getting it? What are you telling me in a thousand different ways from a thousand different instructors and I’m just not getting it? Lord, open my eyes that I might see. Open my ears that I might hear. My sinful pride has made me stupid and I can’t seem to learn the moral lesson that is so obvious to others.”
A second observation from the text: Our sinful pride emboldens us to trifle with the things of God. We saw Belshazzar throwing his party and he desecrated the Temple’s vessels, the objects consecrated for God’s service, he had no regard for them, he esteemed them ever too lightly.
And so trying to bring that home to us, let us too, humble ourselves greatly before the God of our fathers and let us give evidence by how we esteem the things by which he makes himself known. May it be increasingly obvious that the manner in which we approach the Word and respond to it could be likened to a kind of “trembling” before it lest our sinful pride, working on us, emboldens us to trifle with it and it’s Author.
The third observation we learn from Belshazzar is: Since we cannot entirely rid ourselves of the image of God stamped on us, we tend as a people to worship someone or something. Our sinful pride invents idols. We see these men at this party “As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver of bronze, iron, wood and stone.” Daniel 5:4. We create gods in our own image, we are loathe to surrender sovereignty, we like to call the shots. Our pride is on a mission and sometimes it whispers, sometimes it shouts its mission statement in our ear and that statement is this: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will be like the Most High.” That’s what our pride wants.
The Lord is not out to humiliate us as he did Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, let’s be clear on that. He is out to destroy it before it destroys us. For surely it will. It has a voracious appetite; nothing about us is more ambitious. It is not only his enemy it is our own menacing, resilient, undaunted enemy and the chief cause of so many of our miseries. We bring them on ourselves. That is our pride.
I want to conclude with a story that I used on January 1st in the evening service in the year of our Lord 2006. We were in chapter 3 that evening we considered Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego in their fiery furnace. I thought this would be a fitting closing tonight since we began the morning sermon speaking of a fiery furnace. We will conclude in the furnace. This is a modern day story very much like Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-Nego.
“In a Cambodian village, Haim, a Christian teacher knew that the Khmer Rouge soldiers now heading across the field were coming this time for him…Haim was determined that when his turn came, he would die with dignity and without complaint. Since “Liberation” on April 17, 1975, what Cambodian had not considered this day?…Haim’s entire family was rounded up that afternoon. They were “the old dandruff!”, “bad blood!”, “enemies of the glorious revolution!”, “CIA agents!” They were Christians.
The family spent a sleepless night comforting one another and praying for each other as they lay bound together in the dewy grass beneath a stand of friendly trees. Next morning the teenage soldiers returned and led them from their Gethsemane to their place of execution, to the nearby “killing fields”…
The family was ordered to dig a large grave for themselves. Then, consenting to Haim’s request for a moment to prepare themselves for death, father, mother and children, hands linked, knelt together around the gaping pit. With loud cries to God, Haim began exhorting both the Khmer Rouge and all those looking on from afar to repent and believe the gospel.
Then in panic, one of Haim’s youngest sons leapt to his feet, bolted into the surrounding bush and disappeared. Haim jumped up and with amazing coolness and authority prevailed upon the Khmer Rouge not to pursue the lad, but allow him to call the boy back. The onlookers, peering around trees, the Khmer Rouge, and the stunned family still kneeling at the graveside, looked on in awe as Haim began calling his son. “What comparison, my son,” he called out, “stealing a few more days of life in the wilderness, a fugitive, wretched and alone, to joining your family here momentarily around this grave but soon around the throne of God, free forever in Paradise?” After a few tense minutes the bushes parted, and the lad, weeping, walked slowly back to his place with the kneeling family. “Now we are ready to go,” Haim told the Khmer Rouge.
And so, bang, bang, bang their bodies toppled into that grave. Where did they get that courage? The same Spirit of Shadrach, Meschah and Abed-Nego, the same Spirit lived in them. “O Khmer Rouge, the God we serve is able to save us and rescue us from your hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O Khmer Rouge, that we will not serve your gods or worship any other but the Triune God.
Brothers and sisters, may it be said of us, what was said of them, “They trusted in Him…and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.” Amen.