Why God’s sovereignty mattered to Daniel, and why it should matter to you
written by Austin Chiang
Lately, the buzz in the media has been centered around certain political figures jostling to become the next President of the United States. And as the drama of state primaries makes its crescendo towards November, the outlook already seems extremely bleak. In what is shaping up to be a finale of choosing between the lesser of two evils, this year’s election process is leaving many of us justifiably apprehensive about who #45 will be and what kind of era they will usher in. What should we make of the presidential hopefuls, and how should we think through the inevitable political change that looms upon our nation’s horizon?
As it turns out, nothing is new under the sun. Scandalous governance at the national level is not unique to our day and age, but rather a reiteration of what has happened before. Consider the story of Daniel, for example.
Following the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Daniel, a young Jew, was led into exile and began braving three consecutive tenures of pagan kings–Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius. Life suddenly became very difficult for the man seeking to honor God. Government-mandated dietary regulations (Dan 1:5, 8), idol worship (Dan 3:4-6), persecution (Dan 3:8-15), oppression of the poor (Dan 4:27), sacrilege (Dan 5:22-23), and infringement upon religious freedom (Dan 6:7-9) became societal norms. Add on top of that regal heads who were despotic (Dan 2:5), violent (Dan 2:12-13), debaucherous (Dan 5:1-4), and proud (Dan 5:18-23), and life during Daniel’s time could not seem to get any more suffocating.
Yet those familiar with Daniel’s story know that triumph overcomes trial. The driving motif of the book of Daniel is why the reader comes away brimming with optimism rather than despair. It is articulated not only by Daniel but also by the collective refrain of even the most pagan of kings: The Lord, the God of Israel, is sovereign over all human affairs whether good or bad.
“…and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored Him who lives forever, for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan 4:34-35)
No matter how egregious the rule of man may be, the mighty hand of God is actively working behind it all. God is sovereign over all things including politics. You know this. But have you considered that Daniel knew this too? In fact he lived in light of this precious truth, and we can be helped by his example as we strive to do the same. Here are a few lessons from his life to consider as we head into election season this year:
- Don’t be surprised if things continue to get worse. Daniel well understood that Israel’s exile to Babylon was the consequence of their prolonged disobedience to God. But he also perceived that anyone, Jew or Gentile, who would not repent of their sins and turn to God for forgiveness would face ruin (Dan 4:27). Thus the conflux of immorality and judgement that Daniel faced in his day did not madden or bewilder him but rather reminded him of the familiar reality he had grown up reading about: that all men are sinners and face consequences for their sin (Gen 3). Similarly, we of all people should be the least perturbed in the face of political pandemonium because we affirm that which the world suppresses: the existence of sin. As long as the Curse is running its course, we will always be electing sinners into office. And when sinners are in office, it should not come as a surprise to us that sinners will do what sinners do. We must expect that apart from the restraining mercy of the Gospel, evildoing and hearty approval of it will only propagate until the Lord no longer tarries.
- Concern yourself more with righteousness than political correctness. After King Darius decreed that all men’s prayers be directed towards him, a surprising sequence of events follows:
“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” (Dan 6:10)
Daniel did not enter into hermit mode when the circumstances were against him because he knew that God was in control. His prayerful thanksgivings were rooted in this reality. No human dictate could change Daniel’s resolve to be righteous because he cared much more about what God thought. Daniel could have prayed secretly to avoid the scrutiny of his opponents, but did not even make that a point of compromise in his devotion to God. In fact, his zeal to serve God unapologetically was well-known to others (Dan 6:16, 20). And so should it be with us as well. May we point men to God as we persevere in righteous living (Dan 6:5), and may we always unabashedly choose to follow God’s agenda rather than that of men (Acts 5:29).
- Be a witness to those who persecute you. Such was Daniel’s testimony, that he was the means used by God to provoke Nebuchadnezzar and Darius to humble themselves and glorify Him. A faithful Israelite, Daniel must have memorized the story of Joseph along with the very important truth about God that the patriarch explained: “As for you, you meant evil for me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20). Daniel understood that the opportunities he had to interact with pagan influences were not by happenstance but were 100% providential. We can take a page out of Daniel’s book here. The more we learn to embrace the sovereignty of God, the more confidence we will have to evangelize even the most fearsome of personalities.
- Pray for our nation. Prayer acknowledges that God is the one in charge and we are not. God is not dependent upon anything, yet He loves to work in this world through the prayers of His saints. This explains why Daniel prayed regularly (Dan 6:10). During King Darius’s reign, his prayers consisted of personal confession and national intercession as he beseeched God to have mercy and forgive Israel for their sins (Dan 9). Daniel sought the welfare of his nation through prayer, and so should we. And as the New Testament clearly and convictingly exhorts us, we must pray for our nation and its leaders with a redemptive perspective in mind (Ti 2:1-7).
- Remember that this earth is not our home. As Daniel juxtaposes the transient earthly nations with the Messianic kingdom in his prophetic testimonies (Dan 2:31-45; 7-12), he must have noticed that one kingdom is different from all the rest. God’s kingdom will stand forever, but any human enterprise is surely bound to fail. Therefore no matter how bad things get on this earth, those on the Sovereign’s side have a rock-solid hope in a better future. The righteous will ultimately be vindicated and taken home to heaven, and all accrued injustices will be atoned. What comfort, what joy, what peace that is! Daniel knew about this future glory that God had prepared for him and trusted in that promise (Heb 11:13-16, 33). We, like Daniel, are citizens of the unshakeable kingdom (Heb 12:28). And yet it must be asked: do we live with that reality in mind?