Truth for Exiles

After the November election, I was bummed. I wasn’t alone. On one blog that I read, a fellow pastor wrote that he cried the night of the elections. For many, the elections showed that the country has turned to the political and philosophical left. Some, however, think the election was but a minor setback; the country has gone through worse. I hope they are right. Still, the future doesn’t seem to bode well. The new health care act requires employers to fund birth control, some forms of which are abortifacient. This is being challenged in the courts even I as write. There are fears in California, if not elsewhere, about any new anti-hate speech laws. We fear the day when the government will prohibit calling abortion or homosexuality sin.

Conservative talk radio helps little. While informative and sometimes encouraging, Limbaugh, Levin, and friends usually succeed in fostering fear, anger, and scoffing. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that they are out there. They do a decent job in pinpointing the issues and giving some important perspectives and analysis usually on assumptions agreeable to the Christian world-view. But in the end they are not good comforters. Our comfort is not in the hope that these folks will teach the nation some new insight that will lead the nation to demand the removal of President Obama. Our comfort lies in the absolute sovereignty of our Triune God over the nations.

God’s sovereign will is the ultimate explanation of everything.1 That is to say that He has authority over and is present in and directly controls all of the natural world, all of human history, and every individual human life. His sovereignty extends to human decisions, to the sins of men and angels, and to all that is involved in faith and salvation. Here is a very brief outline indicating this truth.

The natural world: Psalm 135:5–7: “For I know that the Lord is great, and our Lord is above all gods. 6 Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places. He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain; He brings the wind out of His treasuries.”
Human History: Acts 17:26, “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings¼.”
Individual Human Lives: Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
Human Decisions: Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.”
Sins: Psalm 105:24–25, “He increased His people greatly, and made them stronger than their enemies. 25 He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants.”2
Faith and Salvation: 2 Timothy 1:9, “[God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”

In short, God works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). God’s will is the explanation for everything.

He is sovereign over the nations and the placement of His people among them. Daniel was written to a people in exile. Its purpose is to comfort us by depicting God’s sovereign power and purposes and to provide us with examples of how we are to conduct ourselves while among the Babylonians.

Daniel chapter 4 presents a testimony to the sovereignty of God by none other than Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonian empire. It is a proclamation of praise to Israel’s God. This would be expected coming from an Israelite king, but this proclamation comes from the chief enemy of Israel.

I would encourage you to read the account for yourself. Here is a summary. Nebuchadnezzar recounts that he had a dream which he did not understand, nor did any of his Babylonian wise men. Finally, Daniel came before him. Nebuchadnezzar told Daniel the dream. In the dream, the king saw an immense tree that went up into the heavens. It was lovely and fruitful; the beasts of the field lived under its shade; and the birds nested in it branches. But then a “watcher” came down from heaven and called for the tree to be chopped down, its branch to be cut off, and for all the beasts and birds to be scattered. But the stump of the tree was to remain there among the grass for seven periods, grazing with the beasts of the field.

Daniel understood the meaning of the dream immediately and appears to have stood there dismayed for some time before he gave the interpretation. He finally responds, “My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you, and its interpretation concern your enemies!” The tree, Daniel reports, was Nebuchadnezzar, whose greatness reaches to the heavens and to the ends of the earth. The watcher’s call to chop down the tree and for its stump to dwell among the grass of the field represents God’s decree to humble Nebuchadnezzar for his arrogance. He would temporarily be stripped of his power and driven among the beasts of the field to feed on the grass. He would lose all sanity and dignity. And this would go on for seven periods “till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.”

A year later this decree came to pass as Nebuchadnezzar was glorying in himself and his accomplishments. He was driven into the fields where he “ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.” When the period reached its completion, he regained his sanity and power and then issued this decree praising the God of Israel. The decree shows someone who had learned the lesson that heaven rules. He says, “For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ ”

According to Nebuchadnezzar, nothing thwarts the hand of God. God does His will in heaven and on earth. No one can successfully question His justice or stay His purposes. Applying this truth to our situation, the recent elections do nothing to stay the hand of God. To the contrary, we learn from Daniel 4 that God has not ceased raising up kings over the nations to do His will. He has not ceased to judge the rulers of nations. Nothing in this past election militates against the glory of God. And no future legislation will hinder God from hallowing His great name.

Though the economy may slow down, it will not happen against the will of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The standard of living may go down, but has our Father removed our spiritual blessings in the heavenly places?(Eph. 1:3) Are we not still rich in Christ Jesus? (2 Cor. 8:9) Has he taken back the pledge of the Holy Spirit? (Eph. 1:14) Has our heavenly inheritance even been touched, let alone stolen? (Eph. 1:11) The moral cesspool may grow, yet according to the will of God, He remains holy. His law is not defeated or nullified. His kingdom is not stopped in its tracks. Men may separate us from our freedom but will not separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 11).

We know these things as Reformed people, and we need to continue to comfort ourselves with these truths. We ought not to go to talk radio and the like for comfort. But we need to be realistic about the impact of the truth of God’s sovereignty. Sometimes this can be presented in a way that is unrealistic, glib, and irrelevant and thus brings no comfort. We are told, in effect, God is sovereign—trust this and your troubles will recede. Nonsense! Knowing the sovereignty of God should comfort you, and I expect that it does. But His purposes may entail our suffering. There are places in Scripture which call us to fear the judgment of God upon the nations. There is nothing happy about losing work or being robbed of freedoms. Indeed we are called to lament such events. A reading of the psalms shows God’s people trusting God and lamenting their circumstances. Jeremiah knew that God will win in the end, but this didn’t stop him from lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem. The fact is, the sovereignty of God over the nations is no guarantee that things will not get worse in the short haul, and lamenting of this is appropriate, expected, and required.

But let is not grieve as those who have no hope. Nebuchadnezzar’s proclamation teaches that our God is sovereign. And for a people not yet home, this is truth that will sustain through adversity and prosperity. It is what Israel in exile needed to hear and we need to hear it as well.

1 See John Frame’s excellent treatment of this in chapter five of No Other God: A Response to Open Theism. The outline here is taken from this work.

2 God is not responsible for the sins that man and angels do, though He is sovereign over them and uses such to His good purposes—purposes that are not always immediately known by men.

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