A Date With Fate
Watch God’s history unfold
By Gerald A. Klingbeil
Life in Jerusalem had not been what it used to be. The past years had been a real roller-coaster experience of repeated ups and downs. Yet how did this mesh with God’s promises? Was this not the place God had promised His people they would inhabit forever (2 Sam. 7:10, 11)? Had He not assured David that his descendants would be on the throne forever (2 Sam. 7:12-16)?
These promises seemed unreal, considering that all around Jerusalem the world was going up in flames—and those flames were getting precariously closer to the beloved city. The people of Judah had loved King Josiah. Though very young when crowned, he had begun a major reform in the land (2 Kings 22; 23): the Temple had been restored; God’s law, ignored for decades, had been rediscovered and proclaimed; the people had renewed their covenant with the Lord. Things had been looking up, and Josiah had even been able to expand the limits of the southern kingdom of Judah, reaching parts of what used to be the northern kingdom of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 23:15-20).
But now, following a succession of brief, disastrous reigns under mediocre and godless kings, Jerusalem was under siege. The great Assyrian Empire was on the verge of collapse. Babylon, the new power from the East, had been lapping up in record speed the spoils of the rapidly shrinking empire. Its crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar, with his army and allies, had come as far south as Palestine and was about to conquer Jerusalem—God’s chosen city. How could one make sense of this in the light of the divine promises? Where was God when He was needed?
These and similar questions, I imagine, were in the minds of the young hostages that were taken by the Babylonian king in 605 B.C., the “third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah” (Dan. 1:1). This was God’s city and God’s Temple. How could Daniel later write, “The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his [Nebuchadnezzar’s] hand” (verse 2)? This was a heathen king dealing with the covenant people, the city chosen by God, and the dynasty of David, which had been elected by the Lord Himself.
Is there any way we can make sense when things do not work out the way we think they should work out? How do we come to terms with our personal histories (never mind the bigger issues of world history) when we feel like puppets whose strings are pulled by the powerful, the connected, and the mighty?
The book of Daniel is not only a prophetic book, full of apocalyptic imagery dealing with the time of the end. Daniel also introduces in a unique way a philosophy of history that is biblical—and, at times, profoundly unnerving. God “gives” several times in the book of Daniel: He gives Jerusalem into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar (verse 2), yet He also gives favor to Daniel and his friends in the eyes of the chief of the king’s officials (verse 9). Ultimately, it is God who gives four young men in the Babylonian court knowledge, skill, and wisdom (verse 17). So right from the outset Daniel makes one of the key points of this important biblical book: God, the Creator of the universe, is in charge—of life, limb, time, the future, and even heathen kings.
"Is there any way we can make sense when things do not work out the way we think they should work out?"
God uses a heathen king to punish His people; at the same time He prepares His people to serve and influence this heathen king for His kingdom. The stories found in Daniel 2-6 are very familiar to many of us. Whether dealing with a forgotten dream about an immense statue, a fiery furnace with four people in it, a king gone mad and restored, the writing of a divine message on a wall in a palace full of people who would not pay attention to the “signs of their times,” or the challenge of being faithful to one’s conviction in the face of persecution—God is always in control.
At times Christians have perpetuated the myth that a life with the Master means only success, blessings, and riches. Daniel’s stories tell us otherwise. God’s people suffer and get framed for their convictions (Dan. 3 and 6). Their journeys are not always smooth, and they do not always have a Hollywood-style “happy ending.” Yet in spite of the challenges that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego or Daniel himself faced, they remained committed to the God who worked in their hearts and transformed their minds. One wonders, however, if their decisions reflect the general attitudes and convictions of the deported Israelites. Were they truly the only ones that did not bow down before the statue (Dan. 3)?*
What does it mean when we affirm that God is in control of history? Can this theological truth be verified in our own lives? Is He responsible for the Hitlers, Stalins, Pol Pots, or Neros that have ravaged our planet and caused so much pain and heartache? In order to make sense of this important question, we need to look at the bigger picture of a cosmic conflict that is raging behind the scenes of history. Beginning with Lucifer’s first accusation and the seed of doubt that he planted, this conflict is all about God’s character. Is God a puppet player, like Satan in the Garden of Eden when he used the serpent and both humans to get at God (Gen. 3)? How can an omnipotent, all-powerful God still provide the space for decisions and then respect these decisions—yet at the same time be developing His plan of salvation?
Daniel 2 provides some helpful clues. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, has a disturbing dream but cannot seem to remember it. Calling his astrologers and wise men, he asks them to tell him the dream and its interpretation—but no one can. No one, that is, except Daniel. Yes, Daniel must have been a straight-A student; he was intelligent and creative. But he cannot tell the dream and its interpretation on his own. Together with his three friends Daniel spends a night in prayer (Dan. 2:17-19). In the night, while praying for guidance and waiting upon God, Daniel receives a vision detailing the dream and its meaning.
His praise response to God’s providence provides the best summary of a biblical philosophy of history: “[God] changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him” (verses 21, 22).
God is in control—also of the big picture of world history. While He allows a heathen king to destroy His Temple and the city He has chosen, it is all part of a bigger plan. He wants to save wayward Judah; He wants to reach boastful Babylon; He wants to reclaim lost humanity within the context of the cosmic battle—and He was willing to pay the ultimate price.
Daniel often struggled with the details of the divine plan (cf. Dan. 9:1-23), yet He knew His Savior personally and entrusted God with his life. He had seen God’s hand in his life and that was enough. Away from home, living in an ungodly (and strange) environment, and struggling with the why question he nonetheless understood that God is in control. He still is—and eager to be involved in our big and small lives, one day at a time. Our lives can be so much more than just a date with fate if we allow Him full control.
*Considering the fact that Nebuchadnezzar had apparently summoned all the provincial leadership of his kingdom (Dan. 3:2), it is reasonable to assume that the Judean King was also present.
Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of Adventist World and loves seeing God’s history unfold. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A., with his wife, Chantal, and their three daughters.