Sermon: Daniel 4 - God's Everlasting Dominion

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We're going through Daniel. Today, we're going to be in chapter 4. We've been looking at is how God took a group of people, his people, the Judeans, and handed them over into Babylonian captivity and how they've been living as outsiders. Outsiders has been the theme of our series here in Daniel. He's been using them to make his name known, accomplish his purposes, and, as this song we just sang made clear, to make sure God alone gets all the glory he is due.

Today, we're going to read a fair amount of this text. We're not going to read all of it. You will probably thank me for that. There's a lot there. I would encourage you this week at home to go to the grow page on CityChurchTallahassee.com, get the devotional, read the whole thing, get plugged in in a City group, and really see all of the details of what is going on here in Daniel chapter 4.

Daniel 4

This is King Nebuchadnezzar speaking as we read, the king of Babylon at this time. He says,

”I, Nebuchadnezzar, was relaxing in my home, living luxuriously in my palace. I saw a dream that frightened me badly. The things I imagined while lying on my bed, these visions of my mind were terrifying to me." [As he had done previously when he had a dream,] he summoned the magicians and astrologers and wise men and diviners and they entered. "I recounted my dream for them but they were unable to make known its interpretation to me." [Just like the last time he had a dream, he calls Daniel in,] who the king had given the name Belshazzar "after the name of my god and in whom there is there is the spirit of the holy gods."

I want you to see something here before we continue. The king's description of Daniel is noteworthy. He says, "In whom there is the spirit of the living gods." Plural. King Nebuchadnezzar thought there were multiple gods. He did not understand that Yahweh, God of the Bible, was the one true and only living God. That will change as we read more.

The king recounts the dream for Daniel as well saying,

”Belshazzar, king of the magicians, in whom I know there to be a spirit of the holy gods, in whom no mystery baffles, consider my dream that I saw and set forth its interpretation." [Daniel recounts the dream for the king and then he offers the interpretation.] "This is the interpretation, oh king. It is the decision of the most high that this has happened to my Lord, the king. You will be driven from human society and you will live with the wild animals.

You will be fed grass like oxen and you will become damp with the dew of the sky. Seven periods of time will pass by for you before you understand that the most high is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes. Therefore, oh king, may my advice be pleasing to you. Break away from your sins by doing what is right and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor and perhaps your prosperity will be prolonged."

God has given a stark warning to King Nebuchadnezzar. God gave the king the dream. God placed Daniel in that position. God interpreted the dream through Daniel and it's a warning. Repent or your kingdom will be taken from you. You'll be reduced to some type of grass-grazing animal. Let's see what happens.

Now, all of this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. After twelve months, he happened to be walking around the battlements of the royal palace in Babylon. The king uttered these words, "Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for my royal residents by my own mighty strength and my own majestic honor?"

Famous last words...

While these words were still on his lips, a voice came down from Heaven and said, "It is hereby announced to you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that your kingdom has been removed from you. You will be driven from human society and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen and seven periods of time will pass by before you understand that the most high is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes." At the very moment the pronouncement was made, it came true and the king was driven from society.

His hair became long like an eagle's feathers and his nails like a bird's claws. "At the end of the appointed time," [that would be the appointed time by God,] "I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up towards Heaven and my sanity returned to me. I extolled the most high and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever. For his dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. At that time, my sanity returned to me and I was restored to the honor of my kingdom and my splendor returned to me. Now, I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the king of Heaven for all his deeds are right and all his ways are just. He's able to bring down those who live in pride."

There's a lot there. Just as a heads up, the things we're going to see today as we examine this text closely, are difficult truths to accept but they're true nonetheless.

You see, this is fundamentally an account of a man practically making himself out to be God. In response, the one and only true God makes it clear that he will share his glory with no one else. The king said, remember those famous last words, "Is this not the mighty Babylon I have built with my hands and for my honor?"

What did God say? You need to “understand that the most high is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes.” It's noteworthy that whatever God put the king through, - reducing him to an animal that grazed in the fields - the king says that he does what is right. All his ways are just, and he praises God.

Who’s the Main Character?

Now, when we read this, indeed, when we read any passage in the Bible, it can be helpful to ask the question: Who's the main character? Who's the main player here? When we read this, we might say, "Well, there's Daniel and there's the king and the magicians and people like that." The main character here is God. God was the one who put the Judeans into Babylonian captivity. God was the one who gave the king the dream. God was the one who interpreted it through Daniel. God was the one who humbled the king. The main character is God.

This is true when we come to other biblical stories and accounts like David and Goliath. You might say, "Who's the main character? Well, it was David." No, it was God. That's helpful to understand. What's in the Bible is in the Bible because what it says about God, who he is, what he has done, and what he is continuing to do.

Everlasting Dominion

Now, what's described here is God's everlasting dominion. That's what the king comes to realize. Ultimately, all dominion is God's. Now, what is dominion? That's not a word we use very often. I think it's helpful to define it. Simply put, dominion is “sovereign control.” It's when you exercise control over a kingdom.

And not to get all nerdy with words, but kingdom is comprised of two words: “king” (we all know what a king is), and a “dom,” a domain, an area over which a king rules. If you don't rule over anything, you're not a king. What is this text saying about God? His dominion is everlasting. Everything is under it, it had no beginning, and it will not end.

Why Does God Have Everlasting Dominion?

Now, why does God have this dominion? I like to ask questions. Growing up, this greatly irritated my mother. I was the kid who would say, "Why can't I have that cookie," or, "Why can't I have a second cookie?" (I really like sweets. That hasn't changed.) Why does God have dominion? I think understanding the answer to this question will make so much more sense of this chapter in Daniel and, indeed, of the whole Bible.

The answer is found in the very first verse of the very first book of the Bible. "In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth." Genesis 1 goes on to say that God claims responsibility for the design and creation of everything in the universe, including the universe itself.

Don't misunderstand. It's not just that God claims responsibility for the land and the water and the trees because Genesis 1:26 says that God created us in his own image, humankind in his image. He made us male and female. Why does God have everlasting dominion? Here's the profound theological truth, profoundly simple. If you make it, you own it. It's as simple as that.

Now, we feel like we make stuff. But really, what we're doing is mixing and matching things God made from nothing. If I make a table, if I go cut down a tree, and sand the boards and put them together... (My wife is chuckling because that would never happen.) I didn't really make that table. I just rearranged things God had already made.

What we see here in Daniel 4 is that the king says, "Look at the palace I made. Look at this nation I have built." What did he build it with? Stuff he recycled from God. That's back before recycling was en vogue. He had just rearranged the things that God had already made. And what did he do with those things God had made? He tried to get people to worship him for them, to glorify him instead of glorifying God, the creator.

Now, because God created us, we're accountable to him. We're in his dominion. But it's not that we're in it and it's external to us, like it's all around us but it's not us too. We're as much apart of his dominion as every other created thing. But we're also special. We were created in the image of God.

Trees weren't created in the image of God. Animals weren't created in the image of God. We were made in the image of God. That means we were made for communion with him, to relate to him, to give him glory. We're accountable when we do not do that. That was the king's greatest problem. The king did not understand that truth that we just sang about, that God is worthy of all the glory. That's our greatest problem too. It's not just the king many thousands of years ago.

One of the most fundamental truths that should affect every area of life and how we see the world is that God created. Since God created and he made us a certain way, gender and sexuality is not up for redefinition. If God made us male and female to leave our parents and join together - one man, one woman, for one lifetime - we can't just say, "Well, I don't want it to be that way," or, "We took a poll and it's not that way anymore, actually." No, if God created, then that means things are supposed to work a certain way.

Related to that, the second thing that flows from God creating everything is that life has purpose. It has meaning. On an atheistic view of the world, everything came from nothing, for no cause, with no reason, for no purpose. I would say that makes: no sense. There is great non-biblical evidence that God created everything. Since he has, miracles are possible. That's the third point I want to make.

I'll be honest with you, when I come to a text like Daniel, where someone had a dream and then someone else interprets it, I'm a little wary of that. That's weird. None of us stop in that palm reader place on Tennessee Street when we're driving by because we all know that that's just not a real thing.

What's noteworthy here is that this isn't some example of the occult or anything like that. God was the one interpreting the dream. That's not normative for us today. When we have that tendency to look at the Bible and miracles and think, "Did that really happen? Could that actually happen?" Remember that for a God who could create everything, surely he could work inside of that creation. When we look at the resurrection and we say, "Could God really raise a man from the dead?" For the God who could create everything, of course he could raise a man from the dead. Of course he could give a king a dream and interpret it through someone else. What that means for his everlasting dominion is key to understanding so much of life and the Bible.

The last point that flows from God creating is that we're accountable. We were made for a purpose, not randomly, and we're accountable for how we act. Now that we've looked at what dominion is and what it means for God to have everlasting dominion, I want us to see three takeaways for today.

1. We Make Much of Ourselves and Our Kingdoms

The first is that, like the king, we make much of our kingdoms, we make much of ourselves. Remember what the king said? Those famous last words. "Is this not the great Babylon I have built for my royal residents by my mighty strength and for my majestic honor?"

Now, you might be thinking, "I don't have a kingdom. I'm not a Saudi oil prince. I'm not royalty. I don't rule over anything." But we all have our little mini kingdoms that we try to make. The default position of mankind is to build himself up, to hoard, to take from others, to gain power, to exercise influence, to think more highly of ourselves and less of everyone else and even to think less of God. That is our default position. We are trying to practice our own little version of everlasting dominion, apart from the work of God in our life.

Just a simple example. How many times have we all started sentences with "I deserve?" "I deserve more respect. I deserve for God to answer my prayer," some people might say. "I deserve...” What that's an example of is us thinking more highly of ourselves. You might think, as I am prone to do, "Surely I don't do that. I don't think too highly of myself. I think just appropriately highly of myself." I'm prone to do that. But that's an example of thinking too highly of myself. This is an example of what Paul is talking about in Romans 3. He says, "There's no one righteous. No, not one. There's no one who understands and no one who seeks God.” (That would be apart from the work of God in their life.)

This leads us to a decision, that if we understand it, we're constantly confronted with: Am I going to believe myself and the world to be as I perceive them to be or am I going to let God, through his word, define how I am, what my nature is, how I see reality? You know, I feel I'm good without God. That's my default. That's my sinful nature talking. God says I'm not. Who's right? Well, the one whose dominion this is, the one who created everything, he says what's right and what's real.

Here's something else he said. Pastor Dean actually read this verse last week. "I am the Lord. That is my name. I will not share my glory with anyone else or the praise to me with idols."

2. God Will Not Share His Glory

Our second point for today is that God will not share his glory. First point: we make much of ourselves and our kingdoms. Second point: God will not share his glory. There's a tension between those two things. They're directly opposed. We say: My kingdom, my glory. But God won't share glory. This can't end well.

All of this discussion of God's total everlasting dominion coupled with our tendency to make much of ourselves is probably not the encouraging warm fuzzy message you were hoping for on a Sunday morning. I understand that. In fact, I would say correctly understood, if you only had these two truths, it's terrifying. This is what Hebrews talks about where it says, "It's a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the righteous God." We are not righteous on our own.

Here in Daniel, we see an example of how God dealt with someone who was trying to take away God's glory. He reduced King Nebuchadnezzar to a babbling, brutish grass-grazer. He took the mighty king and made him a field animal because God will not share his glory.

Now, I don't want to paint the wrong picture for you. It's not that God is all angry or all vindictive or anything like that. It is that he's all holy and he is all just and he is all good but we have to understand what we mean by that word, “good.” We'll talk about that in a minute. God wouldn't share his glory with King Nebuchadnezzar and he won't and he shouldn't share it with anyone else.

King Nebuchadnezzar comes to realize this when God humbles him. God brings him to the point that he can see clearly who God is. You see, the king's scale was messed up. The king thought he was this big and God was this big. "Daniel's God or one of his gods, that's the guy I call when I need a favor, when I need a dream interpreted. He's just moderately bigger than me." What God shows him is, "No, king. Your scale is all out of whack. You're really like this big. I'm like up here." (I don't have good ups so I can't jump, so think of a scale that's infinitely off the charts!) That's God and the glory he deserves, and he shows the king what those relative proportions are like.

God has never taken kindly to people taking away from his glory. He shouldn't. He won't share his glory. Now, he may tolerate our pride and our rebellion for a period of time. He did tolerate the king's. It wasn't like at the king’s first sin: “Bam! you're a cow.” It didn't happen like that. He tolerated it for a period of time. He may even tolerate our rebellion for our entire lives. But make no mistake. God will have the last word and he is all righteous and we are accountable.

This is what Paul says in Philippians 2,

”At the name of Jesus," this is an ultimate sense, "every knee will bow in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to glory of God the Father."

That's coming for everyone. The question is: Will Jesus be standing in their place when judgment comes or will they be standing on their own?

2a. God Ordains The Ends And The Means

Now, a truth we don't often talk about as Christians is that God ordains the ends and the means. I think this passage here in Daniel 4 makes this quite obvious. God didn't just ordain the fact that the king would come to worship him. He ordained the very means by which that king came. It's not that the events, including the negative things, in life are somehow liabilities to God. Like “God wasn't involved in the bad but he's sure got a great plan for you on the other side of it.” No, God is sovereign over the ends that happen and every little thing that leads up to them. They are not liabilities to him.

You might be thinking, "They keep talking a lot about God's sovereignty here in Daniel. Every week." Even today, it was God who gave the people over to Babylon. It was God who gave the king the dream, God who interpreted it. God, God, God, God. Yeah, that's true. That is the main theme here. That's why this text is in scripture.

But let's not miss the fact that there are two truths affirmed here: God's total sovereignty and man's total responsibility. You can not accurately understand God and the Bible apart from those two mutual truths. God does ordain the ends that people come to salvation. He also ordains the means that we, as the church, go and tell. Go and tell the good news that salvation will come to all who turn from their sin, bow the knee, and trust in Christ to save them from the wrath they justly deserve.

As an example in this passage, God uses Daniel as means. Daniel interprets the dream, Daniel begs the king to repent, to practice righteousness. Now, the king doesn't listen. God uses the means of making the king go crazy and become, basically, a farm animal. Make no mistake, God used means to accomplish his good ends.

I was having lunch a couple weeks ago. One of the people I was having lunch with said, "You know, I have a high view of God's sovereignty." I thought, "Good. I do too." Then he said, "So I don't share the gospel very much." We definitely parted ways there! What he went on to say is, "You know, God's going to save who he wants to save so I don't really get involved." That's a fundamental misunderstanding of the two mutual truths of scripture, which is God is totally sovereign and man is totally responsible, both for sharing the gospel and for his sin. These things fit together and complement each other.

This is what Paul is addressing in Romans 10. We need to be the means by which the gospel goes forth. “How then will they call in him in whom they haven't believed? How will they believe in him they haven't heard of? How will they hear without a preacher?” (That's not someone standing up here. Everyone who's been redeemed by Christ should be the preacher of the gospel to the people around them.) “How will they preach unless they are sent?” You see, God ordains the ends and the means. All of them.

2b. God Receiving Glory Is The Greatest Good

Now, when we say that God is “all good,” what do we mean by that? What is good? Well, the highest moral good is the worship of God and the praise of his glory. If you understand this truth, it results in a total recalibration of how you see the world. That's difficult. I don't fundamentally understand this when I wake up in the morning. You know, some people have said before their first cup of coffee, they're an atheist. I struggle to get calibrated when I wake up each day, which is why we should be in the word, why I should be in it more than I am.

When we understand that the greatest moral good is the worship of God and the praise of his glory, that makes sense of what we see in society. To this end, to the praise of his glory, God can and will bring things we would consider to be negative into our lives. This was Paul's experience.

Paul's life was a hard one, much harder than most of ours will be. How did Paul characterize his life? “Momentary light affliction.” See, I read that and I think, "Paul, what? Did you mean to write that? Were you talking about someone else or something else?" That reaction that I have is an example of my scale being out of whack. Paul also said that that momentary light affliction was producing in him and by God's work “an ever increasing weight of glory.”

What we see is that God actively will use the good and the bad, he is sovereign over all of it, to accomplish his ends. There's an example of that in the second verse in Daniel chapter 1 where God handed or delivered the people over into captivity. I'm sure that wasn't pleasant, that didn't feel good. They would have probably characterized being taken over by a sovereign force and being forced to live as outsiders as suffering. It was. I'm not trying to detract from that or detract from any of the things that we all struggle with or go through in life.

My point is that God is sovereign over all of the events in life and he is working them all together for good which looks like his glory and it also looks like your conformity to Christ, if you're a Christian. This is what Paul says in Romans 8:28.

”We know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose because those whom he foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son."

God didn't just get lucky with you coming to salvation anymore than God got lucky with Jesus ending up on the cross. That was a plan worked out through all of history. For his glory and our conformity, ultimately to Christ.

God Sent His Jon

This brings us to our third point. Remember, we have these two tensions so far. We make much of ourselves and our kingdoms, but God won't share his glory. Those are butting heads. Our third point, the truth that we must end up at, because we know the rest of the story they didn't have in Daniel, is that God sent his son. God took sovereign action in sending Jesus to the cross just like he did here in Daniel 4 when he revealed himself to the king.

Now, he was under no obligation to do so. God didn't have to reveal himself to King Nebuchadnezzar. He was under no obligation to move the king to the point of worshiping him, but he did. In fact, all the way those thousands of years ago in Daniel chapter 4, there's a little mini picture of the gospel: While the king was hostile to God, building himself up, building his dominion, God reached down, changed his heart, and saved him while he was in rebellion to God.

Now, we're not all building empires and statues to ourselves, but we are practicing our own little version of that. As Christians, it's helpful to understand that God displayed his unmerited favor to us when he saved us, in spite of that rebellion. If you're not a Christian, understand that God is willing to extend grace to you in spite of your rebellion. This is exactly what Romans 5:8 talks about. “God demonstrates his own love for us and that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

How do we know love? “Not that we love God, but he loved us first.” God took the action. He sent his perfect son to die for rebels. Now, many people will maybe sacrifice, maybe not to the point of death, but sacrifice for people they like, maybe their friends, maybe their family. But how many of us are going to live a perfect life, condescend to come to Earth as God, and die for people in rebellion against us that blaspheme our name and build their own kingdoms? No one. That is the true picture of love.

This is what Ephesians 2 talks about.

God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with Christ. For by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not from yourselves. It is the gift of God. It's not from works so that we can't boast.

God acted towards us while we were dead, in a spiritual sense, just like the king was. Jesus came to Earth, took on flesh, lived and died for those who had placed their trust in him. He saved us while we were in our prideful state, building our kingdoms, usurping his authority, and practicing our own little version of “everlasting dominion” which, if it weren't blasphemous, I think God would just find to be comical. "Look what they think they're doing. Look how important they think they are. Just like the king." "Is this not the mighty Babylon I have built by my hands for my mighty power?"

He saved us from the wrath we rightly deserved but he saved us unto something. That's not the end. Salvation is not the end, it's the beginning. Verse 10 in Ephesians makes this clear. “We are God's workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand that we might do them.” God doesn't save us from our sins so that we can continue to live for ourselves. He doesn't save us to come live in a little holy huddle.

He saves us to live as outsiders in society. He saves us so that we will stop building our kingdoms and start building his. Why spend your life building a kingdom that won't outlast your death? Why spend your life building a kingdom that will have no eternal meaning, that ultimately will be torn down and broken when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord? Why put your energy into that when you can build a kingdom of the most high God, whose dominion is eternal, whose kingdom is everlasting?

I don't know much about sports. (You're probably thinking, “He really likes cookies, doesn't know much about sports. This is a bad combination.”) There is one fundamental truth I do know. You always choose to play for the winning team. They expect you to know that when you show up and have never touched a ball before.

As much as some people will say, "No, man. I just like the game. I like to play." They actually like to win. No one wants to lose. You see, the blinding effect of sin is such that we think we're winning by building our kingdom, when really, we're playing for the losing team. God, who created everything, will ultimately have the last word.

Choose to build God's kingdom. Understand that he is the one to whom we should give glory, not ourselves. Understand that we're accountable to God for what we do with the life we've been given. We're responsible and, yes, God is sovereign.

There are two good examples of this. One is I had a mentor when I was transitioning from high school to college who had quit his well-paying secular job and took his pension and started working like sixteen hour days for free for a nonprofit that wanted to distribute the Bible for free, that wanted to spread the gospel, to resource pastors in other countries that did not have seminary education or money to buy resources. He exchanged what he had built in his kingdom here on Earth to build God's kingdom in eternity. That has stuck with me for over a decade now.

I think of the Reynolds, that missionary family who Pastor Dean interviewed over here a few weeks ago, who were going to Iraq to start a church and share the gospel with Muslims. My, that is a totally difficult situation, something foreign to most of us. They're 60 miles away from where ISIS is.

Sitting out there in the audience, I was thinking, "Really? You're going to take your family there?" (I’m just being honest with you.) After he spoke for less than five minutes, my soul had been nourished enough that I felt like we could go home. I'd heard a sermon in five minutes. What he made clear was, yes, there are those safety concerns and I don't know how we're going to pay for it yet, but I have to exchange what I have here to build God's kingdom. When you have an eternal perspective on life and your resources, that will fundamentally alter how you live. You will be building something on the side of the one who created everything whose kingdom will not end.

Summary

In summary, for the Christian leaving here today and going to work or school or maybe spring break tomorrow means living as an outsider in this culture. We were not meant to fit in. For the non-Christian, what you've heard today and probably through this series in Daniel just sounds weird. Really? People trying to build someone else's kingdom, not themselves? Yeah. We believe weirder things than that. It's been that way for 2000 years.

God is setting apart a people who will live as outsiders in this world but who will reign with him and the world to come. His kingdom is not of this world and neither is our citizenship as Christians, and we should not live like it is.

This account in Daniel is a stark reminder of how God views those who compete with his glory. He will not share. It also shows how he displaces unmerited favor in calling people to repentance by providing a way for their salvation through Jesus on the cross. He does that sovereignly. That is true. He also uses means. He uses us as the church, as people who have been redeemed by Christ.

We, like Daniel after he interpreted the king's dream, need to call on people to repent, to turn from their sin and turn to Christ. We should do that out of gratitude. Remember, the fundamental central truth of the gospel is that God loved us before we loved him. While we were in our rebellion like the king, making much of ourselves, God died for us.