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He's Got the Whole World in His Hands (Daniel 4:34-37)

February 6, 2011 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Under Control: The Wonders and Workings of God's Reign

Passage: Daniel 4:34–4:37

Under Control

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands
Daniel 4:34-37
February 6th, 2011
Way of Grace Church

I. Out of Control

Listen to the following excerpts and consider what they have in common:

"Egypt's most prominent democracy advocate took up a bullhorn Sunday and called for President Hosni Mubarak to resign, speaking to thousands of protesters who defied a curfew for a third night. Fighter jets streaked low overhead and police returned to the capital's streets — high-profile displays of authority over a situation spiraling out of control."

"I feel like my life is spiraling out of control, please help? I am 16 and have two abusive parents. My dad was physically, sexually, and verbally abusive, and my mom neglects me to the point that she is hardly a mother at all. I have...no family that I love and trust and have been on my own for quite a while. All of my friends are shallow and self centered...I have been to therapy, tried many different therapists, and never noticed anything. I have also tried a couple different anti-depressants with no changes...I don't know what to do."

From the headlines to the heart, the reality or feeling that things are spiraling or spinning out of control is a very common feature of life on this planet. Have you ever felt that way, about things happening out there, or maybe, things happening in here [i.e. the heart], or some combination of the two?

This morning, I want us to turn to God's word and consider this question of things being "out of control". Turn with me to Daniel 4.

II. The Passage: "He Does According to His Will" (4:34-37)

This morning we are going to focus on Daniel 4:34-37. But since we are coming in at the end of this chapter, let me try to summarize what we find in the first thirty-six verses of this chapter.

The chapter is unique in that it is a letter or proclamation from the Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadnezzar. He recounts here how Daniel came and interpreted a troubling dream that was given to the king. Daniel foretold that God would judge Nebuchadnezzar and not only drive him into the wilderness, but drive him mad. He would be like an animal: he would eat grass and be exposed to the elements for a period of seven months or seven years. It isn't clear how long he was out there, but it was a period of time long enough for the king to grow long hair and long fingernails. I'm sure he was quite a sight to behold.

But that's exactly what happened. And here in verse 34, we find ourselves at the end of King Nebuchadnezzar's days as a royal wild man. Look at what happens in verse 34:

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, 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;
35 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?"

36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Though it may often seem like it, or feel like it, this passage very clearly teaches us that the world is not "out of control". No, though it may often NOT seem like, or NOT feel like it, everything is, in fact, "under control".

One of the most comforting and convicting truths revealed to us in the Bible is exactly what is emphasized here: God is on His throne. God is the King, with a capital "K". He is the "King of Kings"! But don't take my word for it. Let's consider more carefully what Nebuchadnezzar himself has told us here about God's kingship and kingdom.

A. God is Always on His Throne (4:34b)

The first thing Nebuchadnezzar tells us about God's reign as King is expressed in the second half of verse 34: ...for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation...

We see here that God is always on His throne. There is never a time when God was not on His throne. There never will be a time when God is not on His throne. The same God who reigned over the creation of the universe is the same God who reigned over Israel, is the same God who reigned over the early church, is the same God who is ruling now.

There are no "term limits" when it comes to God!

In the best of times, in the worst of times, God is on His throne. When things seem out of control, God is on His throne. When life feels out of control, God is on His throne.

Isn't that comforting...to know, in this world of quicksand, in this world of shifting shadows, isn't it comforting to know that God's reign as King is an unchanging constant?

Nebuchadnezzar, who saw how easily his reign as king could come to and end, Nebuchadnezzar marvels here at the perpetual and perfect reign of the King of the universe.

B. God Rules Over All from His Throne (4:35a)

But as we look back at what he communicates next, as we look at the beginning of verse 35, we see yet another truth revealed about God's reign as King. We read there that...

...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;

For the ancient reader of these words, this confession would have been astounding, especially given the identity of the one who is writing or speaking these words. The fact that Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan king, was rebuked, removed, refined, and restored by the God of Israel...the fact that this happened was a direct challenge to what many ancient people believed about their gods and goddesses.

Many of Israel's neighbors believed that their god and godesses had power over their land, but not over neighboring lands or over enemy territory; unless of course their gods had defeated the gods of their enemies.

But even though the God of Israel seemed to be a defeated God (since Jerusalem was destroyed and Jews like Daniel were carried off to Babylon), even though He seemed to be the loser, it is He who is intervening here against Nebuchadnezzar.

This affirms what Nebuchadnezzar reveals here: God rules over all from His throne. There is no person, there is no country, there is no army or group or movement or tribe or clan...even in heaven, there is no angel...there is no demon...that is not under His authority as the King of Heaven. Do you believe there is anyone beyond his reach?

This is what Moses told us about God's reign: Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. (Deuteronomy 10:14)

C. God Accomplishes His Will Perfectly from His Throne (4:35a)

But the first half of verse 35 not only describes for us the extent of God's reign, but even more so, the nature of that reign:

God is no 'lame duck' leader, is He? He is not simply a figurehead, like so many monarchs today. No, when God rules as King over all of us, over everything, he does (verse 35)...He does according to his will.

This point is exactly what God wanted Nebuchadnezzar to learn. If you scan back up to verses 25 and 26 you'll see God's reason for sending Nebuchadnezzar into the wilderness. Daniel warns the king that he will be driven mad and driven out...

...till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will...your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules.. (4:25, 26)

What we're reminded of here is the fact that God accomplishes His will perfectly from His throne.

The prophet Isaiah makes this same point in Isaiah 46:8-10

"Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose'"

Paul also understood this fact. That's why, in Ephesians 1:11, he describes God as the One who works all things according to the counsel of his will.

Everything in this universe, from the birth of a baby to the birth of star, from divisions between nations and political parties to the divisions within the cells of your body, everything, whether it is good or bad, happy or sad, all of it happens according to the "counsel of his will".

This is why Solomon can write what he writes over and over in Proverbs 16:

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. (Proverbs 16:1)

The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. (Proverbs 16:4)

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes [or directs] his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

[This even applies to what we would call matters of chance] The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. (Proverbs 16:33)

I like the way the 19th century English preacher Charles Spurgeon expressed this:

I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses...He that believes in a God must believe this truth. There is no standing-point between this and atheism. There is no half way between a mighty God that worketh all things by the sovereign counsel of his will and no God at all. A God that cannot do as he pleases—a God whose will is frustrated, is not a God, and cannot be a God. (Charles Spurgeon)

Remember what the Bible teaches us: This God is the one who changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up king (Daniel 2:21) But remember Jesus said: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. (Matthew 10:29)

From sovereigns to sparrow, as Nebuchadnezzar declared, he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.

God does not sit on His throne reacting to human choices, hoping he can steer things in the right direction. No, He accomplishes His will perfectly from His throne... in all things.

D. God Cannot be Challenged on His Throne (4:35b)

But there's another point Nebuchadnezzar makes at the end of verse 35. He tells us that God 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?"

We see clearly here that, no matter who or how many, God cannot be challenged on His throne. Remember who is telling us this truth. It's Nebuchadnezzar! This is the most powerful man on the planet at this point in human history. And no matter what he decrees, no matter the size of the army he musters, no matter what he wants, he cannot stop or derail or rewrite or overrule the will of God.

As Psalm 115:3 declares: Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

E. God Reigns without Fault from His Throne (4:37)

The final thing Nebuchadnezzar tells us about God's reign is found in verse 37: Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Did you hear that affirmation in the middle of the verse: for all his works are right and his ways are just. This affirmation actually connects us with the end of verse 35. ...and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"

Whenever that phrase "What have you done" is found in Scripture, it is almost always used as a form of indictment. It is a question that implies guilt.

As we think about the fact that everything that happens happens according to the purposes and plans of God, according to "the counsel of His will", it is tempting for us to look at all the pain and suffering and sorrow and violence and injustice and foolishness and tragedy and disaster and say to God "What have you done?" It is tempting for us to say, "but that's not fair...that's not right...that's not how it's supposed to be."

But Nebuchadnezzar, who has just suffered horribly in the wilderness, he states it clearly: for all his works are right and his ways are just.

There may not be a more difficult question than this one: how can an always good and all powerful God, who does all according to His will, purpose that moral evil and human suffering be part of His perfect plan?

I cannot answer that question in any kind of exhaustive way, but I can tell you what the Scriptures teach. Turn with me to the book of Job. In our Three-a-Day readings his past week we found ourselves in Job, chapters 1 and 2. In these chapters we find all the elements were talking about here:

Notice this: In verse 8, of chapter 1, God introduces the subject of Job to Satan. In verse 10, Satan acknowledges God's power over Job's life. In verse 12, Satan is permitted to strike Job and remove most of His blessings.

In verses 13-19 we see this happening as we learn about four calamaties that came upon Job: Sabean marauders killed Job's servants and stole his donkeys and oxen, fire from heaven burned up Job's sheep and the servants who were tending them, the Chaldeans stole Job's camels and killed their keepers, and worst of all, a great wind struck the home of Job's oldest son, the house collapsed, and all of Job's children were killed.

Finally, in verse 20, we read that Job, overcome with grief, worships (!) God. In verse 21, he goes on to declare, "The Lord gave, and the Sabeans have taken away...no wait...the Lord gave, and the Chaldeans have taken away...no wait...the Lord gave, and a random natural disaster has taken away...no wait...the Lord gave, and Satan has taken away...no, no...the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!

And the last verse of chapter one is extremely important. It says, verse 22: In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

And chapter 2 affirms all the same things. In that chapter, Job himself is struck with physical suffering. And this is what we read about his response in chapter 2: Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die." 10 But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

...and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"...for all his works are right and his ways are just.

The Bible affirms three truths that we must hold on to when it comes to this issue:

Number one, God cannot sin or do wrong. James 1:13 tell us that God cannot be tempted with evil. Moses declares this about God in Deuteronomy 32: "The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he."

Number two, every person will be held responsible for their sin. Listen again to a fuller quotation from James 1: Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)

The Sabeans and Chaldeans in Job 1 will be judged for their sin, for their greed and cruelty. They will be held responsible for their actions.

Number three, in righteousness and justice, God can use and will use all things for His glory and the good of His people. As an example of that, we need only look at the very end of the book Job.

Then Job answered the Lord and said: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted....Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,

things too wonderful for me, which I did not know...And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.

11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him. (Job 42:2, 3, 10, 11)

So God used the whole experience to grow Job, even to grow those who read about Job, as He revealed through Job's suffering these huge truths about His own power and greatness and goodness.

So I think we can sum up these three points by saying, though we don't understand it all, through the actions of unrighteous people, a righteous God is carrying out His perfect plan in an imperfect world, and using all of it for His glory and our good.

As we think about these massive truths, we need to be careful. I think Nebuchadnezzar would affirm these words from the 17th century American pastor and theologian, Jonathan Edwards:

If little children should rise up and find fault with the supreme legislature of a nation, or quarrel with the mysterious administrations of the sovereign, would it not be looked upon that they meddled with things too high for them? And what are we but babes? Our understandings are infinitely less than those of babes, in comparison with the wisdom of God...If men were sensible how excellent and perfect a Being he is, they would not be so apt to be jealous of him, and to suspect him in things which lie beyond their understandings. It would be no difficulty with them to trust God out of sight. (Edwards)

Now I know that we've spent a lot of time on this one point. I think we needed to. I think it's a difficult issue. But I do want to share two more verses that I believe confirm all of these same points and bring us back to exactly where we need to be:

"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:22, 23)

The greatest good in the universe is our rescue and restoration to God through the horrendous suffering and painful death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

And his suffering and death were the result of men's jealousy, of men's cowardice, of men's cruelty. And those men will be judged for killing an innocent man; for killing God's Son.

But as we see here in Acts 2, all of it happened just as God had planned it. Every drop of spit that landed on Jesus was planned. Every piece of flesh pulled off his back by the soldier's whip was planned. Every hammer strike on those nails that pierced his hands and feet was planned...for our good...and for His glory.

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 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?"

III. Our Response to His Reign

What should be our response to these incredible truths? I think Nebuchadnezzar reminds us of some very appropriate responses in light of God's reign as king: he was humbled by God, he recognized where all his blessings came from, he recognized that his life was in God's hand, and most importantly, he worshiped God in light of God's reign as THE King.

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Only God's grace through the greatest good that Jesus accomplished can bring us to this same place of humility and worship.

At the National Prayer Breakfast last week, astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of Congresswoman Gabbrielle Giffords, a man now well acquainted with evil and suffering, spoke these words:

I was telling Gabby just the other night, two nights ago, that you know maybe this event, this terrible event, maybe it was fate. I hadn't been a big believer in fate until recently. I thought the world just spins and the clock just ticks and things happen for no particular reason. But from space, far above that traffic on the New Jersey turnpike, you have an entirely different perspective of life on our planet. It's humbling to see the earth as God created it in the context of God's vast universe... (Astronaut Mark Kelly)

What Mark Kelly calls fate, the Bible calls "the counsel of His will"; the plan of the King.

Though it may often seem like it, or feel like it, this passage very clearly teaches us that the world is not "out of control". No, though it may often NOT seem like, or NOT feel like it, everything is, in fact, "under control".

May that truth humble us, may it comfort us, and may it inspire in us trust, thankfulness, and praise for the King of Heaven.

More in Under Control: The Wonders and Workings of God's Reign

February 20, 2011

God Meant it for Good (Romans 8:28, 29; Genesis 50:15-21)

February 13, 2011

The King's Ransom (Romans 8:28-30)