The Rise and Fall of Kingdoms
The Fall and Rise of Kingdoms
A little while ago there was an article in Psychology Today, about why some people don’t seem to dream.
The population, it turns out, falls quite evenly into 3 categories,
Those who dream a lot; which the researchers said was 10 times or more a month,
Those who dreamed a bit, 1 to 9 times per month,
And those who said they, basically don’t dream at all.
And you can work out which category you fall into!
But this article pointed out, that it’s hard to determine if that last category, the non-dreamers, whether the issue for them is really that they don’t dream at all, or simply that they can’t remember their dreams when they wake up.
It might be that 30 percent of us have a bad memory, not that we don’t dream.
The researchers went on to say that the only way to definitively answer that question, would be for that third of the population to sleep in an MRI machine every night for the rest of their lives, which I think, goes beyond bounds of the practical!
Because even those of us who do dream, the science says we’re destined to forget between 95 and 99 percent of what we dream about by the time we wake up.
And that, is what the historians think is the presenting issue in Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar had dreams;, verse 1, his mind was troubled and he could not sleep
The powerful king is shown to be powerless (v 1 – 13)
So he called in all the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers, on his payroll, and asked them to tell him what his dream meant. But there was this catch, he wouldn’t tell them the dream, so they could interpret it,
They would have to tell him, first what the dream was, and then what it meant.
“This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces etc etc.
Now the text doesn’t tell us that Nebuchadnezzar has forgotten his dream, but that’s what the scholars and historians think is probably the case.
Even so, it seems to us entirely unreasonable, but of course if his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers, verse 2, actually claim to be magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers, then it’s not so unreasonable is it?
We don’t think that someone can tell another person what they’ve dreamed, but if you’re making your living off the king’s payroll, eating food off the king’s table every day, because you claim to be a magician, enchanter, sorcerer, or astrologer, then actually it’s not so unreasonable, is it?
At least he’s being consistent with his worldview
Numbers of our school students sat the NAPLAN tests last week! What Nebuchadnezzar asks of his wise men is kind of like the kids who sit NAPLAN being given a blank test;, first they have to figure out what the question is, and then give the right answer!
Can you imagine the outcry from the parents if that was how NAPLAN worked!
So most likely, Nebuchadnezzar’s forgotten, or forgotten the detail maybe. But he’s convinced the dream’s important, which is why he doesn’t want them just making up the interpretation.
And you see how desperate he is; magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers, later on it’s wise men
The whole department gets wheeled out.
You might remember last year, Southern Rail in the UK had a 15 year old school kid named Eddie doing work experience, and they put him in charge of their Twitter account for the week, letting commuters know about delays and timetable changes and all that. And he became an overnight Internet hit.
People would ask Eddie questions and this 15 year old would respond from the official Southern Rail account,
Well, the same kind of thing’s going on here.
Anyone on the pay-roll who could possibly give some insight gets called in.
And although it’s an extreme response, actually the essence of it, is typical, of worldly power and a human response to uncertainty, isn’t it?
The Bible tells us that all of us try to push God off his rightful place as ruler of the world,
It’s what the Bible calls sin. Putting yourself as number one, with no regard for the God who made you.
And once God’s out of the picture, then what I want becomes most important,
So me getting what I want, means it doesn’t really matter what happens to you.
And Nebuchadnezzar is prepared to go to any lengths to get what he wants.
There’s carrot and stick. Although, I must say the stick is a fair bit bigger than the carrot!
I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble, or, you’ll get gifts and rewards and great honor
There’s clay tablet from ancient Babylon in the Berlin Museum. And one of these Babylonian wise men, from 2 and a half thousand years ago wrote on it “if a man cannot remember the dream he saw, his god is mad at him”
Nebuchadnezzar is frightened. So he’s determined to use any means, to get what he wants.
We probably don’t know people who will have their subordinates sentenced to death, verse 12, This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon
But we do no people who manipulate,
Who use their influence, to get what they want,
They use their power for their own ends.
Although this episode does show us the very real limits on Nebuchadnezzar’s power, doesn’t it?
He’s the leader of the world superpower of the time, and yet something as simple as a dream, spins him out entirely.
And so things are looking bad for Daniel, and for his 3 friends who we met in chapter 1.
Verse 13 So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death.
You can imagine the king firing off angry tweets can’t you!
“Rotten wise men can’t tell me my dream! VERY BAD”, all in capital letters!
Daniel’s God has already shown that he’s in control
But remember the spoiler from chapter 1, Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
We know that Daniel outlives Nebuchadnezzar, although of course Daniel didn’t know that the time.
And we got one other piece of important detail in chapter 1. You might remember if you were with us last week.
Towards the end, in verse 17, we’re told. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. It seemed like a slightly random comment inserted into the text,
But now we understand why we were told.
Already we’ve been given these hints, God is in control.
God’s purposes aren’t going to fail.
Things can look pretty bleak for us, at times, can’t they?
Beyond our ability to make sense of or see the good in them.
And I certainly don’t want to trivialise the very real hurt and hardship that some of us are facing, even right now.
But I reckon this trumps most of the hardship or disappointment we face, an execution squad literally knocking on your door.
Even in the midst of that, the author wants us to be convinced, of God’s sovereign hand at work.
I was talking to some people during the week about The Shack, the novel that came out several years ago. It’s a very unhelpful book that would have you believe that God isn’t in control of all circumstances.
There’s no room for that in Daniel, is there?
The author wants us to be convinced that God’s purposes never fail,
Nothing happens outside of God’s control,
Even circumstances that we might describe as overwhelming and beyond our control,
They haven’t overwhelmed God,
They’re not beyond God’s control,
And God can and will use them for the good of his people.
Years ago when I was a candidate for ordination in the Anglican Church, I had to do all these interviews, and one of the interviewers said to me, “Clayton, nothing bad has ever happened to you, how are you going to be able to help people, when bad stuff happens to them?”
And Kathy, my wife was in that interview, and she replied that plenty of bad stuff had happened to her family, and so I’d experienced it all through her! So that was the end of that question.
But actually that’s not the question, is it? Makes no real difference what bad things have happened to me,
But what does God offer someone,
What does God say to us, in the midst of trial, hardship, danger, sadness?
And God says, “I’m in control, even when you can’t see that.”
He doesn’t say, “nothing bad will ever happen to you.”
But he does say, “nothing will happen to you that’s outside of my control,
That’s beyond my ability to use for your good,
That’s beyond the reach of my purposes.”
He’ll use this real and present danger, even use the king’s desperate carrot and stick approach, for his purposes.
Remember, gifts and rewards and great honor,
God’s about to get his person, in that position of influence in the mighty Babylonian empire.
Daniel responds with confidence in God (v 15 – 19)
And so notice how Daniel responds,
He spoke to the commander
And then he asks the king for time.
He’s pretty confident
Even though God doesn’t promise we’ll always escape from life-threatening situations.
As followers of Jesus, we’re not told that every time we’re faced with imminent danger we’ll be shown the way out in a vision verse 19.
And so although Daniel maybe already knows that he’s been given the ability to understand dreams, he doesn’t just go home and sit in his favourite chair with his feet up and wait for God to act.
Verse 18 He urged his friends to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery
There’s no complacency,
He asks God to act.
To asks his friends to ask God to act,
And then when God does act, what does he do?
He writes a little hymn of praise!
Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
This has been the problem hasn’t it? There’s been a mystery hidden.
No one has known what it is.
And Daniel’s got the gift. But he still prays and gets his friends to pray.
Verse 19 tells us the mystery was revealed, it’s passive language, saying God’s behind it. But Daniel’s been anything but passive.
It’s just kind of a by the way reminder, that your gift of, teaching, or leadership, or care, or music, or whatever it is, is not supposed to be exercised independently of God.
It’s good and right to pray and ask God to work through you, even though he’s already given you the gift.
Daniel’s God is involved in his world (v 24 – 35)
This mystery is out of the reach of humans, but God knows it.
And not only does God know it, God reveals it.
God is intimately and actively involved in the life of his creation.
See verse 27, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.
So the deist, who thinks that God is far off and distant, that he doesn’t interact with us in anyway,
Well, Daniel says, “No.”
Daniel is convinced that God is active in the lives of his people,
That God acts for the good of his people,
And as Christians, which, I guess most of us are, this is what we believe, isn’t it?
God speaks, though his Word. It’s why we read the Bible.
God hears and acts when we ask things of him. That’s the only reason there’s any point praying.
God intervenes in the world that he’s made. And we see that nowhere more clearly than in the person of Jesus, when God takes on human nature and lives in the world that he made.
Back up in verse 11 the astrologers were spot on! What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.”
But that changed when God did come and live among humans. He did it in the person of Jesus
And in Jesus, God even steps in to take the punishment we deserve for our sin and rebellion.
That’s pretty involved!
Don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking that God is far-off, and distant, and uninvolved. If Daniel had thought that, he would have had to just resign himself to being chopped into little pieces, wouldn’t he!
But he knows his God, the God, is not like the false gods of the Babylonians.
And clearly Daniel’s understanding has come from God, because Nebuchadnezzar says “yes, that’s exactly what I dreamed.”
It was a dream of a statue.
The head, was made of pure gold,
its chest and arms of silver,
And so on.
But then a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them.
And then the whole thing comes crashing down,
Do you remember in January they blew up that 80 metre tall power station chimney in Port Augusta?
It’s about 10 seconds, from when the explosives go, to when it’s nothing but a cloud of dust.
That’s what happens in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
And then the wind comes, verse 35, and there’s nothing left. Without a trace. Once this enormous statue, completely wiped away, because of this rock, which then itself grows to an enormous size, became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.
Daniel interprets the dream (v 36 – 45)
That’s the dream.
Then God speaks through Daniel to tell explain the meaning.
God gives power
The gold head is Nebuchadnezzar. He rules over everything; all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky, pretty much all of the known world was under Nebuchadnezzar’s control.
But once again, Daniel won’t let us forget, this is God’s doing.
The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory;
It’s God who’s raised up Nebuchadnezzar and given him his position of authority. But just think for a second about who’s saying this to Nebuchadnezzar!
Daniel, whose homeland God gave over to Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion,
Daniel who was taken as a prisoner by Nebuchadnezzar’s power.
God’s sovereignty has real implications for Daniel, doesn’t it?
These aren’t just empty words. Daniel believes that God has raised up Nebuchadnezzar for his purposes, and so Daniel has to come to grips with the realisation that God has brought about Daniel’s situation.
It’s easy for us to say, isn’t it? “God’s in charge,
God’s in control.”
But are we willing to trust God, to be obedient, when we don’t like the way God’s doing things,
When God’s way is not the way that we would choose?
God’s sovereignty doesn’t mean that God is the instigator of sin, or violence in this case.
Nebuchadnezzar is responsible for his choices, but it suits God’s purposes to use even those decisions for his ends.
The New Testament tells us that one day, everyone is going to have to give an account for how they’ve lived their lives, for the decisions they’ve made, Nebuchadnezzar included.
But for now, God chooses to use even Nebuchadnezzar’s sinful, selfish, self-aggrandising choices, for his purposes and glory.
And that’s probably easy enough for us to nod along to when things are going fine.
But it’s a different matter when your world’s falling apart,
When your nation’s destroyed and you’ve been carted off as a prisoner,
Or whatever it is in our life that comes crashing down,
When life changes unexpectedly,
What did Daniel say in his prayer? God changes times and seasons;, God is behind it all.
Daniel acknowledges, that the king’s exalted position, comes from the hand of God.
God deposes kings and raises up others
But as Daniel noted in his prayer, God deposes kings and raises up others.
Once again, we’re not just to understand that God is telling the future. This advance of kingdoms is controlled by the hand of God.
Nebuchadnezzar will die, and his kingdom will fall. We’ve already had the hint of that in chapter 1.
But 3 different kingdoms will come after Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. Each one represented in the statue by materials of decreasing value;,
Nebuchadnezzar was gold
The comes silver,
And then iron mixed with clay.
We’ve said several times, that it’s King Cyrus of the Medo-Persian empire who follows Babylon.
He comes to power in 539 BC. Probably the silver represents his empire.
The next one that comes is the Greek empire, just over 200 years later;, the belly and thighs of bronze, personified in the leadership of Alexander the Great.
This kingdom will rule over the whole earth Daniel says. And even today, we’re influenced by this. If you’re holding a Bible in your hand, the New Testament was written down, in the language of Alexander the Great;, Koine Greek, also called Alexandrian Greek.
The scholars tell us that this dialect arose among Alexander’s soldiers, as they marched around conquering the world.
And so everybody spoke it, That’s how his rule was established over the whole earth.
And then comes Rome. With the fall of Carthage in, 146 BC, Rome becomes the world empire.
Probably in the statue this is the legs and feet.
And 5 times in verse 40 we get violent images of how this empire would function;, it breaks, smashes, breaks, crush, break.
Do you get a picture of how this kingdom’s going to operate?!
It’s the sort of kingdom that would hang an innocent man on a cross, isn’t it?
But it will be a divided kingdom, and eventually it’s destroyed.
God’s measure of greatness is different!
But in what way, is the Persian Empire inferior, verse 39, to the Babylonian, and the ones after that inferior to Persia?
We know Persia wasn’t inferior to Babylon in terms of scale. The Persian Empire at its height stretched from India, to Europe and Africa.
When we were looking at Haggai last year we noted that the Persian Empire is listed in the Guinness Book of Records because it was home to 44 percent of the population of the planet!
So it wasn’t inferior in that way,
And it’s hard to see how the other kingdoms, are increasingly inferior, if that’s an expression you can use!
How can they be so much inferior to Babylon?
We saw Greece gave the world it’s language,
Rome gave the world highways, communication, and so on.
And so Daniel seems to have a different way of measuring what’s great and what’s, less great, doesn’t he?
And of course, it’s Daniel speaking, but it’s God’s perspective, and I think it’s worth us thinking about, what is the measure that’s being applied here?
What is God’s measure of a kingdom, a civilisation?
What yardstick is being applied?
I can remember my kids getting mixed up sometimes when they want to measure things, and they’d talk about measuring love in kilograms,
Or talk about how hungry they are in dollar terms!
It doesn’t make any sense!
You can’t evaluate something if you have the wrong measure.
And so I think the decreasing value, the decreasing greatness is probably a recognition of the fact that even though each of these empires, and their leaders, considered themselves to be, in most cases, vastly superior to any and all who had come before,
As the years went by, human sinfulness continued to grow.
The advances in size, and greatness, and civilisation, technology and infrastructure, none of this was able to do anything about the problem of human sin.
The way we live in God’s world with no thought for God,
We try and live separately from God,
Taking all the good things that God gives us, but wanting nothing to do with the God who gives them.
The more technology and civilisation we have, it’s never solved that problem, it’s just given us more ways to demonstrate our rebellion against God.
The Apostle Paul says in the opening chapter of his letter to the Christians in the heart of this 4th kingdom, Gods’ people who live in Rome, that those who want to live apart from God, invent ways of doing evil.
Daniel’s point seems to be that civilisation is not moving us towards utopia, but in the opposite direction.
We’re not getting better at dealing with sin.
In fact, what once upon a time was called sin, is no longer called sin, but embraced.
And we’ve seen that in our own lifetime, haven’t we?
We benefit from huge advances in, technology, say, and a third of our teenagers say they’ve been bullied online.
Thank God for the technology, absolutely.
But let’s not kid ourselves that it’s making us better!
If there’s to be a solution to the problem of sin, it’s not going to come through human efforts and civilisation.
That’s what we learn from this.
The solution to sin is not to wait long enough and everything will get better.
If you listened to the sermon from the royal wedding last week, you could be forgiven for thinking that all we need to do is enough love, and our problems will be solved.
Well 2 and a half millennia after Daniel, we still haven’t got there yet, have we.
The solution to the problem of sin, and the problems caused by sin don’t lie in our hands.
God is establishing a kingdom
But it’s not the work of our hands that stands at the centre of this dream, is it?
Daniel explains in verse 44, “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom, that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people.
It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, and so on.
God’s kingdom is eternal
Human kingdoms come and go under God, but God is establishing an eternal kingdom.
Notice that it’s not just the last kingdom, the Roman Empire that is brought to nothing by God’s eternal kingdom, in the dream they’re all turned to dust, by this rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands.
You know in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the witches tell Macbeth that no man “of woman born” will ever be able to harm him. So Macbeth thinks he’s kind of invincible, only to learn in the final scene that Macduff was born by Caesarean Section, and therefore not, in the witches’ words “of woman born”, and so Macduff kills him.
Sorry if you didn’t already know how it ends!
Well the point here is not some similar technicality that not by human hands means, actually with a spade, or the person was wearing gloves or something!
It’s not by human hands, It’s God!
This kingdom has its origin, it’s source, in God himself, and it will endure forever.
God kingdom is powerful
And look how powerful it is. Of course, it’s a dream, and in dreams, little things like the space-time continuum don’t apply, do they?!
These kingdoms don’t all exist at the same time, because God deposes kings and raises up others, and yet in the dream all of these are reduced to dust simultaneously by the coming of God’s eternal kingdom.
It’s just a picture of the sheer power of God’s kingdom, in comparison to all others that have come before.
No power can stand against God’s kingdom,
Not even the combined might of perhaps the greatest empires the world has ever seen can stand against God’s kingdom.
God kingdom is world-wide
We see also that God’s kingdom is a world-wide kingdom.
The rock became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.
Do you feel the weight of the contrast?
The statue’s big, yep, but nothing compared to this mountain, this mountain that is God’s kingdom.
It’s a good corrective for Nebuchadnezzar, isn’t it? Who ruled all mankind and the beasts of the field, verse 38,
It reminds him that he rules under God,
That God’s kingdom is far greater than his.
The Persian empire, is the chest and arms of a statue. 44 percent of the world’s population might live in it, but it’s just this much of a statue.
God’s kingdom, fills the whole earth
There’s nowhere where God’s plans aren’t working towards their fulfilment.
No nation that God thinks is off-limits to the message of the gospel,
No people-group whom God doesn’t want to hear the good news of Jesus.
Think of how many people that is!
It might include people you know! People you mix with every day, whom God is going to draw into his kingdom.
And it will include people you’ll never meet this side of heaven.
God’s kingdom is world-wide.
Isn’t that something you’d want to be a part of?
If you know you’re on the outside of what God is doing in the world, does it make you think, “this is significant”?
Here’s how to invest in something of consequence.
And it’s a little bit of a warning to us, isn’t it?
If the mightiest empires of human history, are but dust to the Kingdom of God,
The corporation you work for,
The nation you’re a part of,
The family you sacrifice for,
The church planting plans you get involved in,
Will come to nothing, if they are outside of God’s kingdom.
They are nothing, if they are not what God is doing in his world.
It’s a rebuke and a warning to Nebuchadnezzar,
He has to This his God-given rule, under God, and acknowledge God as the only true God.
It doesn’t really seem that he does. He just seems to add Daniel’s God into his existing list of gods. At the top of the list, sure, God of gods and the Lord of kings, but nothing really changes.
But this picture of God’s powerful, eternal, world-wide kingdom, is going to be good news for Daniel, too, isn’t it. And any of the other exiles from Judah who happen to be within earshot in the palace at this moment.
It would be tempting for them to think that God’s work in the world isn’t powerful.
That Babylon was mightier than whatever God was doing. That’s what it looked like when they were carted off as prisoners.
Are you ever tempted to think that there other forces more powerful than the Kingdom of God?
That actually God’s plans for the world,
His plans for Australia,
His plans for our church,
His plans for you, might be thwarted, by some force,
Some bureaucrat, .
Some family member, opposed to God.
The next time you’re tempted to think that God’s plans might come to nothing because of the opposition or hostility you encounter, remember a statue, enormous, dazzling, awesome in appearance, 4 mighty kingdoms, who each conquered the world, and are reduced to dust, and swept away,
By the kingdom of God.
Naturally, there’s a flipside to that encouragement. If that’s how powerful the kingdom of God is,
If it’s scope is eternity, and it’s scale world-wide,
You need to be in it, don’t you, a citizen of God’s kingdom, not opposed to it.
About 600 years after Nebuchadnezzar’s sleepless night, Jesus of Nazareth went began his ministry, according to Mark’s gospel account, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said.,
“The kingdom of God, has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
God has established a kingdom through the life of Jesus,
Through his death in our place taking our sin and rebellion.
And it’s worldwide,
And it’s the easiest thing in the world to become a part of. Jesus said Repent, and believe the good news!
Repent just means turn away from living for yourself, and start living for God,
Living according to God’s pattern,
Living with God’s king Jesus in charge, instead of you.
And as people heard the message, and saw God’s king in action, the kingdom grew, and grew, and grew, and every human empire and institution pales in comparison, to the power, and reach, and influence, of God’s kingdom.
And what those kingdoms were never able to do about our problem of sin and rebellion, the downward spiral through history, God’s kingdom, God’s king, Jesus, defeats decisively on the cross.
I used to hang out with some magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers. Every year I’d go down to the Body, Mind and Psychic Expo, which was on last weekend, and I’d talk to people about God’s kingdom, and how it’s unlike anything else on offer in that smorgasbord of spirituality.
I met a woman who told people their future. She said to me, in between clients, that she was a psychology student, that none of what she said to people was true, she just made it up,
But that it was good for people to have something to hope in, and look forward to.
Friends, here’s something to hope in,
To look forward to,
But this one is true.
The Kingdom of God and God’s king, Jesus.
It was promised beforehand,
It was revealed in history,
And let me say, it’s the thing you want to be a part of.