Sunday Sermon: ‘God Governs in the Affairs of Men’

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During the summer of 1787, the Constitutional Convention of America was at a deadlock. For five weeks there had been a debate and a division concerning how each state should be represented. Should larger states with larger populations have more votes, or should each state have one vote, regardless of their size? Tempers flared and the division grew wider as each side strongly defended its position.

Then one day Benjamin Franklin addressed President Washington with these words –

“Mr. President…groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings?… I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build, they labor in vain that build it.” [1]

God’s involvement in human affairs is sometimes referred to as His ‘providence.’ Providence is a reference to God watching over His creation with wisdom and care. God governs in the affairs of men. Perhaps there is no passage of scripture that states this more clearly than in Daniel chapter 2 –

Daniel 2:20 Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: 21 And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:

One translation says – “He controls the course of world events…”

This morning I want us to understand when Daniel said this and why. Even more, I want us to understand what this truth should mean to us today.

I. The Mysterious Dream

Today’s sermon revolves around a mysterious dream dreamed by a pagan king hundreds of years ago.

Daniel 2:1 And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, wherewith his spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him. 2 Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to shew the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king. 3 And the king said unto them, I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit was troubled to know the dream. 4 Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriack, O king, live for ever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation. 5 The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me: if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill.

Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon and he dreamed a dream so mysterious that it caused him to suddenly awaken from his sleep. Yet, after he awoke, he could not remember the content of his dream. So he commanded the wise men of his kingdom to tell him what his dream was and what it meant. The wise men said, “Tell us the dream and we’ll gladly give you the interpretation.” “I can’t” the king said. “I don’t remember what the dream was. If you are as wise as you say you are, why can’t you tell me what I dreamed?”

Scripture says that Nebuchadnezzar became very angry and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be put to death. This decree included some young Hebrew men known as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.)

As the soldiers went through the land, they came to the house of Daniel.

Daniel 2:14 Then Daniel answered with counsel and wisdom to Arioch the captain of the king’s guard, which was gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon: 15 He answered and said to Arioch the king’s captain, Why is the decree so hasty from the king? Then Arioch made the thing known to Daniel. 16 Then Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time, and that he would shew the king the interpretation.

Daniel went to his friends and asked them to join him in prayer.

17 Then Daniel went to his house, and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions: 18 That they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.

19 Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.

20 Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: 21 And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: 22 He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. 23 I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known unto us the king’s matter.

Daniel said something very important – “God changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings…” (vs. 21) Or as we have already stated – “God controls the course of world events… That is not to say that God ordains everything that man does. The Bible says – “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” (James 1:13-14) Men sin because of the evil in their hearts. Yet even though men sin, God is still in control.

II. The Meaning of the Dream

The reason for Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was more than him eating pizza just before he went to bed. It was a God-given dream. In this mysterious dream God revealed certain world events that would extend unto the end of time.

A. The Design of the Image

Daniel 2:24 Therefore Daniel went in unto Arioch, whom the king had ordained to destroy the wise men of Babylon: he went and said thus unto him; Destroy not the wise men of Babylon: bring me in before the king, and I will shew unto the king the interpretation.

25 Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste, and said thus unto him, I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation. 26 The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof? 27 Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king; 28 But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these; 29 As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter: and he that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass.

31 Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. 32 This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, 33 His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.

I’m sure that a smile began to creep across Nebuchadnezzar’s face as Daniel helped him remember his dream. “That’s right! That’s the dream! But what does it mean?”

36 This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king.

The great image represented four great world kingdoms. The first kingdom was the head of gold representing the kingdom of Babylon.

1. The Head of Gold – the Babylonian Kingdom 

37 Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. 38 And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.

The book of Jeremiah says that Babylon was a ‘gold cup in the LORD’s hand.’ (see Jeremiah 51:7) This does not mean that God was pleased with the kingdom of Babylon, but that God used Babylon and its king to accomplish His will. One way God used Babylon was to chastise His people, the nation of Israel.

The Bible says –  “The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases.” (see Proverbs 21:1 NLT) Regardless of who is on earth’s throne, God is still on heaven’s throne. The Bible also says –  “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” (Proverbs 16:4 ESV)

2. The Chest and Arms of Silver – the Persian Kingdom 

39 And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee… 

For hundreds of years the Babylonian kingdom was a great kingdom. It is believed that the walls around the city were so thick that soldiers could ride in chariots along the top of them. [2]  Yet like all man-made kingdoms, the kingdom of Babylon did not last.

One night, during a drunken feast, Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson took the sacred vessels that had been brought from the temple in Jerusalem and used them in a sacrilegious way. Suddenly a great hand appeared out of nowhere and wrote some inscriptions on the wall. Daniel was called to interpret the writings and here is basically what they said – “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and it’s over.” (see Daniel 5:25-28) Even while Daniel was proclaiming God’s judgment upon the Babylonians, another kingdom known as the Medes and the Persians were entering the city. They did so by diverting the great Euphrates River that ran under the walls and through the city, and thus they marched in along the river bed.

For the next two hundred years the Persians ruled the world. So great was their empire that they called a portion of their army – ‘The Immortals.’ But, like all kingdoms, the Persian Empire eventually fell.

3. The Belly and Thighs of Brass – the Grecian Kingdom 

39 …and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. 

The third great world empire was the kingdom of Greece. Greece’s rise to power was led by a man named Philip of Macedonia and his son, Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great built a powerful army which at one point included the use of elephants. It is reported that at one point, Alexander sat down and wept because there was nothing left for him to conquer.

Alexander the Great is one of the most famous military men of all time, yet he died at the age of 33. After his death, his kingdom as divided among his four generals and eventually fell apart.

4. The Legs and Feet of Iron and Clay – the Roman Kingdom 

40 And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. 41And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay.

Following the kingdom of the Greeks was the great Roman Empire.

a. Ancient Rome

Rome was represented by iron which indicates its great strength. For the next 500 years Rome ruled the world. Most of you know that it was the world power during the time when Jesus walked upon this earth.

Yet Rome eventually fell as well. In the 1700’s a book was written entitled ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ by Edward Gibbon (1737–1794). As great as this empire was, it was still weak because it was a man-made kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream revealed that though it was iron, it was also clay.

b. Future Rome

Daniel 2:42 And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken.

Many Bible scholars believe that the ten toes represent a reviving of the Roman Kingdom during the last days under the rule of a man known as the Antichrist.

It is at this point that we come to the most important part of the dream.

B. The Destruction of the Image

Very few of us will remember the design of the great image, but we all should remember its destruction.

Daniel 2:34 Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. 35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.

I’m sure that the great image amazed Nebuchadnezzar, especially once he learned that he was the golden head. But there was also something about the dream that troubled him. This great a magnificent statue was destroyed by a huge stone. What was this rock and what did it mean?

Throughout scripture we learn that Jesus is that rock. Scripture also teaches us that Jesus is going to return at the end of the Tribulation Period and defeat the Antichrist and his kingdom, thus bringing an end to man’s attempt to rule the world.

III. The Message We Should Gain From the Dream

What is the message that we should gain from this mysterious dream? What did God want Nebuchadnezzar, and us as, well to learn? I think that there are two great facts:

A. Man’s Kingdoms Are Only Temporary

Though each of these kingdoms were magnificent and powerful in their own right, they all eventually fell. Each was defeated by the next kingdom and eventually they all were crushed and destroyed by the great stone.

B. God’s Kingdom is Eternal

Daniel 2:44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

The angel Gabriel said to Mary –

Luke 1:31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Application

 What should we learn from all of this? I think there are at least two things:

 1) The only real kingdom is the kingdom of Christ

 Jesus taught us to pray – “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) The last recorded prayer in the Bible is – “Come Lord Jesus.” (see Revelation 22:20) To that I say ‘Amen and Amen!’

 2) Today God is using earthly kingdoms to accomplish His eternal will and purpose

a) God has an eternal plan and purpose

 Isaiah 46:9 …for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

This old world is not spinning aimlessly in the sky, it’s revolving by God’s power and according to His plan.

Ephesians 1:11 … according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will    

b) We are a part of that plan and purpose

 There is a verse of scripture that has been strong in my mind lately. It comes from the book of Esther –

“Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

The kingdom referred to here was an earthly kingdom and Mordecai told Esther that God had placed her in this kingdom for this moment. I believe that very strongly. I believe that God governs in the affairs of men. That’s not to say that everything man does is according to God’s perfect will, but that God uses man, even the wicked, to accomplish His will.

 I believe that I am living at this moment in history to be used by God for His glory. I also believe that a part of my purpose for being here is to pray for our nation like I have never prayed before. Lately I’ve thought a lot about Daniel’s prayer for the nation of Israel.

“We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame…because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him…Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. Give ear, our God, and hear… We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act!” (see Daniel 9)

I strongly encourage all Christians to be praying for America, even as Daniel prayed for Israel. Perhaps, we too, are living for such a time as this. God bless you, my brethren.

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[1] Benjamin Franklin, July 28, 1787, Benjamin Franklin’s Request for Prayers at the Constitutional Convention http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/21/Benjamin_Franklins_Request_for_Prayers_at_the_Constitutional__1.html   November 10, 2016

[2] http://7world-wonders.blogspot.com/2010/01/walls-of-babylon.html  November 10, 2016

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