I want to address, perhaps, the most pressing question on our minds this week. To quote a text I received yesterday, “I am trying to understand God’s next steps.” Aren’t we all? The question on all of our minds is this: what is God doing?
We may never know the answer to that question. Romans 11:33 is clear, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” Though we might not know “God’s next steps,” we do know that He is infinitely wise, aboundingly good, and absolutely sovereign.
And in unpredictable times, such as the one in which we find ourselves—with a virus controlling the news, with our government taking unprecedented measures, and with our economy on the brink of great loss—there is assurance, hope, and certainty.
In the book of Daniel, we are reminded that in the midst of great turmoil, our God reigns. And He is to be turned to in faith, trusted without fear, and worshiped in praise. The book of Daniel speaks profoundly to us this week.
In 586 BC, the Israelite nation was expelled from the Promised Land and taken into captivity by the mighty Babylonian army. The holy city of Jerusalem was left in ruins. The temple of Yahweh was destroyed. And the Davidic monarchy—the very monarchy that God promised would never be destroyed—was no longer visible.
All of this seemed to point to one of two conclusions: (1) At the very best, the God of Israel was powerless to stop this destruction and unable to fulfill His promises to His chosen people. (2) At the very worst, the God of Israel had been shown to be no god at all.
The book of Daniel was written not to remind Israel of her glory days, it was written to describe the bleakest point in Israel’s history—a time that appeared to be utterly chaotic and unpredictable. But the book of Daniel was to set the record straight.
Though it appeared from a human perspective that the God of Israel was helpless to stop the destruction of Jerusalem and powerless to save Israel from captivity, and though it may have appeared that the God of Israel was no god at all, Daniel’s message is clear: God is always in absolute control. This is the very message of Daniel. This is why Daniel refers to Yahweh God as The Most High God ten times and calls Him the Highest One four times—because there is no throne beside our God’s. There is no God but Yahweh.
There are no circumstances, situations, or crises outside of His rule
The book of Daniel gives us lessons regarding the sovereignty of God that we need to believe and rest in. These lessons will comfort you in this unpredictable time, grant you security of soul in a world of chaos, and encourage you to live in complete satisfaction in the Lord who is working all things for the good of His people and the glory of His name.
God’s Sovereignty Covers All Human Governments
In a time in which we might doubt the government’s handling of this situation, we must remember that the Lord Himself has placed those leaders over us, and that the Lord oversees each and every one of their decisions.
God’s sovereignty includes:
Each and Every Leader of Government
As Daniel 5 concludes, this mighty city of Babylon, which was thought to be impenetrable, falls to a new ruler (5:30–31). But Daniel ensures that his readers know that it is the hand of Yahweh who initiates this change, as seen in the literal appearance of the hand of the Lord (5:24–28).
In this day, when kings were defeated, their hands were cut off as a symbol of utter defeat: the fallen king could no longer wield his scepter. Yahweh ensures that the rulers of Babylon know that He has not been defeated; His hand was still active, so much so that His hand determined Belshazzar’s end and Darius’ beginning (5:30–31). In the very words of Daniel: “the most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and…He sets over it whomever He wishes” (Dan. 5:21).
God’s sovereignty encompasses all the leaders of government, no matter how righteous or evil.
The Intricate Affairs of Government
Darius looked out at his kingdom and saw that his Persian empire, stretching from the Aegean Sea to India, was the largest empire the world had ever known. Daniel was appointed one of the vice regents of the land (6:2). God’s sovereign hand was distinguishing Daniel from the rest (6:3), as was the case throughout the whole book of Daniel (1:9, 17; 2:46–48; 5:3).
Even though the balance of world power had shifted, the intricate affairs of government were still in God’s hands.
God’s Sovereignty Overrules All Evil Plans
Daniel was a man who was about to be promoted as prime minister over all the land. Yet jealousy raged among the other commissioners and satraps; they wanted to destroy Daniel. But knowing that no accusation could be brought against Daniel in regard to his work ethic, these evil men decided to use Daniel’s faithfulness to Yahweh against him. And so, an evil plan was born (Dan. 6:6–7). They convinced Darius to ban prayer to anyone but himself (just as an aside—this is not what our government is calling us to do in response to the coronavirus. Worship, prayer, or preaching are not being banned. Our government is not calling us to forsake our faith, which is why we are submitting to the leadership God has placed over us). Anyone found in violation to this decree would be thrown into a den of lions to meet his gruesome death.
Was this evil scheme out of God’s control? Were God’s hands now tied by the laws of the Medes and Persians? Did the commissioners and satraps catch God off guard? Could this evil plan thwart God’s purposes?
These are the very questions we are asking today.
The answer is clear: Psalm 33:10 states, “The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation” (Psalm 33:10-11).
Nothing can stay the sovereign hand of God
God is the ultimate, final, and complete authority over everything and everyone, including evil. Evil never thwarts the purposes of God. Instead, the very opposite is true. Throughout Scripture, the glorious testimony resounds: God overrules evil to bring about His ultimate purpose (Gen. 50:20).
King Darius and the administrators and the satraps certainly meant this for evil, but God meant it for good (see Gen. 50:20). Sin cannot, and does not, frustrate the plans of God. The world that we are living in is not God’s Plan B.
God’s Sovereignty Is Magnified Through Your Obedience
Daniel knew that the document which forbade prayer had been signed (6:10). He understood the consequences of disobedience. However, Daniel did not falter in his devotion to God; he didn’t cave to pressure, compromise, or fear. There was no worry or doubt. Instead,“He entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously” (Daniel 6:10).
It is one thing to say you believe in the sovereignty of God,
it is another to live as if God were sovereign
Daniel could have rationalized the situation and prayed privately or prayed at night or, at the very least, he could have closed his windows. But Daniel did none of those things. Daniel continued to pray as he always had (6:10).
What concerned Daniel most was that God would be exalted as all-glorious, and Daniel knew that His obedience would lead to that end. Daniel’s obedience was a loud statement not only to the Gentile world, but also to his fellow Israelites, that God is worthy to be worshiped in even the bleakest of times.
The same is true today: God reigns, and we worship—even in the midst of confusion. The unbelieving world is watching your reaction in this time of uncertainty and unpredictability.
God’s Sovereignty Trumps All Human Effort
As Daniel was praying, the commissioners and satraps barged in on him (Dan. 6:11). As they had expected, Daniel had not stopped his daily devotions with his God.
When the king heard of it, he was deeply distressed (Dan. 6:14). He exerted all of his political clout, exhausted all of his resources (this is literally the king of the world), and he searched for every loophole in the decree to free Daniel. But to no avail—his hands were tied (6:15).
The king was forced to give the orders, “and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions’ den. The king spoke and said to Daniel, ‘Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you’” (6:16).
A more accurate translation of this would be “your God whom you constantly serve, He must [not He will] deliver you.” In other words, Darius throws up his hands and says: I’ve done everything I can; I’ve made my best effort and failed; the only one who can save you now is your God.
No human hand could interfere, not even the king of the world.
Daniel is tossed to the lions, and his fate seems certain. But what man cannot do, God can. God would not permit the lions even to so much as touch Daniel.
Notice, the lions do not touch Daniel. Why? Because they listen to the voice of their Creator. The Creator is in total control of His creation.
And this is true for all of the created order. When Jesus calmed the storm, His disciples said, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:41). This is also true for disease. When asked about a man’s blindness, Jesus said, “It was so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). The psalmist put it this way: “For I know that the Lord is great and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psalm 135:5-6).
God’s sovereignty extends from the lions, to the wind, to the seas, to the bacteria, even to viruses.
All of creation bows at His word
If God could shut a lion’s mouth, He certainly could stop a virus. Then why doesn’t He do it right now? Why did God sovereignly allow Daniel to enter the den? Why does our God not eradicate this virus even as I write?
God’s Sovereignty Always Brings Himself Glory
Once Daniel is freed, Darius writes a public proclamation that travels throughout the land, ascribing ultimate glory to the God of Israel (6:26-27).
Darius’ decree acknowledges that Daniel’s God is not dead, nor has He been defeated; to the contrary, He is alive and steadfast, actively bringing to pass His divine plan. Even though Jerusalem and its temple lay in ruins, Darius proclaimed to the world that the one true and living God’s rule is eternal and will never pass away (in fact, a literal kingdom is coming) (6:26). The God of Israel is far different than the false gods of the Babylonians, the Medes or the Persians—the gods who have eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, and mouths but cannot speak (Ps. 115). Daniel’s God is the only God who is able to deliver, rescue, and perform signs and wonders. Only the God of Israel was able to shut the mouths of the lions.
So why did God allow the evil plans of the commissioners and satraps? Why did God allow Darius to sign the injunction? Why did God allow Daniel to be thrown into the lion’s den? Why did God deliver Daniel from the lion’s den? Why does God do what He does?
Back to the question we started with: what are God’s next steps?
The answer to all of these questions is the same: all of this took place so that the message of the greatness of the glory of God would be proclaimed throughout the world.
But what is striking about the decree in vv. 26–27 is that God sovereignly allowed all this to happen to Daniel, so that a pagan king would proclaim throughout the world a message that ascribed ultimate glory to the God of Israel.
God’s glory being put on display was the ultimate purpose for everything that took place in this story—which is the ultimate purpose for everything God does (Eph. 1:11-12).
Why has God ordained a virus to circulate throughout the globe? So that life in Him—life that only comes through the gospel—can be magnified and proclaimed.
Why has the Lord ordained this economic volatility? To highlight His eternal value.
Why has God ordained evil to run rampant throughout the world? To highlight His saving grace and righteousness that will one day vanquish all evil.
Why has God allowed such unpredictable and uncertain times? To show man that man is not sovereign, that even man’s best efforts cannot bring the stability and assurance he longs for—assurance that is found only in Christ.
Let us boldly declare with the hymn: “Teach me humbly to receive the sun and rain of Your sovereignty. Each strand of sorrow has a place within this tapestry of grace; so through the trials I choose to say: ‘Your perfect will in your perfect way’” (“The Perfect Wisdom of Our God”, Getty).