It’s a historic day! Today the 44th president of the United States steps down to be replaced by the 45th. I’m always amazed to watch the commander-in-chief of the worlds largest military peacefully hand everything to someone else. When huge numbers of pseudo-democratic nations haven’t had a peaceful transition of power in decades, it’s amazing to be part of a country that has never known anything else.
Except I’ve argued before against the “it’s historic” idea. I can call it historic that I drank a smoothie for supper tonight. After all, I wrote it down and you just read it. That makes it history. Much more importantly, I’ve also argued before that the United States is nothing special. In the big picture of kings and kingdoms, it’s just one more. Here are four things to ponder from the book of Daniel on inauguration day.
Every king and nation eventually gets replaced.
Daniel 2 records Nebuchadnezzar’s dream—the one with the head of gold, the feet of clay and so forth. We might get caught up in guessing which kingdom is the clay and what that means for the end times. In the process we would miss the point. The big idea is that one kingdom follows the next; one after another they go until they all get smashed into powder by the kingdom of God.
Is the most powerful man in the world stepping into office today? I suppose so. But it was only a generation or two ago that anyone would have pointed to the UK. Go back a bit and it would be Spain. Already our historical memory gets fuzzy. So what about the future? Obviously the US will be replaced. Obviously it’s replacement will be replaced. And obviously eventually some kid will wrinkle up his nose in confusion at having to memorize one more obscure sounding country in an irrelevant story that has been forgotten everywhere but in history books. Because every king and nation eventually gets replaced.
He makes leaders out of losers.
The story of the fiery furnace is so dramatic we might miss the nub of the entire story—Nebuchadmezzar’s charge asking “who is the god that can deliver you from my hand” (Dan 3:15, 17). Chapter 4 expose his incredible pride (and foolishness) even more. Three different times we’re told that God rules over all kingdoms and “sets over it whoever He wills” (Dan 4:17, 25, 32). It isn’t Nebuchadnezzar that has power at all—it’s God! But my favorite is the statement that God “chooses the lowliest of men” (4:17). One extremely creative translation puts it He “makes leaders out of losers.”
In other words, forty-four people that have managed to claw their way into this office were intelligent, clever or at least connected enough to get there. But God doesn’t view it that way. To Him, removing a smooth, powerful, well-placed politician is as easy as picking up a chess piece. He tosses it over His shoulder and puts another in its place. Story moves on.
The nations of the worlds are beasts.
Yet another of Daniel’s dramatic visions involves a series of four beasts eating each other. Besides the point that every nation gets replaced (i.e. eaten), there’s another implication. They’re all animals. That gets highlighted by the following contrast. The One who receives authority over all (Jesus) is a Son of Man—not like the rest that spend their time devouring each other.
And yet these were the most sophisticated kingdoms of Daniel’s day with truly incredible accomplishments in science and philosophy. Yes, they were accomplished, and yes we’re amazed by what they did. And yes, when it comes to what counts, they were about as polished as what you see locked up in your local zoo.
How does God view America that calls itself the “moral compass of the world?” How do our sophisticated accomplishments stack up in the big picture? Like every nation of the world, we’re broken. We’re just one more kingdom in the long, wicked stream of history, desparately in need of Jesus to deliver us from ourselves. We’re just one more, ravenous, bloody beast.
God’s people are the true history.
If you’ve ever read straight through Daniel, you probably loved the first few chapters… and bogged down in the last half. Chapter 11 is the hardest of them all. It’s a byzantine maze of historical minutia that sound completely unfamiliar.
Here’s what you need to know. The graph is just the text of the entire chapter. That blue section at the top—that’s Persia. Big empire. Huge influence. Gets one verse. See the red? That’s Greece and Alexander the Great. He’s so important, you’ve probably heard of him—one of the most successful generals of recorded history. Two verses.
And the next thirty verses are all about two guys that never show up in history books. I promise that you never studied them in any of your classes. Why do they get so much attention? Because their battles were centered on the land of Palestine. The same is true of the last few verses—it’s about a coming king that will persecute the people of God. In other words, what makes them important is that their actions touched God’s people. In the big picture of history—God’s picture—that’s what matters.
A similar thing happens in Revelation. In all the changes and developments of wordl history, what is Jesus looking at and concerned with? He’s walking among seven lampstands—seven little churches scattered among the metropolises and bustling trade of a massive empire. Jesus cares about His people. Because in the final analysis, all the kings, kingdoms and nations will be forgotten. God’s people are the true history.
So back to the inauguration. Will it be remembered? For a little while. Does it matter? In the short term. But every king gets replaced eventually. God choses the lowliest of men to put over the beastly kingdoms of this world. And in the end, God’s people are the true history.
My advice for inauguration day. If you’ve placed your hope in what will happen today and expect everything to be better now, stop. It won’t happen. Or if you’re in despair because you think this is the end, stop. Today’s a lot less different than you think it is. God is still on the throne and history is still headed the same direction it always was—the reign of King Jesus.
Go make some real history. Go love, serve, honor and follow the true king of all.