In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon had a dream. He saw a monolithic image in the shape of a giant; a splendid man with a head of gold, a chest of silver, a belly of brass, legs of iron and feet of iron mixed with clay. The image represented the glory of the earth’s kings and kingdoms. It was one colossal man, one mass, one community of humanity led by earthly kings which in Nebuchadnezzar’s view, placed him at the head and the most valuable of all earth’s kings and kingdoms. The boulder that destroyed that godless humanistic image typifies Christ – a mere ‘rock’ – not gold or silver, not even brass or iron, just a common rock. Jesus is ‘the rock of offense’ in whom there is no beauty or appeal from the world’s perspective. The earth’s ruthless kingdoms seen through Nebuchadnezzar’s eyes are humanized, taking the form of a corporate man. Jesus is depersonalized and devalued, taking the form of an unexceptional stone. What a contrast of values. The whole world view is upside down.
Through the eyes of Daniel, we are then shown the same sweep of earthly kingdoms in Chapter 7. But he sees them not in a glorified human form, but as a series of beasts. The last beast is so horrible that it is beyond description. Finally a man, a human, appears and brings an end to the beastly parade of terror. That man is Jesus, the Christ. He is the true human. With His coming, the earth is liberated from the serial beastly reigns of terror, all less than the true humanity God intended for the earth before the fall of man. The differences between these two views of the same sweep of global history are almost irreconcilable. They represent radically different world views and values. One is humanistic and of the earth; one is heavenly, a vision from God.
Between these very different panoramic historical perspectives are stories – of how the people of God fare as these kings and kingdoms come and go.
In chapter 3, a trio of young Hebrew rulers is compelled to gather with other national leaders. The “conference” involves a shared religious experience – let’s call it government-based faith enrichment! It is prescribed. It isn’t optional. The religious professional training is a new part of their job description. These new government sponsored faith practices are designed to promote a global symmetry of values to assure cultural conformity and national loyalty. I’m extrapolating, but you see the implications. The boys refuse to bow to the image. They refuse to participate in a compromise of their own heart-felt faith. The result is not mere job-less, but the death penalty. They will be examples to non-conformist – at least that was the intention of the authorities.
In Chapter 6, a similar edict comes forth from another king under a new flag that forbids even private prayer if offered to any deity except the one approved by the State. So prayer to Yahweh is outlawed, and Daniel can’t even legally talk to his God without the possibility of impunity. The religious freedom ban now reaches beyond public ceremony (Chapter 3). It now monitors personal practices at home. Daniel defies the edict and as a result, he is placed into a den full of lions.
In both these cases of religious tyranny, a miracle occurs. In chapter 3, God cools the furnace and joins the three Hebrews in the fire and delivers them. In chapter 6, God shuts the mouths of the hungry lions and delivers Daniel. The message is clear – in the midst of earthly, even pagan governments, God’s people are sometimes put at risk – called to compromise, forbidden to practice their faith, exposed to if not forced into pluralistic postures or worse, idolatrous and pagan practices. When this happens – don’t compromise. Keep praying. Don’t bend your knee to the idol. Don’t give up on your faith. Be faithful to the true God and he will be faithful to you.
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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.