This is the third post of a four-part series connected to the new book "Interpreting Daniel for Preaching and Teaching" authored by Talbot School of Theology professors Brandon Cash and Tom Finley.

“May God’s name be blessed forever and ever,
for wisdom and power belong to him.
And he changes times and epochs;
he removes kings and sets up kings.
He gives wisdom to wise men
and knowledge to those who have understanding.
He reveals the deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
for the light abides with him.”
(Daniel 2:20-22, author’s translation)

God’s sovereignty is the preeminent theme of the book of Daniel. God is in control of all that happens from the beginning to the end. With literary mastery and apocalyptic insight, Daniel weaves together story after story driving home this singular point: God is in control. But like all good storytellers, Daniel creatively reveals this truth from varying vantage points.

The first vantage point is a panoramic in which we glimpse God’s control over the past, present, and future. God was in control of the past, when Jerusalem fell (1:1-2). God is in control of the present, the narrative section of the book chronologically follows Daniel’s life in the royal courts of Nebuchadnezzar (1-4), Belshazzar (5), and Darius/Cyrus (6). Each king, kingdom and transition of power is under God’s control, “he removes kings and sets up kings” (2:21b).

Having established the fact that God was in control of the past, and that God is in control in the present, the book turns to the future. Even though, chronologically speaking, Daniel’s visions took place in the past (e.g., his first two apocalyptic visions took place during the reign of Belshazzar), his visions are presented consecutively in the last half of the book to communicate that God is in control of the future. God was in control, God is in control, and God will be in control, “he [alone] changes times and epochs” (2:21a).

In addition to the overall past/present/future orientation of Daniel, each of the individual stories and apocalyptic visions communicate a unique aspect of God’s sovereignty. Rather than simply telling us that God is in control, Daniel creatively reveals specific aspects of God’s sovereignty through each of the stories and visions. Here are some examples in brief:

  • In chapter one, God is credited with sovereignly granting Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah “wisdom and understanding ten times greater” than all the Babylonian wise-men (1:20).
  • In chapter two, God is portrayed as the revealer of mysteries (2:22, 28, 47). The reason, implied by the text, is that God is sovereignly working out the future. He knows what will happen because he controls what will happen (2:37).
  • In chapter three, God is sovereignly able to deliver his servants (3:17). Even Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful monarch on earth, admits “there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (3:29).
  • In chapter four, God’s sovereignty is revealed as he alone controls kings. Three times the text says, “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (4:17, 25, 32).
  • In chapter five, God is shown to be sovereign over the very inhalations of individuals, “…the God in whose hand is your breath…” (5:23).
  • In chapter six, again from the lips of a foreign king, God’s sovereignty is proclaimed. “For he is the living God and endures forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his dominion will never end. He rescues and delivers and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on the earth” (6:26-27).

Turning to the apocalyptic section of the book, we see a similar pattern. God is uniquely portrayed as sovereign in each vision.

  • In chapter seven, God is uniquely referred to (the only time in Scripture) as “the Ancient of Days” (7:9, 13, 22). This appellation marks God as sovereign over time; he alone determines the end time of all earthly kingdoms and the beginning time of his everlasting kingdom.
  • In chapter eight, God is presented as sovereign over persecution. It will not last beyond what God has ordained, “2,300 evenings and mornings.” No matter how “exceedingly great” the persecutors become, God will sovereignly limit their reach.
  • In chapter nine, God is depicted as sovereignly able to fulfill his promises according to his Word. He is the God “who keeps covenant and steadfast love” (9:4)
  • Finally, in Daniel’s longest vision (10:1-12:3), God will sovereignly establish his everlasting kingdom.

As these examples show, each chapter contributes a unique vantage point from which to see a particular aspect of God’s sovereignty. Daniel wants readers to not only submit to this sovereign God, he wants us to savor his sovereignty. “When we experience a story… we allow ourselves to be invaded by the teller.”[1] Through Daniel, God tells the story of the grand sweep of history, and he invites us to experience this invasion deep in our souls. There is absolutely nothing in all of creation that can stabilize a soul more than an abiding trust in the God who is sovereignly working out his plans.

On this side of the cross, we know the identity of the “son of man” (7:13) and we know at what cost “the Ancient of Days” gave him “authority to rule, and honor, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will never pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (7:14). Because God is sovereign, we can rejoice that Daniel’s “not yets” will surely come to pass.

*To read more about the sovereignty of God and how Daniel fleshes it out in more detail, check out our new commentary on Daniel.


[1] Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, xv.