It’s been a year of political turmoil. Here in the UK we’ve seen the tumultuous decision to leave the EU, the resignation of Prime minister, David Cameron to be replaced by Theresa May and the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. In the United States, there’s been the shock election of Donald Trump as the 45th President.Against that colourful backdrop, our home-group have been studying the book of Daniel. A few weeks back we were reading Daniel 2 where Nebuchadnezzar has a troubling dream. He sees a statue with a gold head, silver shoulders, bronze body, iron legs and feet made of a mixture of iron and clay. The statue is toppled by a stone that grows into a mountain.
Daniel tells the King that the dream represents 4 kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar’s is the kingdom of gold; it will be followed by others. The last will be weakened by the mixing of clay and iron There’s been some discussion about who those kingdoms represented. One common view is that it refers to
Gold – Babylon
Silver – Persia
Bronze – Greece
Iron – Rome
Mixture – The weakened and divided empire that followed on. Including the attempt to mix Christian religion into it.
Variants have been suggested with one in particular gaining some traction. Under this scheme, the iron refers to the all-conquering might of Alexander the Great (who is certainly prophesied later on in the book) and the weakened mixture then refers to the 4 rulers that divided his Empire between them. This view is plausible but requires us to treat the Medes and Persians as separate Empires which doesn’t quite fit. It is also possible that the King sees four Kings ruling over the same Empire.
Most importantly, we see the stone representing God’s kingdom. The kingdoms of earth will come and go, rise and fall. Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful king but he would not reign for ever, he would be succeeded and one day his dynasty would fall to the Medes and Persians. Human power is temporary. God’s Kingdom is eternal and all other powers and principalities must fall before it.
By the way, from one perspective, we can see the unfolding of history in the dream so that the clay and iron feet are a separate kingdom. However, I think we are meant to see an interconnectedness to this. When the feet are struck, the whole entity falls. Or to put it another way, Nebuchadnezzar may have gloried in his gold crown but he, his empire and all other kings and powers had and have feet of clay.
Our Hopes and Fears
Some of us will be delighted by recent political events. We were on the side of the victors. If that’s us, then as we’ve seen in previous posts, we should not invest all of our hopes in Brexit, Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn or Donald Trump. Humans and human systems will fall and will fail us.
Similarly, some of us will have watched on in horror and fear. Again, we should not let our fears overwhelm us. Not only is this so because those people, policies and institutions we fear are not permanent and do not exercise ultimate power but alsom because our fears may betray a vain trust in other people (Hilary Clinton, Owen Smith, David Cameron) and powers (The US democratic system, The EU, The Labour Party). As we have seen, those people and powers are finite and will fail us.
We should put our trust in the King who will reign forever. We should invest our hope in the kingdom that will not fail.
Empires and the Kingdom
But all of us are potential empire builders. We build little empires, a network of friends, a business empire, a large team of employees reporting to us on the org chart. We can even do it in church life when it becomes about building my church, my ministry, my team.
Daniel reminds us that we should not invest in building our empires. These too will fall and fail. We will be left with nothing. Instead, we should invest in working to see God’s Kingdom built. Indeed, it is God himself who grows his kingdom, not you or I. We do have the privilege though of sharing in his work as we tell others about the Gospel.
You in your small corner …
Finally, we see Daniel and his four friends, deported to Babylon, forced to take on new names and a new language. Yet, there in that hostile empire, God calls them to serve him and speak for him. In our political contexts, in the workplace, in the community we will come across Empires that others are building. Sometimes, through no choice of our own, we will find ourselves living and working in someone else’s empire. When we do, then Daniel will remind us that we are not there by chance, nor simply because of the plans and schemes of others. God has placed us in those situations to shine a light for Him, to speak truth to power and to be witnesses to the Gospel.
This holds true whether for the call to keep on going as faithful witnesses to the Gospel in post-Brexit Britain and Trump’s America or whether for the call to remain faithful in those smaller Empires, the office, the factory floor, the school, our own street. We have been placed in those Empires in order to witness to the true King.
 See discussion in John E Goldingay, Daniel (WBC 30. Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1996), 49-51 and Donald E Gowan, Daniel (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries. Nashville, TN.: Abingdon Press, 2001), 57-59. My view is that the first option provides the best fit.