Who Can Stay His Hand?

The book of Daniel is a fascinating book. We see Daniel and his friends in the midst of exile serving a pagan king and being seeped in pagan culture. They rose to power as they served the Lord faithfully where they were, by working hard at the tasks they were given. In this, we see the hand of God providentially bringing about His purposes in Daniel and his friends. This is a perfect place to reference with regards to biblical evidence for God’s sovereign power over all things. Even early on in the book, these faithful ones are put to the test and God’s power was shown:

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.

 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do:  As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

Daniel 3:1-6 (NIV)

They were given the choice to serve God or serve man. God then worked mightily in Daniel’s friends by showing His power to Nebuchadnezzar, who then praised the one, true God. But the king’s heart was still hard and he would not repent. And then chapter 4 comes. Here, we see the story of a king turned madman because he would not give praise to the one, true God, but rather saw himself as all powerful:

Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon,  he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

Daniel 4:29-30 (NIV)

You would think at this point the king would have learned that God was not to be trifled with. He had witnessed on more than one occasion God working through His servants that were placed in Babylon. But Nebuchadnezzar continued in his arrogance and rebellion to God. He continued to give praise to his gods and even went as far as to say, “This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.” (Daniel 4:18 NIV)

He was so arrogant that he said Daniel had the spirit of the pagan gods within him, notwithstanding all of the mighty things Daniel did by God’s clear power and the praise that the king himself gave to The Most High. God then brought the king low, giving him the mind of an animal. To be clear: it was not the king who brought his own sanity back, but through the supernatural power of God Himself. Notice what the response was after he was brought back from his low state:

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
    his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
 All the peoples of the earth
    are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
    with the powers of heaven
    and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
    or say to him: “What have you done?”

 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Daniel 4:34-37 (NIV)

The king explicitly confesses the sovereignty of God above His creation. His creation is but a pawn being used to bring about His eternal purposes. There is nothing man can do to legitimately call into question the acts of God. Given that we are His creation, He has the right to do with us as He wills, and whatever that is, it is just, righteous, and pure. How arrogant are we when we say that God can not possibly have brought about this terrible thing or that terrible thing or that God does not have absolute sovereignty over all His creation, which includes our wills! Does God work against what man wants to do? Absolutely. See what the Psalmist says:

The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.

Psalm 33:10 (NIV)

Here we see two wills at play: the will of man, which plans and purposes, and the will of God which, foils and thwarts (or, as the ESV says, “frustrates”). Any notion of libertarian free will as it relates to God’s plan is moot given this passage. Man wants one thing, but God wants another, and His will takes precedent given that He is the Creator. He is the great “I AM”, the self existent one who needs no other to exist. His decree will come to pass infallibly.

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.’

Isaiah 46:9-10 (NIV)

These truths should humble us and cause us to submit to God’s providence, however harsh it may seem from our perspective.

Notice, after the king’s restoration there is not one mention of himself in his praise to God. He has been emptied of himself and his pride, and ascribes all glory, honor, and praise to the One who is all powerful. We will close with commentary from Calvin on Daniel 4:35:

For although men make themselves of very great importance, yet Nebuchadnezzar here pronounces himself by the Spirit’s instinct, to be of no value before God; for otherwise they would not attempt to raise themselves, unless they were utterly blind in the midst of their darkness. But when they are dragged into the light they feel their own nothingness and utter vanity. For whatever we are, this depends on God’s grace, which sustains us every moment, and supplies us with new vigor. Hence it is our duty to depend upon God only; because as soon as he withdraws his hand and the virtue of his Spirit, we vanish away. In God we are anything he pleases, in ourselves we are nothing.

It now follows: God does according to his pleasure in the army of the heavens, and among the dwellers upon earth.

Calvin’s Commentaries on Daniel 4:35

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