Summary of the Text
The sovereignty of God is a pervasive theme in the Bible, expressed in a variety of ways. Daniel’s vision is one of those expressions and a bit more challenging than the declaration in Psalm 93:1-3 that articulates God’s sovereignty in terms of his “throne” and “eternity”: “The LORD reigns. . . . Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.” As difficult as it is for us humans to comprehend the idea of sovereignty, in any setting, it is one of the most fundamental doctrines of Scripture. Daniel describes God as the “Ancient of Days,” and even ascribes physical features (hair, clothing) as part of his accoutrements to validate the picture. God’s sovereignty is summarily represented by his “throne,” the “thousand thousands” who served him, and the court and judgment books at his disposal.
Yet, before we get lost in those details of authority, we should note that the sovereign God is represented by “one like a son of man” who acts as God’s earthly vice-regent, a messianic figure. “Son of man,” we will recall, is the same name Jesus applies to himself. and in Daniel this appellation conveys the truth that the One who rules over the earthly kingdom is personal, one of us, in fact. God’s sovereignty is always personal. That is certainly one of the reasons for the Incarnation. God took upon himself our flesh and lived among us as divine and human.
Now, let’s transfer to Psalm 93 and its description of divine sovereignty. The psalmist begins with a declarative statement: “The LORD reigns!” or “The LORD is king!” Normally in Hebrew the verb comes before the subject. But here the subject “LORD” is first, to emphasize that it is the LORD who reigns and not some other god. And the psalmist opens up God’s sovereignty in three ways. First is God’s throne (93:2), which implies kingship. We who love the democratic system may have some difficulty appreciating God’s kingship, but if in this world we had a king who was all-knowing, omnipotent, absolutely just, compassionate, gracious, loving, and faithful to keep his promises–no congressional wrangling, no divisive party system, no high-paid coercive army of lobbyists, just loyal obedience to our revered monarch who loves us and whom we love–we probably could settle for that system with little resistance. Admittedly, however, this world is a place of injustice, suffering, hatred, and many other negative attributes that could join the list.
Our problem is that life, even the Christian life, encounters circumstances and individuals who do not manifest the character of our God, which is the way the system is supposed to work. Yet, Paul asserts that God has a mysterious and marvelous way of putting all the pieces together so they make a kaleidoscopic picture of grace: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). That is the picture of God’s sovereign grace that is so often obscured by the suffering and confusion of our lives, but demands our loyal faith that someday that will be the portrait we see rather than the distorted and twisted picture that this life and this world foist upon us.
The second way our psalmist opens up the portfolio of divine sovereignty is to cast us in the context of God’s “statutes” (93:5). Every kingdom has laws which its citizens must obey. God has established “firm” rules of behavior, and these are generated and executed by love, loving God with all our being and loving our neighbor as our ourselves. These are the two governing principles of God’s eternal kingdom, and we can challenge this doubting world to find a better “constitution” than this.
The third principle of the portfolio of divine sovereignty is “holiness” (93:5), and we are talking about God as our model: “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2). God’s holiness means that he is different from this sinful world, and we are admonished to be like him. Who wouldn’t like to be a genuine imitation of the sovereign Lord we have described above from Exodus 34:6-7! When we can grasp the essence of such a life, we have a portrait of the kingdom of God.
Jesus taught us a simple and profound definition of the kingdom of God: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When John the revelator described the reality of God’s kingdom as the “new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2), he was saying the very same thing using a different metaphor. So Daniel and the psalmist give us a unified view of the kingdom of God, and we can renew our hope that, while the kingdom is not yet present, it is in progress and will reach its conclusion in God’s timing of grace.
C. Hassell Bullock is the Franklin S. Dyrness Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College (IL) where he taught for 36 years. He is a graduate of Samford University (Birmingham, AL), Columbia Theological Seminary (Decatur, GA), and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Instiutute of Religion (Cincinnati, O).
Among his published works are An Introduction to
the OT Poetic Books (Moody), Encountering the Book of Psalms, and a two-volume commentary on the Psalms, Psalms 1-72, and Psalms 73-150 (Baker Academic).
In addition to forty years of teaching in the college classroom, he has served Presbyterian congregations as pastor in Alabama and Illinois. He is married to his college sweetheart, Rhonda, and they have a son and a daughter and five grandchildren.
[The Kingdom of Heaven is] where what God wants done is done.
Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was a Dutch theologian and prime minister of the Netherlands. In his inaugural address at the founding of the Free University of Amsterdam on October 20, 1880, he said: “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human life of which Christ, who is our Sovereign of all, does not cry ‘Mine!’”
God’s sovereignty means that he owns every square inch of our world and our lives.
From the Heidelberg Catechism
Q.1 “What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A.1 “That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who, with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves my life that without the will of my Father in heaven, not a hair can fall from my head, and that all things must work together for my salvation.”