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Does anyone really know the future?

posted 14 Oct 2014, 05:27 by Stephen Childs
"Antique Brass Telescope" by Stoonn
Living in the West of Ireland, there's a question I always ask myself when leaving the house: "Do I need an umbrella?" It might be sunny now, but within 5 minutes it could be raining. I've been caught out so many times, arriving at my destination soggy and cold. Wouldn't it be great to know exactly what the weather was going to do? The weather experts can tell us what it's probably going to do, but wouldn't it be great to know for certain what it's going to do?

Come to that, wouldn't it be great to know what the future holds? The world seems like such an unpredictable place at the moment: Ebola in Africa, Islamic State in the Middle East, unrest in Hong Kong and Ukraine. No-one really seems to know what is going on now, let alone what will happen in 6 or 12 months. Wouldn't it be great to know the future?

The second chapter of the book of Daniel introduces us to someone who wants to know the future. The year is approximately 600 BC. Nebuchadnezzar is ruler of the Babylonian empire that stretches across huge parts of the Middle East. He's only recently established his rule, and there is always the fear that an uprising somewhere will start to pull his kingdom apart. And on top of all this he has a strange dream. Maybe it has something to tell him about the future. He calls in the experts to try and make sense of it.

Even today many people think dreams are significant. Psychiatrists try and work out all kinds of things based on what people see in dreams. It was even more so back then. There were dream experts who put together huge dictionaries for interpreting dreams. One Egyptian dream manual said that if you saw yourself dead in a dream, it was a good omen; if you saw yourself eating crocodile flesh, it meant you would get an official appointment soon. But were these experts really finding stuff out about the future, or was it all made up?

Nebuchadnezzar has no interest in vague, horoscope-like predictions. He wants real insight into the future. He won't settle for anything less. So he calls the experts' bluff. He says that if they can tell him what he dreamed, then he'll believe they can explain its significance. If they can't, they'll be put to death. In other words, if someone can see into his head, then he'll believe they can see into the future. But of course they can't.  They say, "What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans." No-one can do what the king asks. Or can they? What if a god was to speak?

When Daniel hears about the situation that's exactly where he turns. Not to a "god" but to the God. The God of heaven who "reveals deep and hidden things". He knows that God reveals mysteries and God controls history. God alone can see into Nebuchadnezzar's head, and God alone can see into the future. And he proves it: God makes the king's dream known to Daniel, along with its meaning. It's a strange dream of a statue with a golden head, silver torso, bronze mid-section, and iron and clay legs. The statue is knocked over and crushed by a stone that appears from nowhere. Nebuchadnezzar must have recognised that Daniel was right straight away. But what does it mean?

Daniel gives the king the explanation from God. The statue represents kingdoms, starting with Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon. Each kingdom is followed by another, until finally God destroys them all and sets up his own kingdom. God is laying the future out before Nebuchadnezzar, showing him that all his power will crumble, along with every other earthly government. God is the one who makes all of this happen, and his kingdom is the only one that will last.

What does all of this mean for us? For a start, it tells us that only God knows what the future holds. However intelligent and well-informed any human expert is, they will never be able to look into the future and tell us exactly what is going to happen. One researcher who studied almost 30,000 expert predictions of the future concluded that they were about as accurate as a chimp throwing darts at a board. And yet God can lay out the future of world history because he sees it before it happens. It means that the most important place to look is to God's word.

And secondly, it means that God's kingdom is more significant than any government or corporation that's ever existed. His kingdom has outlasted Babylon and Persia and Greece and Rome, not to mention Stalin, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Col. Gaddafi. His kingdom will outlast Apple and Microsoft and Texaco and Shell. All those will pass away and God's kingdom alone will remain standing. And when Jesus burst onto the scene in 30 AD, what did he say? “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Jesus issued a challenge: now is the time to decide - are you with me or not? The same challenge stands today. God has shown us the future - how will we respond?

Image credits: "Antique Brass Telescope" by Stoonn from