There is a great deal that could be said about this, but we’re interested mainly in the name or description of God that is used several times in Daniel. That name is El Elyon, used most notably in chapter 4, where Nebuchadnezzar learns that there is someone higher than he is, someone he begins to understand who rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomsoever He will, Daniel 4:17, 25, 32. In that same chapter, the name also occurs in vs. 24 and 34, and it occurs as well in Daniel 5:18, 21.
Regarding this confession of Nebuchadnezzar, there are some who believe that he was converted. I disagree. Even though he was compelled to acknowledge the God of heaven, there is no evidence that he ever submitted to the God of heaven. Even in his celebrated “confession of faith” in Daniel 4, (in which he does exhibit a higher view of God than many professing Christians), he makes an incredible statement about Daniel. After admitting the failure of his own magicians and wise men to interpret a certain dream, he says, “But at last Daniel came before me (his name is Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god; in him is the spirit of the Holy God), Daniel 4:8, emphases added. In this statement, he plainly says that “the Holy God” is not “his god.”
It seems to me that the whole thrust of the Book of Daniel is to answer the question, “Who’s in charge?” Nebuchadnezzar thought he was, and so did those who followed him. Men still think that today, whether at the highest levels of government or among those whom they govern. There is often a blatant denial of God’s existence or a complete disregard for what He has said. Even when He’s “believed in,” it’s too often with thoughts along the line, “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.” Even in “church,” He’s often relegated to a secondary place, as churches are more interested in buildings and budgets, politics and power, “health and wealth,” “nickels and noses,” that is, how much the offering was and how many attended Sunday School or the morning service…. The preaching seldom extols Him, but implores people to “open the door and let Him in.” He’s on the outside looking in and they have to take the first step toward Him before He can take a step toward them.
All this mischaracterization of God is answered by Daniel’s simple assertion: “There is a God in heaven.”
Who is this God?
The name El Elyon tells us a great deal about Him. The name is first used in Genesis 14:19, 20, where Melchizedek calls Him God Most High. Abraham repeats and defines this name to the king of Sodom, who is offering him a substantial reward for help in defeating the king’s enemies. Abraham refuses, saying that he had made a promise to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth that he would’t take even the smallest reward, even as much as a shoe lace.
The fact that humanity has rebelled against God and lives in more or less open defiance or ignorance of Him doesn’t diminish the fact that He owns this ball of dirt we live on and everything and every one on it. Very early in Israel’s history, when He was giving them the conditions under which they would remain in the land, God told them the conditions under which they would also remain as “a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine,” Exodus 19:5 emphasis added. It’s His to do with as He sees fit.
Along these same lines, just a couple of chapters later, Daniel makes an astounding statement to Belshazzar, who was Nebuchadnezzar’s son, or grandson, because of Belshazzar’s blasphemous misuse of the Temple vessels taken by Nebuchadnezzar many years earlier. You know the story. During a drunken banquet, Belshazzar had commanded that these vessels be brought in to be used in idolatrous honor and worship of his own gods. A hand suddenly appeared and began to write on the wall. Daniel was brought in to interpret this writing. After recounting Nebuchadnezzar’s greatness and the insanity which only ended when he recognized the God of heaven, Daniel says this to Belshazzar:
“But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see nor hear nor know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified,” Daniel 5:22, 23, emphasis added.
As troubling at the thought may be to some that God “owns” the ways of a drunken idolater, who believe that God must wait patiently on the sidelines of His own creation until we decide to send Him into the game, the simple fact is that God is in heaven and He is in charge. Belshazzar was as much in His hand as Daniel. This doesn’t mean that God approved of, was accountable for, or accepted what Belshazzar did. It simply means that in the midst of Belshazzar’s deliberate and drunken defiance of God, God was as in control of the situation as He was when Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den.
Centuries later, Paul put it more generally to a bunch of Greek intelligentsia on Mar’s Hill: the God who created everything has no need for men to “take care of Him,”
“since He gives to all life, breath, and all things,…and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,” Acts 17:24-26.
Daniel and Paul aren’t the only one with this high view of God. Centuries before them, David had put it on a personal level in Psalm 139:16, Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in your book they were all written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.
To Jeremiah himself, God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” And Paul wrote something similar about himself, …it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace…, Galatians 1:5.
To Sennacherib, an enemy of Israel, God declared, “Did you not hear long ago how I made it, from ancient times that I formed it? Now I have brought it to pass, that you should be for crushing fortified cities into heaps of ruins…, Isaiah 37:26. He goes on for a few verses after this, but these and the other verses, as well as many others in Scripture, amply verify that, in the words of Daniel, “There is a God in heaven.”
Simply put, history is only God performing in time what He planned to do before time. All prophecy is simply the unfolding before it happens of “preappointed times.” The old idea that God has an office full of angels busily writing down everything that happens (or, I suppose, to update the image, “inputting” into their computers) is not Scriptural.
Speaking of “prophecy,” does it really matter, all this fuss about it? What a person might believe about it doesn’t determine whether or not they are saved. It’s commonly said that prophecy isn’t really one of “the fundamentals of the faith,” not really something to break fellowship over. That might be true to a certain extent. Perhaps prophecy isn’t as important as what you believe about the deity of Christ, or the inspiration and authority of the Bible, or a number of other doctrines. There are saved people in all camps of prophecy and there are lost people in all of them. Does it really matter then, for example, if the Bible teaches that there is an earthly element to the “kingdom of Christ,” in which He will rule over this world for 1000 actual years? Or if those Old Testament prophecies of a coming kingdom just find their fulfillment in Christ’s “spiritual” rule in the hearts of His people? Or perhaps they will all come to pass in eternity, when this world’s sad history is over and done with. Does it really matter??
While it is certainly true that one can be saved regardless of his or her views on prophecy, I do think it does matter what one believes about it. After all, about 1 verse in 4 verses in Scripture is prophecy, some of which has been fulfilled and some of which has not. All these verses are as inspired by the Holy Spirit as the others, and I think it’s a great insult to Him to say that it doesn’t really matter what He says in them.
At the same time, there are good men on all sides of the question. So, though perhaps useful to know, it’s not of great importance what Dr. So-and-So or Pastor Such-and-Such teaches about the subject. May we in all humility ask Paul’s question in Romans 4:3, “..what does the Scripture say?” What does God say about the future?
One final thought for those concerned about “free will” in discussions of God’s sovereignty. In addition to the Scriptural teaching that God is in control of this world and its inhabitants and happenings, note that Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar did exactly what they wanted to. Nebuchadnezzar wanted to be a great conqueror and ruler of the world. He was. Belshazzar wanted to throw a party. He did. Neither of them was the least bit concerned about the God – “god” to them – of a bunch of captives and slaves. Yet both of them were absolutely in the hand of that God. So is humanity. It always has been.
There is a God in heaven.