When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54) Here’s death, and death is the great devourer of the human race. One-by- one, death swallows every one of...
On moving day, I mostly reclined, having been barred from packing heavy items, lifting boxes or furniture, and reaching to hang pictures or put items in tall cabinets. This was a benefit of making the move late in the third trimester of pregnancy. Watching, I thought to myself, This is it—this is my future.
But those words were starting to have less and less of their desired effect on me, and I knew it.
After all, we had lived in three different homes within two years, and I had said the same thing to myself about each one. From my sitting perch, I was directing the placement of pieces of furniture, rugs, plates, and pictures. I could direct the future as well as my very pregnant self could have, say, lifted the piano into the foyer. But that did not keep me from making claims on permanency, despite every move doing more to dampen my attempts at accomplishing it.
I had left behind visions for a lasting home. I could not think too much about those past homes, with their failed hopes of staying, without cringing. The start of a new one had me wondering if its claims toward permanency would eventually fade, too.
Fearfully Grasping an Uncertain Future
Daniel in the Bible knew something about a lack of permanency after being exiled from his home country at a fairly young age, when it was conquered by the king of Babylon. Daniel’s relationship with the future was on display when the king, Nebuchadnezzar, wanted the “wise men” of Babylon to interpret a dream that was especially troubling to him (Daniel 2:1-16).
This was a standard request in that day, especially for a culture that believed their gods spoke through dreams.1 But this young king had a unique request: that these men first tell him, supernaturally, the dream itself. If they could not speak of this secret knowledge, he would kill them all. By “kill them all,” he did not mean only those who had been given an opportunity to speak with him—he meant all the wise men of Babylon. This included God’s faithful servant, Daniel.
Of course, the men could not do as the king requested, failing to interpret his dream. Daniel was not included in this initial group.
The young king may have desired to prove himself tough enough for the job, or to prove his men loyal. Yet, he was likely troubled because he feared for his uncertain future, as implied in his dream. In Nebuchadnezzar’s worldview, a troubling dream meant fearing for his security. He took this as reason to set aside all prudence with the sole purpose of understanding its meaning. To him, his health, wealth, and kingdom—all that secured his future—was subject to the untethered whims and impulses of the gods.
So, right as the blood was about to be shed and the guards made their way to Daniel, he asked a question to understand:
Then Daniel replied with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who had gone out to kill the wise men of Babylon. He declared to Arioch, the king’s captain, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Then Arioch made the matter known to Daniel. (Daniel 2:14)
Nebuchadnezzar serves as a good foil for Daniel. After all, Daniel was confronted with his own dire circumstance because of the king. What did Daniel do when the guards came to him with the order to kill? He asked a question. Then, he made a request for time.
Because of his careful efforts, he was given the opportunity to demonstrate that his God had control over all things—past, present, and future. The first actions he took when facing his impending death were deliberate, calm, prudent, and discerning. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, his priority was not to do whatever was necessary to secure the status of his future in this world. He took the matter carefully into account, including his standing with the king that allowed him to make the request for time, along with the king’s unwieldy temper that required his calm planning. Daniel faithfully based his actions upon those calculations. When he was about to be killed, he demonstrated a good relationship with his future—whatever his future on earth might be.
Prudently Evaluating a God-Ordained Future
Sitting in my home months after our move, and looking around at the furniture and hangings on the wall, I have the impression of what I want. We are settled into every corner of this place. My nine-month-old baby is playing with her things, which means picking up each toy for a brief examination and then tossing it behind her—one toy after the other. That is the message I have had for my things; they have all been tossed around over the past months, moved in and out, in and out. Perhaps this is actually a message they tell about my claims on staying. Either way, they speak far more to me about uncertainty than about being settled.
Perhaps this was one benefit for Daniel of having been exiled: not believing his permanency to be dependent upon his location. I want a good relationship with my future, too—to resemble Daniel’s calm in uncertainty, as opposed to Nebuchadnezzar’s recklessness. Daniel knew both that the future was to be wisely evaluated and, simultaneously, that it was not his to determine.
Daniel’s perspective about the future allowed him to use prudence in three ways:
- Daniel used prudence to plan: “The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving” (Proverbs 14:8).
- Daniel used prudence in being cautious: “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Proverbs 27:12).
- Daniel used prudence to weigh and discern: “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps” (Proverbs 14:15).
Daniel, however, could only be planning, cautious, and discerning because of the God of providence. Of any foil in this story, the gods of Nebuchadnezzar best juxtapose the one true God. These non-existent gods could not reveal Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, nor did they inspire in Nebuchadnezzar any calm or care. But the one true God is sovereign and all-knowing, inspiring prudence and praise. When God reveals the dream, Daniel worships:
Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might…
…he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king’s matter. (Daniel 2:20, 22-23)
Our furniture, rugs, plates, and pictures fit so well in this home, but the question of staying is for God alone to answer. Were I to answer it, I would be like the imprudent Nebuchadnezzar, looking to the gods on their perches for understanding. I would be the false gods, too, reacting to my future through untethered whims and impulses.
Rather, Daniel’s God is our God. He has worked all things together for our salvation by providentially arranging the workings of the world to accomplish it:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:22-23)
Furthermore, he has providentially called us to himself for all eternity:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)
If the transience of life feels counter to the solid circumstances you desire, remember that the gospel secures an eternal future with all permanency and staying-power. This permanency is ours as solidly as Christ defeated sin and death; ours as surely as he is in the heavenly places now; and ours as permanently as Christ’s victory is everlasting. Fittingly, “prudence” is an alteration of the word “providence.” For the praiseworthy providence of God demonstrated in the gospel is the prudent person’s most important calculation of all.