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The Family Tree of the Nations

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Archives / 1974 / March

 

 

The Family Tree of the Nations

Desmond Ford
-chairman, department of theology, Avondale College, Australia at the time this article was written

 

 

MANY a man gazing into the silent heavens has felt like the poet and longed for assurance from One greater than himself. In all his early presentations to new interests the worker does well to remember that he lives in an existential age. Meaninglessness is the threat confronting every twentieth-century man. The nerve of moral endeavor has been paralyzed for many by angst, dread, despair. Our ultimate objective is to show that only in Christ can man know the world, himself, and God, and that the Seventh-day Sabbath is the symbol of meaningful existence to those who recognize Christ as Creator and Redeemer. Until we reach the point where the Sabbath is to be presented we should stress God's answer to spiritual malaise overwhelming a world of cast-off orphans. Every Bible study or sermon should ring through and through with the certainty of a basic undergirding beneficent reality in life that makes existence a privilege rather than an endurance test.

Too many people look upon Bible prophecy as the gospel minister's crystal ball, from which he discerns the image of coming events concerning nations. But Bible prophecy is meant to be a mirror for every Christian, a mirror revealing his own destiny. It is not merely prediction, but comfort and guidance.

The New Testament as well as the Old makes it clear that prophecy has as its grand objective the edification and comfort of believers (see 1 Cor. 14:3; Rom. 15:4). We err whenever we expound the Scriptures in such a way as to make mere foretelling their chief purpose.

Divine prophecy demonstrates that our world is a ship under control, rather than a wandering iceberg, and that our individual lives may be likewise. We are not alone—a scurrying, harassed leaf in a senseless universe.

Prophecy tells of a providence that provides for all things and for every person. No wonder then that some of the greatest of human minds in recent centuries, heeding Christ's admonition, have found joy and profit in the prophetic pages of the Bible. Conspicuous among them was Sir Isaac Newton, certainly one of the outstanding scientists of all time. Few are aware that he probably spent more time on the prophecies of the book of Daniel than on his study of gravitation.

This wonderful book recommended by Christ for Christians of the last days contains prophecies extending to the "time of the end." It presents detailed chain descriptions of the rise and fall of earth's most influential empires, from the days of Nebuchadnezzar till the ultimate establishment of the kingdom of God. Four times the seer previewed the centuries of the future in his day, on each successive occasion beholding additional details filling out the original sketch. The initial outline, the A-B-C of Bible prophecy, contains a bird's-eye view of the events of three millenniums and more. It is found in the second chapter of Daniel, and its details need not be repeated for the reader who has so often presented it himself.

In 213 words, the prophet Daniel described the course of history and its meaning more accurately than all the historians of the ages!

Verse 28 of the second chapter answers our fundamental human need as it gives the assurance, "There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets." We live in an age that has endeavored to outlaw God and revelation by stress on the absolute reign of physical law. The materialistic science of the past three centuries, and the philosophy of men such as Kant, have asserted that the laws of nature operate uniformly, inexorably, and independently of any divine Lawgiver. Thus the universe is represented as a closed system, unable to reveal to its prisoner any sure knowledge of the supernal realms beyond.

Both scientists and philosophers have forgotten that although a bird may not fly out of its atmosphere, the Creator of bird and atmosphere is free to insert His finger into time and space, and place it lovingly upon the bird. There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and He has intervened in history to offer man revelation and redemption.

Before some audiences it would be appropriate to point out that this matter of revelation is the water shed of modern theology. It is this issue that divides liberals from evangelicals. Has God conveyed prepositional truth as well as personal existential challenge, or is all interpretation of Scripture to be subjective on the premise that the Word is nonpropositional? The second position is the fruitage of skeptical philosophy rather than the heritage of traditional Christianity.

Four Universal Kingdoms

To read the record foretelling the future course of the centuries brings inevitable conviction to the honest heart. It is an undeniable fact that from Daniel's time to our own, four great empires have succeeded one another, increasing both in size and in significance for the church and the world. These four are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

Those who date the composition of Daniel as be longing to the second century B.C. usually contend that Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece are the four kingdoms symbolized by the image. However, Daniel knows no separate Median kingdom. The breast and arms of the image, the bear which so crouched as to reveal two sides, and the ram with two horns—each of these symbols emphasizes the duality of the power represented. In Daniel 5 nothing is said about the Medes in the inscription on the wall, yet the prophet interprets that the kingdom of Babylon is to be succeeded by "the Medes and the Persians" in harmony with the word Pares, which is a play on the Aramaic for "Persian." The liberal view makes the leopard of chapter seven the symbol of Persia but, as has often been shown, the fleetness of the leopard augmented by its four wings would be an inept symbol for the slow-moving armies of Persia but most appropriate for the rapid movements of Alexander's forces.

Four civilization-molding powers, extending like concentric circles in strength and conquest until the whole of what we know as Europe would be absorbed, were foretold by the Old Testament seer. The fourth empire, Rome, was to be divided into fragments of varying strength, which in futile fashion would, throughout all later years, endeavor to weld them selves into yet another empire. Ultimately, a fifth empire would indeed arise, but it would be one divine in origin and rulership. The prophetic statement regarding the nations that sprang from old Rome—"they shall not cleave one to another"—has been confirmed by more than fifteen centuries of bloody but fruitless war, and by the barren intrigues of statecraft over that same period.

Mingling Churchcraft With Statecraft

The attempted amalgamation of the iron and clay in the feet of the image also points to the system of Antichrist in the last days. This system, styled by Scripture as "the abomination of desolation" because of its idolatrous and persecuting tendencies, will result from the unseemly union of church and state in order to enforce a form of worship contrary to Scripture. Ellen G. White confirms this unusual interpretation as follows: "We have come to a time when God's sacred work is represented by the feet of the image in which the iron was mixed with the miry clay. . . . The mingling of churchcraft and statecraft is represented by the iron and the clay. This union is weakening all the power of the churches. This investing the church with the power of the state will bring evil results."— The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Dan. 2:43, pp. 1168,1169.

Had Daniel written out of his own imagination, why should he have stopped at four in predicting coming empires in Asia and Europe? Why not fourteen? or forty? Surely, if Babylon was to give way to Medo-Persia, and Medo-Persia to Greece, and Greece to Rome, would not Rome likewise give way to another, and that conqueror to yet another, and so on? The fulfillment of this prophecy of Daniel 2 alone is sufficient to demonstrate the inspiration of the Bible and the fact that our world is not a runaway.

The Lesson of Deterioration

The prophecy of Daniel 2 makes it plain that all things earthly, however grand, must deteriorate unless linked with God. Consider the gradual deterioration shown by the symbolism of the metal man. With the passing of the years there is transition from gold to silver, from silver to brass, from brass to iron and clay, and finally to nothingness after the very dust has been blown away as the chaff from a threshing floor.

There is deterioration also suggested by the in creasing multiplicity in the symbolism of the image. From the single symbol of the head of gold we pass to a dual symbol of breast and arms, and then to the presentation of abdomen and thighs. This is succeeded by the decimal picture of the toes, and then ultimately the myriad scattered specks of dust. In value and in specific gravity the parts of the image reflect the same lesson of deterioration. While proud man since the eighteenth-century enlightenment has rejoiced in the law of progress, twentieth-century events have endorsed the principle expressed in this prophecy, that apart from God, all things human deteriorate rather than improve. And what is true of the conglomerate is also true of the individual. You and I are on our way to decay and eternal nothingness unless we take hold of divine power. "How shall we es cape, if we neglect so great salvation?" (Heb. 2:3).

Why did Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome each fail to endure? What was their fatal weakness or mistake? The answer is that to each came the gospel through God's messengers, but each rejected it.

The Stone That Became a Mountain

In this same chapter, however, is to be found heavenly comfort. The growth of the tiny pebble into a mountain filling the earth for eternity is parabolic of the fact that believers in Christ, though despised like Him, will continually increase and prosper regardless of all transitory events. Those who now permit their sinful habits to be broken by Christ's gospel, those who receive forgiveness of sins, need not henceforth be anxious "about anything" (Phil. 4:6, R.S.V.). To be wholly dependent upon God is to be come independent of all else. This prophecy assures the believer that God's love overrules all chance and change.

It is not true for the believer that "history teaches us that history teaches us nothing." History is indeed His-story. Christ is no absentee Landlord, permitting His house to disintegrate through careless tenants. The right reading of history brings the assurance that He who controls the cosmos also guides the atom.

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