It is a universal human phenomenon that we live our lives forwards, whilst hoping we will understand them better when looking backwards, yet history has often been described by thinkers and philosophers as an impenetrable mystery. We read history and visit historical sites and monuments, digging up the past as a tourist attraction. We’re frequently enchanted by what has gone before and some dream of making history like their heroes from one age or another. Paradoxically, our fascination with history is directly tied to our concern for the shape of the future. Since none of us know what is to come, the contingency of past events makes history the battleground of the future – since the truly historical event is that which gives formative shape to culture.
In the book of Daniel, the king of Babylon dreams of what is to be when he sees a great image of various materials smashed with an uncut stone, but he does not understand its meaning. When God reveals the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to Daniel – a prophetic prediction of the rising and falling of specific kingdoms and nations – he responds with prayer and worship, confessing God’s sovereign government over the historical process:
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
For wisdom and might are His.
And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.” (Daniel 2:20-22)