Pillars of salt and pillars of sand

November 4, 2018

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Preached by Canon Sue Wallace using Daniel 2:1-48 at Mattins on Sunday 4th November 2018, the Fourth Sunday before Advent.

I have the sort of brain that is bad at geography and navigation but which seems to have a odd talent for retaining reams of song lyrics as long as there is a tune attached. These lyrics pop up at the most surprising times and one of these songs sprang to mind when I was reading today’s passage from Daniel.

I used to rule the world,

Seas would rise when I gave the word.

Now in the morning, I sleep alone,

Sweep the streets I used to own.


I used to roll the dice –

Feel the fear in my enemy’s eyes,

Listen as the crowd would sing,

“Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!”


One minute I held the key,

Next the walls were closed on me,

And I discovered that my castles stand

Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand.


Revolutionaries wait

For my head on a silver plate;

Just a puppet on a lonely string.

Oh, who would ever want to be king?


This song Viva La Vida, was written by Coldplay. The title comes from a painting by Frida Kahlo, painted just before she died after years of agony and chronic pain.  Pondering  Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the passage from Daniel and the song by Coldplay made me realise that they are ultimately both giving the same message. “My castles stand upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand.” Power is transitory.

The position of leader is a transitory one – always. Leaders, presidents and Kings in particular are always vulnerable, especially in this day and age when we see violence and attempted revolution in the global news on an almost daily basis. When we see images of Islamic fundamentalists, communists, fascists, separatists and anarchists creating violence and havoc in the world.   Yet the small amount of power held by each and every one of us is also fragile. For a while we may run a large corporation, or manage a huge project, or lead a large volunteer team, but there will come a time when we hand this over. There will also, one day be a time when we will hand everything over to the next generation and depart in peace to the presence of God.

Pondering all this made me understand why King Nebuchadnezzar refused to tell his magicians the content of his dream. It was simply too dangerous to do so. This dream in particular could be a manifesto for a revolution. Nebucadnezzar would have been afraid to vocalise these terrifying visions, despite the fact that he probably lost much sleep because of them. The last thing a reigning king would want to do is tell his advisors about a dream which prophesies a revolution.

Let me recap the content of the dream: Nebuchadnezzar dreamt of an enormous statue with head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly of bronze, legs of iron and feet of iron mixed with clay. A rock strikes the statue upon its feet and the whole statue breaks into pieces, being blown away upon the wind. The rock however, grows into a mountain and fills the earth.

The head of the statue symbolises Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian kingdom. Three empires follow this Babylonian empire; the Medes and Persians, the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great, and Rome. These are the silver, the bronze and the iron. The clay mixed with iron is a symbol of the disintegration of the Roman Empire.

The rock or stone in this dream which grows into a mountain is the kingdom of Jesus Christ. I am reminded of the words of Jesus to Peter. “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This means that around six hundred years before Jesus,  Daniel was prophesying a similar message to Christ’s parable of the mustard seed that grew into a great tree, or the yeast that raised a whole batch of dough, but this time the message is that this kingdom, and this king will topple all existing rulers.

In this dream God is telling one of the most powerful leaders on earth that the revolution is coming!

Perhaps you are listening to this and wondering if this isn’t all sounding a little bit treasonous? I pondered this too, as I was reading the passage from Daniel, and then I realised something rather exciting. Our sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth,our queen and governor, is already an agent of this particular revolution, and those of you who were present at Alastair Bruce’s inspiring talk last week will have heard that the crown, the sceptre, the orb,  these very symbols of her power, contain eternal reminders that our Queen’s power is held in holy service to Christ the King of Kings. Her Majesty takes this responsibility before God very seriously.

In her 2008 Christmas broadcast she said “Jesus of Nazareth makes it clear that genuine human happiness and satisfaction lie more in giving than receiving; more in serving than in being served.  We can surely be grateful that, two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, so many of us are able to draw inspiration from his life and message, and to find in him a source of strength and courage.”

The answer to our own insecurities and fear of change lies in this rock of faith glimpsed by Daniel;  the Christ who is eternally King, and whose rock is a stable foundation to build our lives upon. For a while he grants us stewardship of certain earthly responsibilities, but this power is always granted in service to him and will be given back to him one day. Ultimately we are accountable to him for our use or misuse of this power, and our stewardship of all he has given us.  Therefore when we hear rumours of wars and revolutions let us not be afraid. For the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. Amen.