Daniel The Prophet
and The Times Of The Gentiles
IT is in the hope of promoting the knowledge of dispensational truth that this volume is offered to the Christian reader. It does not claim to be more than a concise and simple introduction to the study of the contents of the book of Daniel; and yet enough of detail has been given to enable the reader, if guided and taught of the Holy Spirit, to comprehend the character of "the times of the Gentiles," of which this portion of the inspired volume especially treats. Symptoms of the period spoken of by our blessed Lord are already to be discerned — "Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth" (Luke 21: 26). It is therefore of the utmost importance to understand the nature of the last days and the course of events on to the appearing of Christ, as revealed in the infallible word of God. It tends, moreover, to enhance the appreciation of the heavenly calling and of the character of Christianity to be instructed in the purposes which God has formed for the blessing of His earthly people.
When the heart is at leisure from itself, through being satisfied with Christ, the Holy Ghost is free to lead it out into all the circle of God's interests, whether as regards the church, His ancient people, or the world. May He Himself teach both the reader and the writer how to hold all the truths He has revealed in their, proper relationships, and in living power in the soul.
CROYDON, February, 1893
BEFORE entering upon a consideration of the contents of this book, it is needful to call attention, however briefly, to its special and peculiar character. At the very commencement, mention is made of the fact that Nebuchadnezzar had already besieged Jerusalem, and that the Lord had given Jehoiakim king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar's hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God, etc.; and thereon we read that some of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes, were captives in Babylon. These facts when rightly understood open out to us the significance of the whole book. Until now God's throne had been at Jerusalem; He dwelt between the cherubim; and Israel (we speak of the nation according to the purpose of God) was consequently the centre of God's ways in the government of the whole earth (see Deut. 32: 7-9). Israel, as this same scripture tells us, occupied a special position of favour and blessing, "for the Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance." Because of their position of blessing and privilege the nation had special responsibilities. This principle is announced by the prophet: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities (Amos 3: 2). Their responsibility was according to their light, and because they were Jehovah's people; for as such they were His witnesses (Isaiah 43: 8-13), and Jerusalem was His candlestick in the midst of the nations.
When, therefore, Israel became worse than even the surrounding nations, and the king of Judah made the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen (2 Chr. 33: 9), the Lord, after many warnings and much long-suffering (2 Chr. 36: 14-20), executed the judgment which He had threatened, by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, who "burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon" (2 Chr. 36: 19-20). The dominion of the earth was henceforward committed to the king of Babylon (see Daniel 2: 37, 38), and it is in the midst of this new order of things, as a true remnant and seed preserved of God, that Daniel and his companions are found in the first chapter of our prophet.
This position of the remnant in Babylon, subject to the Gentile power and dominion, affords the key for the interpretation of the book. For the visions, vouchsafed to the kings, concern the Gentile powers themselves, in their successive order, development, and, what may be termed, their moral phases, going on to complete apostasy; and those granted, to the prophet deal with the same subject, but, as going down to the end, in the accomplishment of God's purposes concerning His beloved people, more in their bearing upon this issue. The "pleasant land" finally becomes the centre round which all the Gentile activities and designs gather; and the curtain is lifted to reveal the future of the chosen nation, in its pathway, because of its sins and iniquities, and most of all because of its crowning sin in the rejection of Messiah, through unequalled and unheard of sorrow and trouble (Dan. 12: 1) on to the enjoyment of its purposed blessing according to the thoughts of God.
All this will be more distinctly seen as we pursue our studies; but it may now be pointed out that the book is divided into two equal parts — Dan. 1 to 6 forming the first, and Dan. 7 to 12 the second part. The first part is wholly made up of the visions and actings of the Gentile monarchs and their subordinate authorities. Daniel and his companions appear on the scene as having the mind of God, and as faithful to Him amid all the seduction and opposition by which they were surrounded. Daniel, like Joseph in Egypt, is first brought to the notice of the king as an interpreter of dreams; and also, like Joseph, he is, as a consequence, taken into favour, and exalted to the seat of government. Having obtained from the king the association of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, with himself in his exaltation, they become the objects of the envy and enmity of the princes. The details will be found in their place; but the two things are interwoven, the character of the Gentile powers, and the suffering condition of the remnant and their. final deliverance from under the Gentile persecuting dominion. The second part of the book, commencing with Daniel 7, contains the prophetic visions, with their interpretations, received by Daniel; and they embrace the course, character, and destiny of the Gentile empires, which followed the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. Their various actings are described, especially those of the third and fourth, in relation to the Holy Land and the Jewish people; and we have, moreover, the special revelation made to Daniel of the seventy weeks, as indicative of the period in which God's purposes for His earthly people will be accomplished.
Finally, in the long vista of the future opened up to the prophet, the Gentile governments are displaced by the Son of man to whom there is given "dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed (Dan. 7: 14). It is in connection with His coming to establish His kingdom that Daniel is told: "At that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book" (Dan. 12: 1). At His first coming He was cut off (Dan. 9: 26), and had nothing; but though He was rejected and crucified by "His own" people, He yet, according to the counsels of God, died for that nation; and it is on the foundation of that efficacious sacrifice that God, after He has, in His righteous government, punished them for their sins, will act in the future for the restoration of His beloved, but guilty, people. Isaiah can thus cry, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins" (Isa. 40: 1, 2). The book of Daniel reaches in prophetic vision to this point; but it does not go beyond. For the establishment and the glory of the kingdom other prophets must be consulted. What we have in Daniel is, as we have already indicated, the course and character of Gentile powers, from the destruction of Jerusalem on to the appearing of Christ, together with the position of the remnant, and the sufferings of the Jewish people, while the Gentiles possess the dominion, until at last God, in His faithfulness in pursuance of His purposes, interposes, and, for His own glory, works for the rescue and blessing of His elect earthly people. This blessed consummation is yet future, and though our calling and portion are heavenly, and our hope is the coming of the Lord to receive us unto Himself, and to introduce us into the Father's house, it is yet of the utmost importance that we should understand the nature of "the times of the Gentiles," and embrace in our thoughts the whole circle of God's revealed interests. It is to aid in this object that we desire to commend to our readers the earnest study of this part of the inspired volume.
WHATEVER the state of things on the earth God never leaves Himself without a witness. He may punish His people on account of their unfaithfulness and their sins, and He may permit them to be carried into captivity, and to be enslaved under the power of their enemies, and yet, in the midst of the darkness by which they are surrounded, He will rekindle the torch of His truth, in testimony to Himself and to His faithfulness, and as encouragement to those who cleave or turn to Him in their sorrows. He will, moreover, cause those whom He has used to chastise His people to know that they are still the objects of His care and love; and that their oppressors, however seemingly exalted and mighty, are subject and accountable to Him.
The first three verses of our chapter are the introduction to the book, and they explain how it had come to pass that Daniel and his companions are found in connection with the court of the king of Babylon. The reference, as may be easily seen by turning to the historical accounts in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, is to the first siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. In Chronicles, after the mention of the accession of Jehoiakim to the throne, through the instrumentality of Necho, king of Egypt, it says, "Against him came up Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and bound him in fetters, to carry him to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also carried of the vessels of the house of the Lord to Babylon, and put them in his temple at Babylon" (2 Chr. 36: 6, 7). But neither here, nor in Kings, is it mentioned that there were other captives at this time, and it is quite possible that the short introductory statement of our chapter includes, in its purport, the subsequent proceedings of the king of Babylon until Jerusalem was destroyed, and the princes, and the mighty men of valour, together with the mass of the people, had been deported to Babylon (see 2 Kings 24: 12-16, 2 Kings 25: 1-21). It is therefore the general position which is here defined. The Lord had given Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzar's hand, and so completely had He abandoned His house in Jerusalem, that He had permitted the sacred vessels of the temple, profaned as they were by the sins of the kings of Judah, to be carried into the land of Shinar,* to the house of Nebuchadnezzar's god. God's candlestick at Jerusalem was thus for the time removed; and it was judicially removed, because it had ceased to give forth divine light for guidance and blessing amid the moral darkness of this world.
*For the significance of this statement the reader should consult Zechariah 5.
In the next paragraph (vv. 3-7) the remnant, or its representation, is introduced. After that Hezekiah had received the embassy from the king of Babylon, and, gratified by the attention thus shown to him, had exhibited to them all the treasures of his kingdom, Isaiah was sent to him with this message: "Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon. . . . And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon" (Isaiah 39: 5-7). The opening verses of our chapter reveal the fulfilment of Isaiah's prediction; but what we desire to call attention to is, that, in fulfilling His own word in judgment, God remembered mercy, for it is out of these very descendants of Hezekiah that He raised up witnesses for Himself in the midst of Babylon's idolatrous corruptions.
In permitting Nebuchadnezzar to carry them away as captives, God was accomplishing His own purpose; but Nebuchadnezzar, having obtained power over them, sought to make them serve his will. The consequence was, that a conflict immediately arose between the thoughts of God and the thoughts of the King of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar desired to adorn his palace with those of his captives "in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans" (v. 4). The world is every ready to make the people of God its servants, and to derive light from their knowledge; but it cannot tolerate them, if they maintain fidelity to their God in obedience to His word, and in a holy separation from evil. The king, therefore, would have these captives to be fed with his own meat, and to drink of his own wine, that, nourished from his resources for three years, they might at the end thereof stand in his presence (v. 5). He would have them, in one word, to cease being Jews, and to become Chaldeans; and to mingle with their new religion the light they had received from the oracles of God. Such is the origin of philosophy even in Christian times — that philosophy against which Paul earnestly warns us as being "after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (Col. 2: 8).
It is in connection with this command of Nebuchadnezzar that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are brought into prominence (v. 6). Their very names, when understood, proclaimed to whom they belonged,* and the character of their God: and the prince of the eunuchs, instinctively feeling that such names would not suit his master's court, gave them others, all of which were more or less connected with Babylon's idols (v. 7).
*Daniel means "God's judge"; Hananiah, "whom Jehovah graciously gave"; Mishael, "who (is) as God"; and Azariah, "whom Jehovah aids."
The question now raised for Daniel and his companions was, whether for the sake of the world's favour and advancement, they would yield to the king's command. The answer had already been given: "Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself" (v. 8). As a Jew, obedient to the word of God, it was impossible for Daniel to eat the food of the Gentiles. Both the fat and the blood of those animals which were permitted to be eaten, were forbidden; and it was only of the clean beasts and birds that a Jew was allowed to partake (see Lev. 7: 22-27, Lev. 11, Lev. 22). Unless, therefore, Daniel and his companions were prepared to surrender their faith, and to renounce the word of their God, they could not accept the royal provision. And there is another instruction — if an application may be made to ourselves. The food of the world, that in which man as man, alienated from God as he is, finds his strength and sustenance, is ever destructive to the spiritual life of the Christian; and if he would be a true Nazarite, and walk in the path of holy separation unto God, he must ever turn aside from the wine, the joys of earth. The apostle thus writes, "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5: 18). In the attitude of Daniel we have then an example for all believers; and the closer it is followed, the more will they enjoy the conscious favour and blessing of God; and, as morally dead to things here, they will the more fully realize their true portion in Christ, in the place where He is.
We now read, as explanatory of what follows, that "God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs "(v. 9). Again we are reminded of the similar case of Joseph. Sold into Egypt, and becoming an inmate of Potiphar's house, "he found grace" in his master's sight. But, like Daniel, refusing the world's food and wine, he, unlike Daniel, was cast into prison, where the Lord also "gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison." "When a man's ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him"; and hence it was that the prince of the eunuchs, notwithstanding his fear of his lord the king, and the possible danger to his own life. granted through Melzar the request of Daniel, that he and his companions might be tested for ten days with pulse to eat and water to drink, instead of the king's food and wine. God was with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, and hence it was that, at the end of the ten days, "their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat" (v. 15). God had sustained and prospered His servants in their path of fidelity to His will, in keeping themselves undefiled amid the Babylonish seductions and corruptions by which they were surrounded. Even Melzar could not gainsay that they had flourished on their simple regimen, and henceforward he gave them pulse.
The reflection may be permitted, that there are many of the people of God who can walk in the narrow path of devoted discipleship as long as they are in the enjoyment of the fellowship of saints, and in the midst of happy spiritual influences. But it is sometimes seen that such, when transported into a worldly circle, are apt to fall in with the practices and habits of their new society, and thus to lose their distinctness of walk, even if their testimony be not altogether extinguished. It is therefore full of refreshment and encouragement to ponder the spectacle presented by these four children of Judah. Deprived of all the privileges of the temple, the temple itself destroyed, themselves captives at the mercy of a heathen monarch, plied, too, with every sort of alluring temptation, they maintained the Nazarite's place of true separation through obedience to the word of God. Doubtless it was the faith and energy of Daniel that acted on his companions, and led them to follow him in the path of God's will; but if so, the others were willing to follow, and all four present a striking proof of the all-sufficiency of God's grace to sustain His servants in the most unfavourable circumstances that could possibly be imagined.
The significant statement follows: "As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams" (v. 17). "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant." This principle ever abides; and it is seen in all dispensations. It is first laid down by God Himself in the familiar words, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do? . . . For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him" (Genesis 18: 17-19). It appears also in the prayer of the apostle Paul for the Colossians, "That ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (Col. 1: 9). It is abundantly plain, in other words, that God gave these four "children" knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom because of their separation in heart and life from the defiling evils around. It is indeed ever true, that the nearer we are practically to the Lord, the more fully He communicates to us of His mind; and remark, that it is not only what is generally understood as "His mind, but it is in all learning and wisdom. The students of modern days, even Christian students, are too often betrayed into the thought, that for the acquisition of human "learning and wisdom" they are dependent upon their own industry and power. The consequence is, that the years of their student-life are often marked by spiritual declension, if not by open backsliding. The example of the four "children" might well teach another lesson.*
*The well-known saying of Luther, although he referred to the Scriptures, might be profitably recalled in this connection, "To have prayed well is to study well."
At the close of the verse Daniel is singled out from his fellows; for we are told, undoubtedly in view of his special work and mission, that he had understanding in all visions and dreams. Thereby, too, we are taught, that in all the circumstances and experiences through which God leads His people, He is forming them as vessels for His service. On the human side it was a calamity that had befallen Daniel; on God's side, as is plainly revealed, this seeming calamity was but the instrumentality which He had chosen to form Daniel for his mission to carry His testimony into the court of the mighty Gentile monarch — His testimony concerning the powers which He had allowed to supercede His own direct government of the earth through Israel, and through Jerusalem as His, dwelling-place and throne. But it is faith alone that can rise up beyond all secondary causes, connect everything with the hand of God, and at the same time peacefully rest in Him assured of His infinite wisdom and love, and that the issue of all events will be according to His own perfect will.
The next three verses (18-20) give the result before the king of the training to which the four children, as well as the others selected, had been subjected. All alike were brought into the royal presence, and Nebuchadnezzar himself examined the students of his college: he "communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king enquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm" (vv. 19, 20). They might each have thus adopted the language of the Psalmist. "Thou through Thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Thy precepts" (Psalm 119: 98-100). Would that the lesson might he laid to heart by all the young Christians of the present day!
The chapter closes with the remark, that "Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus." He lived, therefore, to see the fall of the colossal empire of which Nebuchadnezzar was the monarch; he served under Darius the Mede, and witnessed the advent of Cyrus, of whom Isaiah had prophesied more than one hundred and fifty years before (see Isaiah 44: 28; Isaiah 45: 1-3, etc.) as the one who should be instrumental in the restoration of Jerusalem and the temple. It should, however, be observed that this last verse is only a general statement that Daniel lived to see the accession of Cyrus; for in chapter 10: 1 we find that he received special revelations from God "in the third year of Cyrus king of Persia." How far he may have survived that date is not mentioned; but the one given makes it certain that he lived to a good old age, exceeding, at any rate, the limits of threescore years and ten.
IT is evident that the real subject of the first part of this book commences with this chapter. Chapter 1 is prefatory and introductory, giving, so to speak, the situation, and displaying a view of the various actors in the following events, together with their relative positions, while behind all God is clearly revealed as working all things after the counsel of His own will. However supreme man may seem to be, as, for instance, Nebuchadnezzar in his dominion, it is always to be remembered that God never surrenders the reins of government. He may control directly or indirectly, but He does control the smallest as well as the greatest events that happen on the earth. It was thus by no chance that Nebuchadnezzar "dreamed dreams" in the second year of his reign, "wherewith his spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him" (v. 1). The like thing had happened, it will be recalled, to Pharaoh, and it was used to bring Joseph to the notice and succour of the king, and to be the means, in God's hand, of constituting him ruler over all the land of Egypt; and he thus became no mean type of the rejection and exaltation of Christ in His earthly glory. In a similar way the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar were the occasion for the introduction of Daniel to the king, and of his exaltation as ruler over the whole province of Babylon.
But man must ever come to the end of his own resources before he is made willing to turn to God for aid and direction. The king had ascertained for himself that in all matters of wisdom and understanding the "four children" were ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm; and yet he did not in his perplexity turn to them for help and counsel. For we read, "Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to show the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king." All the wise men of his realm, men of knowledge and experience, all the philosophers and scientists of the day, were thus assembled to listen to the commands of Nebuchadnezzar. The king's request was simple: he had forgotten his dream, and he desired them to tell him what it was that he had dreamed, and then to give its interpretation. Pity might be felt for these men of wisdom, in being subjected to such an ordeal, did we not remember that the professors of the occult sciences of that day claimed to be able to reveal secrets, and to penetrate into regions hidden from mortal eyes; and, secondly, that the whole thing was designed of God to bring to nought, in the eves of this absolute monarch, the wisdom of the wise, to take them in their own craftiness, and thus to pour contempt upon all the pride of man. Their reply was, "Tell thy servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation."
An interpretation might easily be given, one which, if it concerned future events, might pass unchallenged, for until the time came for it to be realised no one could say whether it was true or false. The purpose of God, therefore, to expose the vanity of their pretended skill and knowledge, would not then have been accomplished. The king would not be pacified by their answer; and, on being further urged by alternate promises of reward and threatenings, they were driven to confess, "There is not a man upon the earth that can show the king's matter: therefore there is no king, lord, nor ruler, that asked such things at any magician, or astrologer, or Chaldean. And it is a rare thing that the king requireth, and there is none other that can show it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh" (vv. 10, 11).
The issue raised was thus decided, and the wise men themselves were compelled, in no dubious language, to own their incompetency to reveal the king's secret, and to declare at the same time that the knowledge required of them lay outside the domain of man altogether, that the "gods" alone possessed it. On the side of man the answer was not so unreasonable; but Nebuchadnezzar, absolute and imperious monarch as he was, would not suffer the contradiction of his wishes; and, enraged, he commanded to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. "And the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain (v. 13).
Man's extremity is God's opportunity. Daniel had not been summoned with the astrologers before the king; but, being included in the public reckoning among the "wise men," he was amenable to the king's decree. This brought him into notice, and into contact with the officer charged with its execution. It was God's purpose to bring His witness, in the person of Daniel, before Nebuchadnezzar; and the king's forgetfulness of his dream, and his anger at the failure of his wise men to tell him what it was, were only the instrumentalities for its accomplishment.
On learning from Arioch the cause of the king's anger, and of the decree that had gone forth, "Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time, and that he would show the king the interpretation" (v. 16). What, it may be enquired, led Daniel to suppose that this secret would be communicated to him? The answer is, Confidence in God, and the assurance that as His glory was concerned in the matter, as well as the safety of those who had, through His grace, maintained their faith and hope in Him amid all the seductions of the Babylonian court, He would not fail to interpose for their rescue in this hour of peril. It was, in truth, a supreme moment — a moment when all the wisdom of the world had confessed its failure. If, therefore, Daniel could reveal the king's secret, God would be publicly magnified before the whole realm.
Daniel's next step was to go to his house, and make the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions: that they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon" (vv. 17, 18). Counting upon God, Daniel associated his companions with himself in his supplications. It is the first instance of united prayer recorded in Scripture; and the fact that these children of the captivity resorted to it, discovers to us the secret of their holy and separate walk. Dependence on God in secret is the means of all power in life and testimony, and, it may be added, of courage in the presence of man and of Satan's power. These four, on their knees at such a moment before the God of heaven, present a wondrous spectacle. They were but aliens in a strange land, expatriated for the sins of their nation; and now they were doomed to a speedy death, unless the forgotten dream could be recalled and interpreted. But they knew with whom they had to do, the One who had said in their own Scriptures, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me" (Psalm 1. 15) and hence they Waited and pleaded before Him concerning this secret." Nor was their confidence in vain: God heard their cry, and the secret was revealed unto Daniel in a night vision (v. 19).
It will be remarked that they pray to the God of heaven. In Israel He was known as the Lord of all the earth (Exodus 8: 22; Joshua 3: 11; 2 Kings 5: 15); for indeed He dwelt, and had His throne, in the midst of His people. But now it was otherwise; for He had removed His throne from Jerusalem, and committed the sovereignty of the earth to Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 37, 38); and hence it was with a true understanding of their own position in relation to God, that the "four children" addressed Him as the God of heaven. The time will come when He will once more resume the title of the God of the earth, and it is His claims as such that will form the subject of testimony on the part of the two witnesses in the book of Revelation.*
*The true reading in Rev. 11: 4 is "the Lord of the earth."
The heart of Daniel was filled with thanksgiving at the revelation to him of the king's secret; and the character of his piety, the state of his soul, is seen in that he turned immediately to God with thanksgiving and praise. When blessings are communicated there is often a tendency to fall at once to their enjoyment instead of tracing them back, as Daniel did, to the heart of God. Verse 19 gives the general fact of his having blessed God; and then we have, in vv. 20-23, the exact words in which his thanksgiving was rendered. First. he ascribes blessing to the name of God for ever and ever. The praise he offers he desires to be eternal, "from eternity to eternity," as the due of Him who had been pleased to reveal Himself to His people. He then assigns a reason — "Wisdom and might are His." A simple utterance, but how profound! For if wisdom and might are God's (compare Rev. 5: 12), they are nowhere else to be found, and it is in vain to turn for them to any but God. Next, he ascribes to God universal sovereignty. "He changeth the times and the seasons: He removeth kings, and setteth up kings." The potentates of the earth may claim to exercise absolute power; and men by the force of arms, or even by political movements, may depose monarchs and establish governments; but neither the power nor the wisdom is theirs — they are but the blind instruments of the divine will. Once recognize with Daniel the sovereignty of God, and, whatever the character of the times in which we live, or the menacing aspect of public affairs, we may rest in perfect peace, knowing, as Nebuchadnezzar had to confess, that God "doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth" (Dan. 4: 35). Moreover, Daniel says, "He giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding." This principle is everywhere affirmed, that there must be a state of soul to receive from God. The apostle thus prayed, that the Colossians might be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. In like manner we learn from these words of Daniel, that to be divinely wise, wise after God's thoughts (and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom), is the condition of receiving wisdom. To him that hath shall be given, and this is what Daniel confesses, whether in respect of wisdom or understanding. He therefore proceeds, "He revealeth the deep and secret things: He knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with Him"; for He is a God of omniscience, and all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (see Ps. 139). After this celebration of what God is, in His wisdom, power, and sovereignty, Daniel offers his thanksgivings for the special mercy he had received. And in doing so he passes from the address, "God of heaven," to the more intimate title, "God of my fathers"; for the God his fathers had known and who had succoured them out of their distresses, is the One who had appeared on his own behalf, and he thanks and praises Him accordingly, and as the One who had now given him "wisdom and might." It is beautiful to notice, lastly, how he associates his companions with himself. "Thou," he says, "hast made known unto me now what we desired of Thee: for Thou hast now made known unto us the king's matter." Together they had sought the help of their God; and Daniel in full identification with his brethren acknowledges that the answer they had received was God's response to their united cry.
At once "Daniel went in unto Arioch, whom the king had ordained to destroy the wise men of Babylon: he went and said thus unto him, Destroy not the wise men of Babylon: bring me in before the king, and I will show unto the king the interpretation" (v. 24). Arioch complied "in haste" with Daniel's request; and "the king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof?" The answer of Daniel is given in three parts; first, his explanation of the source and the object of the revelation of the secret; secondly, the dream itself; and lastly its interpretation. Daniel commences, in evident communion with the mind of God, by declaring the impotence of human wisdom, in accordance with the words of another prophet, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." Writing thus, as led of the Holy Spirit, the sentence of death upon the wisdom of the world, Daniel proceeds to declare the source of the vision. "There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets," and this was Daniel's God, and he delighted to exalt Him in the presence of this absolute and idolatrous king. He then announces the object of the dream in respect of Nebuchadnezzar; it was to make known to him what should be in the latter days (vv. 28, 29). Finally, he disclaims any merit for himself; he was nothing but the vessel, of the forgotten dream. God had. His people in view, the faithful remnant to which Daniel belonged, in revealing the dream; and He also purposed that the king should know the thoughts of his heart. Daniel thus kept himself in the background a sure sign of his moral preparedness to bear testimony for God. The nearer we are to God, the more we lose sight of ourselves, and the better we are able to apprehend and to communicate His mind.
After Daniel had explained to the king the source and object of the revelation of his secret, he proceeded to recall the dream and to give the interpretation. The language he employed in describing the dream was as simple as it was grand. "Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible" (v. 31). The details will come before us in considering the interpretation; but it may be remarked at once that while the image represents the times of the Gentiles, from Nebuchadnezzar's day until the establishment of the kingdom of Christ, it is yet one image, and that the image of a man. It is thus, as has been strikingly observed by another, a representation of "the man of the earth" (see Psalm 10: 18), and the man of the earth, it may be added, as expressed in government — in all the various phases, as will afterwards be seen, of his corrupt heart and unbridled will. Man is never, indeed, fully revealed until all restraints are removed and he has the liberty as well as the inclination to gratify his own lusts (see 2 Thess. 2: 6-12). The image, while a complete image, is yet divided, as to its composition, into four parts the head of fine gold; his breast and arms of silver; his belly and his thighs of brass; and his legs of iron his feet part of iron and part of clay. There is, therefore, deterioration from the head to the feet, as seen in the figurative employment of the different metals. Finally, the image was smitten by a stone "cut out without hands," and all its several parts were "broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth" (vv. 34, 35).
Such was the dream; and the prophet's authentic interpretation follows. The head of gold was Nebuchadnezzar (v. 38). Of all the kingdoms that are to span the interval between the destruction of Jerusalem and the period of the establishment of the everlasting dominion of the Son of man, that of Babylon is pre-eminent. The reason is here given. Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom was a direct gift from God. As Daniel said, "Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory." This could not be said of any of the three successive kingdoms. They come upon the scene in a providential manner, as permitted of God, for the government of the earth, and according to His ordering; but their respective heads were in no sense the direct depositaries of power, as was Nebuchadnezzar. He was nearest God in this external sense, and his responsibility was consequently all the greater.
The character of his kingdom, as described by Daniel, was remarkable. Nebuchadnezzar was a king of kings — the supreme monarch, by God's appointment, over all the kings of, the earth, for God had given him "a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory" — all of which were wonderful words as setting forth the majesty and excellency of his position and dominion. Nor was his authority confined to men; for "wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath He given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all" (v. 38). A comparison has sometimes been drawn between the place occupied by Adam as head of this creation, and that here given to the king of Babylon; and it has been well said: "Although more limited, it is a dominion characterized by the same features as that of Adam., It differs in that men are placed under his power; it is more limited, for the sea is not included in his sovereignty, but it reaches to every place where the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven exist."* Taking these various features into consideration, it is easily comprehended that Nebuchadnezzar should be set forth as the head of gold.†
*Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by J. N. Darby, vol. ii. New edition.
†It must be observed that it is not only Nebuchadnezzar personally that is figured by the head of gold, for the successors of his own line until Belshazzar are included.
The next two kingdoms, as denoted by the silver and the brass, are passed over with the slightest mention in the interpretation; but in another part of the book they are plainly stated to be the Medo-Persian and Grecian kingdoms (Dan. 8: 20, 21). The fourth kingdom is described more at large; and happily there is no difficulty in its identification, as all prophetic expositors agree that it, is that of Rome — the four kingdoms being Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome; and these, as will be seen, are to occupy the whole period of the times of the Gentiles.
The features of the fourth kingdom, as delineated by Daniel, must be briefly considered. Before this is done, however, its duration must be indicated. It continues plainly until the kingdom of Christ is established (v. 44); and hence, to understand this, other scriptures have to be consulted. Historically, the Roman empire succeeded that of Greece, and, "strong as iron," it broke in pieces and subdued all things. Its might for the time seemed to be irresistible, and it established its dominion throughout the greater part of the then known world. All this is matter of history; but the question arises, If this Roman empire is to be found in existence on the eve of the appearing of Christ, where is it now, and whence is it again to emerge into view? It is in the book of Revelation that the answer to this question is found. That the outward form of this kingdom has disappeared is only too apparent; to human eyes it is, in fact, non-existent. In God's eyes it is, but hidden for the moment, and waiting to spring forth and to astonish the world by its reappearance. The angel thus said to John, in interpreting the "mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns. . . . The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition" (Rev. 17: 7-11). And more precisely still. "The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is" (v. 8). Two things are taught in these scriptures — firstly, that the "beast" is regarded as the continuation of that which formerly existed; and, secondly, that "while of the seven," he reappears after an interval of apparent non-existence. Now this "beast" represents the head of the revived Roman empire in the last days; and his origin and characteristics, as well as the source of his throne and authority, are depicted in Rev. 13: 1-8; and if verse 2 in this scripture be compared with Daniel 7: 3-6, it will also be seen that this beast is the successor of the three previous kingdoms, and that as such he combines all their moral features, as portrayed under the symbols of the leopard, the lion, and the bear.
The fourth kingdom therefore, the kingdom in power when our blessed Lord was here on the earth, and by whose authority, in the person of Pilate, He was adjudged to be crucified, is that which will once more be established, and which will continue until smitten by the stone "cut out without hands."
In verses 41-43 Daniel calls attention to a source of weakness in what was otherwise as "strong as iron": "And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay." We see no reason to doubt a very common interpretation of the clay, that it represents the mingling of popular, democratic forms with absolute government, the combination of absolutism with the popular will, which, as they are incongruous elements, can never be thoroughly welded together, and must, in the very attempt at union, become a source of weakness.
A further idea is given in verse 43, and is thus explained by another: "'The seed of men' is, I think, something outside of that which characterises the proper strength of the kingdom. . . . It appears to me that the Barbaric or Teutonic element is probably here pointed out as added to that which originally constituted the Roman empire."*
*Those who desire to pursue the historical investigation of this statement will find ample accounts of the effect of the irruption of the Goths into Italy, and of the capture of the imperial city, in GIBBON's Roman Empire, and other works.
That the ten toes are also symbolical may be gathered from Daniel 7, and also from Revelation 17; but as they are not explained here the subject may be left until chapter 7 is reached, merely remarking that they set forth the ten kingdoms which, federated together under one imperial head, represent the final form of the Roman empire.
It will now be understood that, under this image, the various forms of the world-power are sketched from the days of Nebuchadnezzar down to the time when the Lord will come, take His sovereignty over the whole earth, and reign for ever and ever. The chart of this world's history, onward to the close, thus lies open before the eye of God. Men may agitate, devise, form and overturn governments, as they think, in their own power, and according to their own will; but prophecy teaches that they can only act within the limits of the divine will for the accomplishment of what has been purposed. We see, moreover, that human governments, whatever the efforts of sincere, though misguided men, must deteriorate until at length, as we, are distinctly told in the Apocalypse, Satan will be the source and sustainer of the last form of earthly rule. It is well for us, therefore, when, as taught of the Spirit of God, we survey the future, to seek grace to maintain the place of separation outside of all the alarms and confusions of the world, while waiting for the Lord's return.
Passing now to verse 44, we learn that "in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever"; and this is given, as Daniel expressly says, as the explanation of the stone, cut out of the mountain without hands, smiting the image upon his feet, and breaking them to pieces. The expression, "in the days of these kings," is to be noted, especially as following on verse 43, as giving the fact, elsewhere formally stated, that the last kingdom of the four will be subdivided into ten kingdoms; and this also marks the time when the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will displace, first destroy and then displace, the last form of the Roman empire. This kingdom set up from heaven is the kingdom of Christ (see Daniel 7: 1-14); and its first act will be to break the "image" in pieces, and then, when formally established in power by Christ Himself, it will enlarge itself, until it fills the whole earth; and it will have no successor, for it will stand for ever.
In concluding his interpretation, Daniel added two things — first, he repeated that the great God had made known to the king what should come to pass hereafter; and, secondly, he assures the king of the certainty both of the dream and of its interpretation. As befitted a divine messenger, he was confident of the truth of his message. It is precisely in this particular that a revelation from God differs from what is of man. All that is outside of the Bible, all that presumes to come into competition with it, and challenges the ears of men, is but a sea, an unformed mass, of opinions and reasonings. How welcome therefore to the soul, wearied in its quest after some stable foundation on which to rest in view of death and eternity, is the immutable basis laid for faith in the infallible Scriptures. Daniel's message concerned time alone (although it reached onward to the close of all God's ways in government on the earth); but knowing the source whence it came, he could authoritatively announce that what he had spoken would be surely fulfilled.
And Nebuchadnezzar, idolator though he was, acknowledged, was constrained to acknowledge, the power of the word. He "fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him. The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret" (vv. 46, 47). There was no escape for the king from this conclusion. He only had the dream, and having had it, he only could test Daniel's claim for God to reveal secrets; and hence, when his secret was revealed, the conclusion was irresistible that Daniel's God was above all gods. The confession indeed was remarkable, admitting as it did the supremacy of God in heaven and on earth, and also what amounted to His omniscience. Far, however, as it went, neither Nebuchadnezzar's conscience nor heart appears to have been reached. It was but the bowing of his mind to the evidence offered. just as those in the days of our Lord who believed in His name when they saw the miracles which He did (John 2: 23). His action, in yielding homage to Daniel and in commanding an oblation to be offered to him, as well as his subsequent conduct, is the proof of this; even though for the moment he proclaimed in the presence of his court the sovereignty of Daniel's God in heaven and on earth.
Lastly, Nebuchadnezzar "made Daniel a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon" (v. 48). Like Pharaoh, the king felt that "a man in whom the Spirit of God" was (Genesis 41: 38), would be a valuable assistant in government; and he consequently promoted him to great honour. Daniel had neither sought nor asked anything for himself; but now that he was exalted, he "requested of the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon: but Daniel sat in the gate of the king."
In such a way, when the sentence of death had gone forth against them, did God rescue His servants, and, working out His own purposes in testimony and blessing, bring them forth in the full light of the day. They were of the captivity of Judah; but now they are made to occupy the most prominent places in Babylon, for the king exalted them above all his courtiers and nobles in the direction of public affairs, while Daniel himself was in a still higher position, for he "sat in the gate of the king."
IN chapter 2 the image which Nebuchadnezzar had seen in his night-dreams shadowed out, according to Daniel's authoritative interpretation, the whole course of the times of the Gentiles. It is therefore a general picture, but a picture so distinct in its outline, that no one who gives himself earnestly to study the subject can possibly mistake its import. He that runs may read the character of the kingdoms that bridge the space between the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the appearing of Christ in glory. After this, general outline, our attention is called, by the Spirit of God, to what may be termed the moral characteristics of the Gentile powers, chiefly as displayed in Babylon; but, though displayed, there, the several features are typical or representative of what will be seen throughout the whole duration of the Gentile sovereignty. In other words, we are now permitted to gee the use which the Gentiles will make of the power entrusted to them in responsibility. This is abruptly brought before us in the opening verse of this chapter: "Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was three-score cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon" (v. 1).
Such is man. Nebuchadnezzar had learnt from Daniel, if he had not known before, that the God of heaven had given him his universal kingdom, and he had confessed that Daniel's God was "a God of gods and a Lord of kings," and yet he will use his absolute power to have a god of his own, to assert his own will over the consciences of his subjects throughout his vast dominions, and thus to usurp for himself the place and authority that belonged alone to the God of heaven. That is, he used the power that God gave him to deny God and to put himself in the place of God, although this feature is subsequently expressed in a still more distinct form.
Such conduct would be wholly inexplicable were we not acquainted with the subtle motives that animate and govern the human heart, and did we not remember that we ourselves have often used the blessings vouchsafed of God for our own profit and exaltation. In truth, Nebuchadnezzar might have had strong inducements to the course delineated in this chapter. His empire must have been an immense conglomerate, composed of numberless tongues (see vv. 4-8) and religions, all of which would tend, politically speaking, to disturb the peace of his realm.* If, therefore, his heterogenous dominions could be welded together by a common religion, his empire would be consolidated and the welfare of his subjects promoted. Whatever his thoughts, such was the course he adopted, and he made the magnificent image which he determined should serve as the deity for "all the people, the nations, and the languages" that were subject to his authority.†
*The difficulties in the government of India, springing up from the difference of religion, will afford an illustration of this.
†It has often been suggested that the image of his dreams formed the pattern for his idol. It is certainly remarkable that the one followed so closely upon the other, and that, as the head of the one that symbolised his own kingdom was of gold, he should make his idol of gold. There might have been a connection in his mind between the two, but the wonder is, as already seen, that the impressions made upon his mind by the revelation of his secret, and by the interpretation Daniel gave him, could have been so soon effaced. We all know, however, how transient the deepest feelings are where there is no positive work of the Holy Ghost in the soul.
The image erected, all the governing authorities and officials of his realm were summoned to Babylon, to be present at "the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up"; and they were all obedient to the royal command. Assembled "before the image," the decree was proclaimed by an herald — "To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: and whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace" (vv. 4-6).
The decree would be easily understood: it was simple and brief, and the penalty was plain. Nor was there much, according to human thoughts, required. An act of prostration before the king's idol at the appointed moment, and the whole thing was over. But the decree needs a little examination. It was, as before observed, the intrusion of man's will into God's domain. Obedience to the powers that be, as may be hereafter more fully explained, is a sacred duty; but obedience to the powers that be can only be rendered within the circle of their own lawful authority. If they step out of this circle, as the rulers in Jerusalem did when they commanded the apostles not to teach or to preach in the name of Jesus, they must be told, as Peter and John answered, "We must obey God rather than men." Absolute monarch, therefore, as Nebuchadnezzar was, he stepped outside of his own domain, and claimed for himself what was due to God alone, when he issued his decree.
Another thing may be remarked. The signal for the worship of the image was the outburst of all kinds of music from the finest band in all the king's dominions. If religious feelings did not exist, they must be produced by the sweet and sensuous sounds of harmony. How subtle the wiles of Satan! for we have really here the history of all religious music. It appeals to nature, and begets natural emotions; but in these the Spirit of God has no part, for they that worship God "must worship Him in spirit and in truth." All these expedients do but deceive souls by their enjoyment of what is natural, and at the same time they both shut out God and conceal the spiritual condition of the professed worshippers.
There was practically entire unanimity in obedience to the king's command. Three only, as far as is recorded, refused to comply with his decree. These were brought to the notice of the king by certain Chaldeans, who "came near, and accused the Jews" (v. 8). After reciting the king's decree, with the accompanying penalty for disobedience, they proceeded: "There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (v. 12). If the accusation was subtle, and couched in the form most likely to arouse the anger of the king, its motive is very apparent. Jealousy is written plainly upon it. "There are certain Jews" — men of an alien race, belonging to a hostile nation, of those who were brought here as captives, and those whom thou hast promoted over the heads of thine own loyal subjects — it is these who have set themselves up in opposition to thy royal command. Hatred is scarcely less concealed, for, before charging them with refusing to worship the king's image, they say, "They serve not thy gods." The king knew this well from Daniel, and had, notwithstanding, appointed them to their posts of honour; but the Chaldeans could not brook the servants of the true God being thus exalted, and the opportunity had at length arrived for them to express the enmity of their hearts in the accusation they now made. Happy was it for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that no charge could be brought against them excepting, as afterwards in the case of Daniel, concerning the law of their God.
If, however, the manner of the accusation was dictated by jealousy and hatred, it was well calculated to appeal to the conscience of Nebuchadnezzar. The mention of his promotion of the three Jews would, it might be supposed, surely recall to the king's mind that eventful day when Daniel had unfolded his secret and its meaning, together with the confession which Daniel's words had extorted from his lips. But if so, all was forgotten in his "rage and fury" at the men who had dared to disregard his absolute and imperious will. The knowledge which God had communicated to Daniel had, in a certain sense, ministered to the king's desire, whereas now, faithfulness to God crossed his will, and taught him that there were some who believed, and who acted on their belief, that God was, to use the king's own words, "a God of gods, and a Lord of kings." This was insufferable to the insensate and irritated monarch, and he commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego should be brought. "Then they brought these men before the king" (v. 13).
Morally speaking, it was a most impressive scene. On the one hand there was Nebuchadnezzar, the mightiest monarch the world had ever, seen, surrounded with all the pomp and magnificence of his court and realm; and on the other, three men of a despised race, whatever the position they occupied at that moment in the government. And the question about to be raised was this: Who is the master of men's consciences, God or man? Nebuchadnezzar himself raised it. First, he asked them if the accusation were true; and it will be observed that he travels outside his own decree in accepting the additional charge — that they did not serve the king's gods — which the Chaldeans had brought. Next, he gives them a further opportunity of proving their loyalty when the band of music should once more break out in exciting strains. If then "ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace" (v. 15). Lastly, carried beyond all bounds by his rage, he dared to challenge the interposition of anyone superior to himself, and thereby to assert his own omnipotence; for he added, "Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" This was in truth a gage of battle, and the conflict now commenced was between Nebuchadnezzar and God.
The answer of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, quiet and subdued in tone, is sublime in the confidence in God and in His power which it breathes, and in the calm courage it expresses in their determination to dare all and to endure all rather than be unfaithful to their God. They say, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.* If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (vv. 16-18). As wisdom, divine wisdom, was found to be with the remnant in the previous chapter, so now faithfulness, indomitable faithfulness, to God is exhibited. Grace gave to them both the one and the other, for it was God who had taken up His servants to display, through them, His own wisdom and power.
*Some translate, "It is not necessary to answer thee on this subject."
But this answer of the three children of Judah to Nebuchadnezzar must be examined to understand its full import. First, then, they declared that they were not careful, or that it was not necessary, to reply to the king in "this matter," meaning, undoubtedly, that as the king had defied God, it was He alone who could deal with him, and that they fully counted on His interposition to rebuke his arrogant and profane presumption, and to vindicate His own name and supremacy. They then proceeded calmly to confess their faith in the power of their God to deliver them should Nebuchadnezzar carry out his threat of casting them into the furnace, and their confidence that He would deliver them out of his hand. They added, moreover, that should He not deliver them, their determination was fixed not to yield to the king's command. They knew whom they had believed, and that He was able to preserve them from the king's fury; but if it were His will, they were ready to die as martyrs for His name's sake. As another has observed, their faith and obedience were as absolute as the will of the king.
This attitude of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego defines with exactitude, as already remarked, the true position of the believer in relation to the powers that be. Everywhere in the New Testament submission to these is enjoined, and such is to be the path of the Christian in the midst of political agitations and confusions. He is neither to raise questions, nor to examine the lawfulness of constituted authorities. It is enough for him that they are in power, and he pursues his way in peace as he renders the required obedience. But if these authorities, whether they be emperors, kings, or magistrates, travel outside of their own province, as Nebuchadnezzar did, and seek to substitute their will for the word of God, and to impose that will on the consciences of their subjects — putting themselves, in fact, in the place of God — then, in very faithfulness to God, like these three children of the captivity, and at whatever cost, the believer is bound to disobey. The limit of his obedience to kings is obedience to God in obeying them. The moment he is called upon to disobey God by yielding to a monarch's demands, he must, if he would retain a good conscience towards God, refuse the demanded subjection, even at the cost of life. Such was the ground taken in this conflict between Nebuchadnezzar and these three subjects of his realm.
This was a new thing to this master of the world. Absolute in authority over all the kingdoms of the earth, was he to be flatly and publicly disobeyed by three Jews — members of a nation which he had conquered? Such a thing could not for one moment be tolerated; and hence he was "full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego"; and "he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace."
A public example must be made of these rebels to the king's commands, and a salutary impression produced on all the representatives of the government. In some measure, one can understand the wrath of this arbitrary monarch. He had devised an expedient for securing the unity of the various races of his dominions, and it seemed likely to be successful. Not a hand nor a foot was moved against the project, when suddenly three Jews, and these the special objects of the king's favour, were brought before him and charged with resisting his commands.* His entire scheme was thus imperilled, and hence the ungovernable passion with which he ordered the rebels to his authority to the cruellest doom that could possibly be devised.
*Many speculations have been offered upon the fact of Daniel's absence from this scene. That he did not surrender his faith, that he was as faithful as his companions, is attested by his subsequent history. Why he does not appear in this chapter is not revealed.
His commands were instantly obeyed, and "because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego." What was human life to this wilful, raging king? But God will teach him by the very contrast, that what is death to His enemies cannot injure those who are under His protection. (Compare Exodus 14; Mark 16: 18.) "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace — and, their confidence in God vindicated, they were not destroyed. The men who had cast them into the furnace were overpowered and killed by the scorching flames; but they themselves though in the midst of the furnace were unharmed. Their God was able to deliver them. There was another thing to fill the mind of the king with astonishment. He "rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God" (vv. 24, 25). Two miracles thus amazed the king: the fact of his intended victims being loose and unhurt, and the presence with them of a supernatural Companion, whom he designates as "like the Son of God."* Not that he understood his own speech; but we may conclude that the Spirit of God, as often in the Scriptures, controlled him, and made him proclaim the truth. Isaiah had said, speaking in the name of Jehovah to Israel, "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; . . . When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee" (Isa. 43: 2); and this promise was now fulfilled to this believing remnant, as it will be to the remnant of a future day, of which these three children are a type. Jehovah was with His faithful servants in the furnace to sustain, to comfort, and to secure them from harm. Before the very eyes of the king, who had impotently and impiously dared Him to deliver out of his hand, He appears, and shielding His servants from the power of the flames, vindicates their confidence in Him, and their fidelity to His name. Has He not also said to us, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me"? (Hebrews 13: 5, 6).
*Whether the translation be accepted as it stands, or taken as "Son of the gods," the significance remains. He owns that some one, more than mortal, is with them in the furnace.
Nebuchadnezzar had provoked the conflict in challenging the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. God came in, and silently exhibited His power before the furious king; and he is conquered! Forgetful of everything else now but the spectacle before his eyes, insensible even to his own public humiliation, he, confessing his defeat, with his whole mien and aspect changed, advanced "to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came forth of the midst of the fire" (v. 26).
It is to be remarked that it is not said that anyone besides Nebuchadnezzar saw the divine Companion of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. His eyes were for the moment opened to see what was naturally invisible, that he might learn his own folly in entering upon a conflict with the God of heaven. What patience and long-suffering on the part of God, in the presence of the weak profanity of one of His own creatures! Happy is it for man, for us all, that He never allows His purposes to be frustrated by our daring presumption and rebellion.
The king's command was now obeyed, and these "servants of the most high God" came forth; and the truth of their preservation — the miracle wrought — was verified by "the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counsellors," who were "gathered together," it would seem, to examine the reality of this miraculous preservation; and they "saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them" (v. 27). The deliverance was total and complete, for the fire had only been allowed to burn the bonds wherewith they had been bound: at least they were seen, notwithstanding they had been bound, walking in liberty in the company of their Deliverer and Preserver. Overwhelmed by the undeniable character of the evidence offered, and owning his own impotence and defeat before such a God, Nebuchadnezzar said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent His angel, and delivered His servants that trusted in Him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God" (V. 28). He thus paid honour to God, who had rescued His servants from the king's wrath, and he justified those who, in fidelity to "their own God," had refused to worship the image which he himself had set up. He made a decree, moreover, "That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort" (v. 29).
All the king's thoughts and projects were thus utterly set at nought. The image he had made had been publicly refused, and as publicly declared to be a false god. Nebuchadnezzar himself was constrained to confess the impotence of himself and of his god, and to proclaim throughout his empire that there was no god like the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. His magnificent assembly had been in vain as far as his own purposes were concerned. Obsequious subjects came from all parts of his dominions to accept and to worship the king's idol: and lo! even before they dispersed, a trumpet-tongued testimony was raised to the supremacy of the most High God. God vindicated His own name, and the faith of His servants, before all the notabilities of the realm.
One thing more is recorded: "Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon" (v. 30). The victory vouchsafed was complete; for not only did God frustrate the designs of the king, but also those of the jealous and malignant enemies of His servants. They had thought to compass the destruction of these faithful men; but the issue was their further promotion and exaltation.
So far the record is historical; but is it only historical? To suppose so would be to miss the main object of the narrative. The actual facts took place, but these actual facts were chosen to set forth what will lake place in the last days. As the first Gentile empire became idolatrous so will also the last, as we may learn from Rev. 13, and as God's faithful remnant was the object of enmity and persecution under the king of Babylon, so will it be again under the last head of the Roman empire (see Rev. 12: 13-17; Rev. 13: 6-8, 15, etc.). But, as we read in this same book, Daniel's people, however hot the furnace into which they shall at that time be cast, "shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." Satan may be allowed to rage, and to sift the people of God, but not a hair of their heads can fall without God's permission. The history therefore of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is full of encouragement — especially for the Jewish remnant in the last days, but also for the saints of God in every age when surrounded by the fires of persecution, when Satan, as a roaring lion, is seeking whom he may devour. And the lesson is written large: "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10: 13).
A SPECIAL character attaches to this chapter from the fact that it contains a communication or letter, written by Nebuchadnezzar himself, and addressed to "all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth." He had been favoured with many signs from God through Daniel's interpretation of his dream in chapter 2, and in connection with the deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the power of the flames in chapter 3, and, under the momentary impressions produced, he had confessed Daniel's God to be a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a Revealer of secrets, and that there was no god that could deliver as the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. His heart, however, was unchanged; but in the narrative before us, which again is both historic and prophetic, we are permitted to see the way in which this idolatrous king is brought at last to "praise and extol and honour the King of Heaven" (v. 37). Read in its connection, there cannot be a doubt that Nebuchadnezzar really bowed in conscience and heart to the testimony which reached him through the prophet Daniel, and that he thus became a servant of the "Most High."
The proof of this lies in the royal communication to all his subjects. He desires that every person in his dominions should be made acquainted with his "conversion." The address of the letter has already been noticed; and this is followed by a salutation — "Peace be multiplied unto you" — which in its form is almost apostolic. (Compare 1 Peter 1: 2.) In verses 2, 3 he concisely states the object he has in addressing his subjects: "I thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me"; and then his heart overflows in admiration as he recalls what God had wrought, exclaiming, "How great are His signs! and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation." It is a good thing when the soul is constrained to confess what God has wrought by His grace; for, as the apostle teaches, if the heart believes unto righteousness, it is with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. It is due to God that confession should be made, and when made it turns to a testimony for His glory.
Following upon this, he gives his own personal circumstances at the time when this new message from God reached him. "I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace" (v. 4). He had attained the summit of all human ambition. Monarch of all the kingdoms of the earth, his authority undisputed, prosperous in all his undertakings, with nothing to disturb his tranquillity, whether as touching his public or his private affairs; he was in peace* in his house, and flourishing in his palace. Everything, in a word, went well with this mighty monarch, so that he might have been, if human prosperity could have given it, in the enjoyment of perfect happiness. And he was, it would seem, happy, but without God. It was from this clear sky, with no premonition of coming trouble, that God's warnings suddenly came to arouse the king and to fill him with apprehensions. "I saw a dream," he says, "which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head. troubled me" (v. 5).
*Such is the translation given by some; and this removes perhaps the ambiguity of the words "at rest," as in connection with his dream and visions they might be thought to mean that he was resting in sleep.
The dream did not, as on a former occasion, pass away from his mind; nor did he understand what he had seen, although he was troubled — troubled as he felt that it contained something of momentous import for him and for his kingdom. He therefore at once issued a decree to bring, in all the wise men of Babylon, that they might make known to him the interpretation of the dream (v. 6). Having proved their incompetency in Daniel 2, and having, at the same time, learned that Daniel alone could unravel his mystery, it may seem strange that Daniel was not immediately summoned into the king's presence. There is no affinity between the natural and the spiritual man. Saul was glad to avail himself of David's services both with his harp and with his sword, and yet he hated him. In like manner, Nebuchadnezzar had profited by Daniel's interpretation; but he could not love the one who was the representative before him of the God of heaven. If, therefore, he could do without Daniel, he would; and consequently he first tried his own wise men. Again their impotence was manifested. The wisdom of man is confined to earth; but Nebuchadnezzar's dream came from heaven. The subject was one outside of all the thoughts of men, even though it related to the earth. To understand God's things a man must be instructed of God; and this the wise men of Babylon were not. Foiled in his purpose, the king tells us, "At the last Daniel came in before me, whose name was Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god," etc. (v. 8). The next verse plainly shows that Nebuchadnezzar had not forgotten Daniel's ability as an expounder of secrets, although he could not have known the source of his inspiration, nor that he was God's vessel of the spirit of prophecy. He only sent for him, therefore, from necessity, inasmuch as in all his dominions there was no other who could interpret his dream.
Every particular of the dream was fast rooted in the king's memory, and he proceeded to repeat it to Daniel. It falls into three parts; first, its subject-matter, the tree (vv. 10-12) secondly, the judgment upon the tree (vv. 13-16) and lastly, the object of the judgment executed (v. 17). As all these particulars are taken up by Daniel, we may pass to his interpretation, after noticing, first, the effect on Daniel of the king's recital.
When Nebuchadnezzar had explained to him what he had seen in the visions of his head in his bed (v. 10), "Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him." The meaning of the dream was unfolded to his soul as he heard it, and as he comprehended its import in its application to the king, filled with amazement, and troubled, he was reluctant, it would appear, to communicate to him the significance of the dream. This was perceived by Nebuchadnezzar, and he said, "Belteshazzar, let not the dream, or the interpretation thereof, trouble thee. Belteshazzar answered and said, My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies" (v. 19). It may be questioned whether Daniel, in speaking thus, having received from God the interpretation of the dream, maintained the level of his prophetic office as a messenger from God; and it will be observed that in the record of this sentence the name Daniel is dropped. It is for the first and only time Belteshazzar — "not Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar," but simply Belteshazzar — who answered the king.
However this may be, Daniel commenced to give to the king the interpretation of his dream: "The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth; whose leaves were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all; under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and upon whose branches the fowls of the heaven had their habitation: it is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong: for thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth" (vv. 20-22). The figure of a tree to denote men in their earthly greatness is often used in the prophets. Ezekiel thus says: "Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of an high stature; and his top was among the thick boughs. . . . All the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations," etc. (Ezek. 31: 3-9). This striking correspondence helps much to understand the symbology of Nebuchadnezzar's dreams, and enables us to perceive how apt an illustration it is of exaltation in the government of the earth, in the far-reaching, wide-spreading, and sheltering protection it affords to all ranks and conditions of men. The beasts of the field and the fowls of heaven are introduced because both alike had been given into his hand (see Dan. 2: 38); and hence they, as well as the children of men, are looked upon as subject to, sustained and protected by, his authority. Well therefore might Daniel say to the king, "Thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth."
A difference between the head of gold in chapter 2, and the tree here, in their respective applications, is to be remarked. Both concern Nebuchadnezzar, as plainly said; but the former includes his dynasty, inasmuch as it is not until his dynasty ends that the second of the four prophetic kingdoms appears. The latter is a symbol of Nebuchadnezzar himself, as is seen by the judgment executed; only, it has to be added, that his degradation is in reality, as may be afterwards explained, typical of the character of the Gentile power in government on to its supersession at the appearing of Christ to establish His kingdom.
Having given the application of the symbol, Daniel continued his interpretation: "And whereas the king saw a watcher and an holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew the tree down, and destroy it; yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him; this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king: that they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will. And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule" (vv. 23-26).
Nothing could be more precise than this interpretation, and it is given at length that the reader may perceive how exact in every detail was the fulfilment. It could not be otherwise, inasmuch as it was, through Daniel, a divine exposition of Nebuchadnezzar's vision. It may now be understood why Daniel was tempted, as the judgment impending over the king rose up before him, to say, "The dream be to them that hate thee." It was only the courage which the sense of his mission from God imparted that enabled him thus fearlessly to unroll the scroll of the king's future; and it needed courage for the Jewish captive-prophet to stand before the monarch of the world, and to depict such an overwhelming disaster. Daniel himself would appear to have been moved; for he appealed to the king in words of earnest entreaty, "Wherefore, O king, let my counsel, be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity." Like Paul with Felix, Daniel reasoned with Nebuchadnezzar of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come; but we do not read that the king trembled. The message however had been delivered and the appeal made; and the momentous interview between the prophet and the monarch was ended.
In the next place the history of the fulfilment of Daniel's interpretation is given. "All this," he says, "came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar" (v. 28); and then we have the circumstances under which the threatened judgment was executed. Twelve months had passed, and there is no record that the king had even been troubled by the warning he had received. The sky was still clear, with not a cloud on the distant horizon. This might be a matter of unspeakable surprise if we did not remember that the spectacle of sinners unmoved on the eve of eternal woe greets our eyes every day. Death must come, and judgment will follow, and yet men are careless and heedless. So with Nebuchadnezzar; and hence it is that we read that "at the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon." And what was the subject of his meditations? His own greatness, power, and majesty. "The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" (v. 30). All this was the glorification of himself, the full-blown pride of the human heart, begotten of his exaltation and prosperity — the pride that goeth before destruction. The source of his power had been communicated to him (Dan. 2); but this he had entirely forgotten in attributing all the glory of his kingdom to himself. Surveying the magnificence of his palace and metropolis, with a heart swelling with pride and exultation, he ascribed all to the might of his own power, and declared that it was all for the honour of his own majesty. God was not in all his thoughts, nor even his own false gods; his vision was bounded by himself — himself as the source of all his glory, and himself as the object of all his works. What an insight into the heart of man! We are thus allowed to behold the moral condition of this gigantic tree before it is hewn down according to the divine decree.
The similarity between this and the parable of the rich man, whose ground brought forth plentifully, will at once be recalled. As he congratulated himself upon his prosperity, purposed to enlarge his barns, and contemplated years of selfish enjoyment, the judgment went forth, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee" (Luke 12: 16-20). In like manner, as Nebuchadnezzar vented the pride of his heart in his foolish boasting, even "while the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken, The kingdom is departed from thee"; and then the judgment pronounced by Daniel is repeated by the voice, and immediately executed. For "the same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his. hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws." When God speaks it is done, and what He commands ever stands fast.
It is now necessary to enquire into the meaning of this judgment; and on examination it will be found that it has a threefold significance — personal, moral, and prophetic. First, then, the personal meaning has to be considered. This lies in the fact that what was inflicted upon Nebuchadnezzar was a direct judgment from God for his personal pride, for what might be termed his self-deification. The pride of man is one of the especial objects of God's hatred; and because of its expression in an extreme form in the king of Babylon, he fell under God's judicial hand. There are those who endeavour to account for his condition in a natural way by terming it a special form of madness. Even so, the question returns, Whence came it? The Biblical narrative supplies the answer — an answer recorded by the king himself — that it came from the hand of God as a just judgment upon Nebuchadnezzar's overweening pride and vainglory. Threatened a year before it was inflicted, and space thus having been given for repentance, he has the very words of Daniel recalled to his mind by a voice from heaven, at the very moment when the punitive stroke was about to descend. Entrusted with the government of the earth, God held him accountable, and punished him accordingly, and yet in grace, as well as in righteousness, since the object was to teach him "that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will" (v. 32).
The moral significance of what befell Nebuchadnezzar is even, if possible, of more importance. He was driven from men, became as a beast of the earth, for he ate grass as oxen, and in his bodily condition was even worse than the beasts of the field. All this is but expressive of his moral state, and of the character of the power he wielded as dissociated from God. In the language of another: "Power is reduced to the condition of the beasts that know not God, and are devoid of man's understanding. The only true privilege of man, that which ennobles him, is that he can look up to God and acknowledge Him. Without this he looks downward, he cannot suffice to himself, he is degraded. . . . Pride and independence separate man from God; he becomes a beast, devoid of real intelligence." The physical state of this monarch is therefore a moral picture, and one that should often be pondered, inasmuch as it reveals man's condition according to the estimate of God, when he vaunts his own power, seeks his own glory, and asserts his own independence. But it goes further than the king himself; it embraces also the character of his rule, and of his kingdom. If then the first kingdom in man's hand becomes in Daniel 3 idolatrous, in Daniel 4 it becomes bestial, bestial in the sense of being devoid of all intelligence as dissevered from God, and as looking downward, and feeding only upon the motives and objects of earth. For when man in his exaltation shuts out God from his thoughts, mid makes himself his centre and object, he is morally no better than a beast. As the Psalmist says, "Man that is in honour and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish" (Psalm 49: 20).
There is lastly the prophetic aspect. "Seven times" were to pass over the king in his degradation before he should be restored. It does not say "years," though possibly the "times" might be "years," but "times." The expression is vague, while the term "seven" gives it a very precise meaning; that is, a perfect period, a period comprising the whole duration of the times of the Gentiles. We gather, therefore, that all the four kingdoms — and these, it will be remembered, embrace the whole period of Gentile rule — will have the same moral character before God; that the power exercised in them will be apart from God, and will be wielded for self, for man, and for earthly objects, without regard to God's thoughts, or to responsibility to Him from whom the power has been derived. This is a very solemn consideration, and on many accounts. It shows that no improvement in the governments of the earth is to be expected, and therefore that it is worse than useless, to say nothing of inconsistency with his heavenly calling, for the Christian to embark upon the sea of political agitations, in the hope of securing some amelioration in the state of things around. It is not for one moment denied that man's condition in this world may be improved by just and beneficent laws; but the question remains, Will any political changes or legislative enactments alter the moral character either of human governments or of their subjects? Our chapter, with a host of other scriptures, proclaims that the character of the first kingdom will be repeated in its successors; and it will, as we know from the book of Revelation, be seen without any disguise in the final form of the last of the four prophetic kingdoms. If any one should doubt this statement, let him trace the course of human governments from the days of the kingdom of Babylon up to the present time. Let him wade through the histories of conquests, wars, and dynasties, and then let him ask himself if he could name any period when the power of the throne was held from God, and wielded for God. He will undoubtedly discover that some individual monarchs have been pious men; but he will also have to confess that, whatever their piety, they could not change the course or the character of their governments. The powers that be are ordained of God, and therefore the Christian is to render them all due honour and subjection; but this in no wise militates against the fact that Nebuchadnezzar's condition in its moral aspect, as given in our chapter, depicts the character of the kingdoms which fill up the times of the Gentiles.
Having traced the meanings of Nebuchadnezzar's degradation, we may now consider its effect on himself. The "seven times" may also refer to this effect. The period was divinely appointed, and, as in analogous cases in the typical books, had without doubt regard to the change to be wrought in his soul. His degradation, in other words, was to continue for a perfect period, as indicated by the number seven, until the divinely-intended work in his soul should be accomplished. Hence he says, "And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured Him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?" (vv. 34, 35). The object of God's dealings with him was attained; for the king had now learnt the lesson appointed him, that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will (see vv. 25, 32).
Let us, however, examine his confession more particularly. In the judgment with which he had been visited he was as a beast of the earth; and, as we have pointed out, the characteristic of a beast is that it looks downward, and does not possess the intelligence of man. It is, therefore, most interesting to notice that the moment Nebuchadnezzar lifted up his eyes to heaven his understanding returned. So with the prodigal who had wandered into the far country; his "coming to himself" and his turning to his father's house are connected. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and this statement is illustrated in the experience of the king of Babylon. Turning upward to the hand that had smitten him, he began to understand, for he learnt for the first time his accountability to God.
And remark that the first use he makes of his newly-found understanding is to bless the most High, to praise and honour Him as the eternal God, and as the Sovereign Ruler both in heaven and on earth. This is exceedingly beautiful; and is the sure evidence of what we know as a work of grace in the soul. The character under which he blesses God, "the most High," is also significant. This title is first found in connection with Melchizedek, who is termed the priest of the most High God; and who, blessing Abram on his return from the slaughter of the kings, said, "Blessed be Abram of the most High God, possessor of heaven and earth" (Genesis 14: 18, 19). This plainly teaches, as also may be gathered from other scriptures, that this is the title which God will assume in the age to come, when He will, in very deed, possess the earth as well as heaven. In addition, therefore, to the significance of the use of the title by Nebuchadnezzar, who owned thereby that God, though He had committed the sovereignty of the earth to him, yet did according to His will on earth as in heaven, there is also a prophetic meaning. We have already called attention to the fact that Nebuchadnezzar's degradation shadowed forth the character of Gentile rule on to the end; and now we learn that it will be through judgment that the nations will be brought to acknowledge God. We thus read in the prophet Zephaniah, "My determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent" (Zeph. 3: 8, 9).
Daniel had told the king that the kingdom should be sure unto him; after that he had learnt that the heavens do rule. This prediction was also verified; for he further adds: "At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me" (v. 36). God thus fulfilled His own word by the mouth of His servant; not one jot or tittle was allowed to fall to the ground; and Nebuchadnezzar joyfully confesses and records the divine faithfulness. And it is no small encouragement in the presence of the pride of power everywhere displayed, and amid all the confusions of earth, to see that God is working through all for the accomplishment of His own purposes, and that in the issue all the Gentiles, as well as His ancient people, will be brought into willing subjection to Christ when He establishes His kingdom, and extends His sway throughout the whole earth.
The chapter closes with another note of praise: "Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride He is able to abase" (v. 37). Comparing the Nebuchadnezzar who renders this praise to God with the Nebuchadnezzar who said, as he surveyed the magnificence of his city, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?" etc., we can only exclaim, "What hath God wrought!" He had indeed shown His power to abase the one who was walking in pride; and, more than this, in abasing him He so effectually changed the heart of the monarch that he turned submissively to the hand that had smitten him, and confessed that all God's works are truth, and His ways judgment. He thus justified God, a sure and unmistakable sign of conversion, and as he justified Him his lips were filled with praise and adoration. It is a lovely picture of the ways of God both in judgment and in grace.
A word should be added upon the character in which he here confesses God. He now speaks of Him as the King of heaven; and this is also evidence of his having been divinely taught. When Jehovah had His throne in Jerusalem, He was God of the earth as well as of heaven; but when He had abandoned His throne there, and had committed the sovereignty of the world to the Gentile monarch, He would be known as the God of heaven, and it is to Him as such that Daniel bore testimony before the king (Dan. 2: 37-44). But while God had now assumed this title, He in no wise surrendered either His claims to the earth, or the present actings of His power in government; for His object in the judicial stroke that fell upon Nebuchadnezzar was, as we have seen, to teach him, "that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will." Nebuchadnezzar had confessed this truth; but ere he concludes the account of God's dealings with himself he proceeds a step further, and owns Him as the King of heaven.
It is exceedingly interesting to trace the various stages in Nebuchadnezzar's history which led up to this conclusion. In Daniel 2 he confessed to Daniel, "Of a truth it is that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret"; in Daniel 3 he decreed that no one, under the extreme penalties of the law, should speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, owning that there was no other god that could "deliver after this sort"; and, lastly, in our chapter he acknowledges God as the most High, and as the King of heaven. God thus in His mercy subdued the proud heart of this mighty potentate, and humbling him before Him, made him confess His name before all the inhabitants of his vast empire. If a record of judgment, it is yet a story of unbounded grace.
IT is of all importance to remind ourselves again and again, in reading the chapters that form the first part of this book, that while they are strictly historic they are also prophetic; that while they describe characteristics of the thrones of the Gentiles, to which God entrusted the sovereignty of the earth after the destruction of Jerusalem, these characteristics will reappear in the last days. There are three things, indeed, which especially have this prophetic character: the acts of these various monarchs; the judgments that followed as in the last, and in the present, chapter; and the deliverance of God's people as seen "in chapter 3, and again in the person of Daniel, in chapter 6. To these may be added the acknowledgement of the true God by the Gentiles after their having been judged, as portrayed in the case of Nebuchadnezzar, and also in that of Darius (Dan. 6), albeit his confession is elicited rather by the display of God's power in succouring His people, as represented by Daniel, when in the very jaws of destruction.
Coming now, to our chapter, a still worse moral feature of Gentile sovereignty is exhibited. Idolatry and pride of power — vainglory — had marked Nebuchadnezzar; but Belshazzar is distinguished by the public insolence of daring impiety, venting itself in open wickedness and profanity. The occasion for this outburst of iniquity is described in the first verse: "Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand." It was a night of feasting, revelry, and unbridled licence, when all the evil passions of man's corrupt heart were inflamed and enticed to their gratification. For, mark, it was while Belshazzar "tasted the wine," that he gave the commandment "to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar* had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein" (v. 2).
*The chronology of Nebuchadnezzar's successors cannot be accurately determined, but it seems beyond question that Belshazzar could not have been his son. It is possible that he might have been his grandson, though this is not certain. The term "father," therefore, as is often the case in Scripture, is used in the sense of progenitor, or forefather. Whatever the exact relationship he bore to Nebuchadnezzar, he could not have been very far removed from that monarch, seeing that he was well acquainted with the judgment that had fallen upon him (v. 22).
Was he intoxicated? With the pride of wicked presumption certainly; and this was inflamed by the wine which he drank. Indulgence in wine, in the joy which earth affords, necessarily panders to the heart's worst desires; and the company that surrounded the king reveals that this instance was no exception to the general rule. Had this been, however, but an ordinary revel or debauch, whatever its accompanying licentiousness, no inspired pen would have recorded it; but the crowning sin of it was the direct insult which Belshazzar offered to the God of Israel, the God of heaven. The holy vessels were holy still in God's eyes, however polluted they had been by the sins of His kings and priests, for they had been used in the house where He had put His name for ever, and where His eyes and His heart should be perpetually (1 Kings 9: 3). True He had in judgment suffered them to share in the captivity of His people; but He could not allow them, consistently with all that He was, and with all that He purposed, to be defiled by the Gentile monarch and his profligate associates. Nor was it only that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them; but "they drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone." Gods of all degrees were extolled and their superiority over the God of Israel insultingly vaunted; and in so doing they challenged God publicly and insolently. With such insensate folly and impiety did this foolhardy king dare the interposition of the living and true God.
The answer — for it could not be delayed — was at hand; almost before the sounds of their idolatrous chants had died away — "in the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king's palace and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote (v. 5). Silently came these mysterious fingers in answer to the king's challenge, silently they wrote their words of doom amid the noise of revelry and of song, and yet, for an unseen power directed his eyes, the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. And what was the effect of the apparition? Surely fortified by wine, and strong in confidence in the omnipotence of his gods, the king will not be afraid? But even he — wicked as he was — had a conscience, and he knew of the power that had driven even Nebuchadnezzar from his throne, and made him, for a season, like the beasts of the earth; and conscience now, in spite of the king's surroundings, asserted its office, and "the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another (v. 6). What a change! In the midst of his banquet he had dared to insult the God of heaven, and now, at the sight of this mysterious hand, fear and dread possessed his soul, and he trembled from head to foot. He had girded himself to challenge the omnipotent God; and the moment the challenge was accepted, before the blow had been struck, his heart failed him under the awful apprehension of coming judgment. Who can help him at such a moment? Instead of humbling himself before the One against whom he had so grievously sinned, he called to his succour the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers, and by the proffer of munificent rewards hoped they might be able to solve the written words, and thus, as he vainly thought, give him relief. But the wisdom of this world could not unravel God's secrets nor interpret His writing; and these men of pretended knowledge were as impotent as they had been proved to be in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. "The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God."
Belshazzar was still more troubled, panic-stricken as he had been, and even his courtiers were astonished. But God meant that the king should have the writing explained, only it must be done by His own chosen vessel. The instrument was at hand to bring Daniel to Belshazzar's notice. "The queen* by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house" (v. 10). She had not taken part in the wild orgies of this eventful night; but the rumour of the apparition that had startled the king and his guests had gone out through the palace and reached her ears. She was fully acquainted with what had taken place in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, as also with the service Daniel had rendered, and with the place to which he had been consequently appointed, and she hastened therefore to the king's help. "O king," she said, "live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed: there is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods"; and then, after describing what he had proved himself to be in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, she added, "Let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation" (vv. 10-12).
*This could scarcely have been Belshazzar's wife (see v. 3); most probably therefore it was the queen-mother, or, as expressed in modern language, the queen-dowager.
Daniel was at once "brought in before the king. And the king spake and said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?" He had known, as before remarked, of the services of Daniel, but he had not cared to know him personally. The impious king had no desire for acquaintance with the servant of God; and had only now sent for him in his extremity for help in the hour of his need. He then told Daniel, what he had heard of him, and continued: "Now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom" (vv. 14-16).
Daniel was standing before the sovereign of all the kingdoms of the earth, before an absolute monarch, and before one who held the power of life and death over all his subjects (see v. 19); but Daniel was the servant of the God, who was the source of Belshazzar's brief power; and he, therefore, conscious of his mission, neither feared the king nor was tempted by his offered rewards. In the calm confidence which, through grace, he possessed in Him whose servant he was, he "answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation" (v. 17). It was a noble preface, befitting the messenger of God to the wicked king; and the reader will not fail to remark the different spirit in which Daniel addressed Belshazzar from that in which he spoke to Nebuchadnezzar. The latter was idolatrous, imperious, and had sought to compel his subjects to worship the idol which he had made; but he had not gone the length of Belshazzar in his profanity. Daniel therefore made a distinction, taught as he undoubtedly was by the Spirit of God, and knowing that the cup of Belshazzar's iniquity was now filled up to the brim. But he will deliver his message, though, first of all, Belshazzar must be made to hear how God had dealt with Nebuchadnezzar in the past, and how that, absolute monarch as he was, and universal as was his dominion, "when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him." Daniel recounted, moreover, the nature of the judgment that was inflicted upon him, and reminded Belshazzar that all this was "till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that He appointeth over it whomsoever He will." Thereon he proceeded to deal with the trembling monarch before him — in severe, but faithful words: "And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified" (vv. 22, 23).
If God was about to smite, He will have the grounds of His action explained. It is indeed a striking feature in His ways, especially as recorded in the Old Testament, that before He acts in judgment, He is careful to state the reasons of it, that He may be clear when He speaks, and justified when He judges (see, for example, 2 Chr. 36: 11-21). So here Daniel presented the indictment against the king, showed him that he had slighted all the warnings of the past, had sinned against light and knowledge, and that he had finally lifted up himself against the Lord of heaven, and had polluted the holy vessels of His house. This shows plainly the meaning of the king's action in commanding these vessels to be brought; that it was no mere wild freak, while under the heat of wine, but a deliberate and studied insult against God. Hence it was that Daniel would have the king to understand, that "the part of the hand" was sent from God to write on the wall in connection with this very act (v. 24). In such a solemn moment there must be no mistake, and thus he arraigned the king before the tribunal of God before he expounded the writing.*
*As the writing was in the Chaldaic language, it was not that the king's wise men did not understand the words. It was the connection, application, and interpretation that they could not unfold. So many separate words would appear to them, being without the clue, as disjointed and meaningless.
The words were four: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN, and we have next Daniel's authoritative interpretation.
Before entering upon it, attention may be drawn to the fact that Daniel does not merely translate the words which had been written, but he gives out the mind of God intended to be conveyed. This could not have been done unless he himself had received a direct communication from God. The words themselves, if rendered according to their meaning, are "numbered," "weighed," and "divided"; but no human ingenuity could have discovered their divine significance, and it is this which Daniel explains. The first word was repeated. The reason for this may be doubtless found in Joseph's words to Pharaoh: "And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass" (Genesis 41: 32).
"This," says Daniel, "is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it" (v. 26). In expounding Nebuchadnezzar's vision of the great image, Daniel had said to him, "Thou art this head of gold," and, inasmuch as Babylon was to be succeeded by the Medo-Persian kingdom, it is evident, as previously remarked, that Nebuchadnezzar's dynasty was included in this term, Belshazzar being its last member. God Himself had committed the sovereignty of the earth to Nebuchadnezzar in responsibility, and He alone determined the duration of his kingdom. When therefore Daniel said to Belshazzar. "God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it," he meant that, according to the divine appointment, the termination of Babylon's sovereignty had arrived; that its days were numbered, and were now ended.
The ground of this annunciation is found in the next verse: "TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting" (v. 27). If God had committed the government of the earth to Nebuchadnezzar and his successors, for the accomplishment of His purposes in His ways with His people, He held them responsible for the way in which they fulfilled their trust. The verdict is now pronounced upon Belshazzar. Nebuchadnezzar had also failed, if not to the same extent; but, under chastisement from God, he had humbled himself, owned Him as the source of his authority, as the omnipotent Ruler in heaven and on earth, and had extolled and honoured Him as the King of heaven. Belshazzar, blind to all the teachings of the past, had more grievously sinned by magnifying his idols above the God in whose hand his breath was, and had thus lifted up himself against the Lord of heaven. His probation was now ended, and Daniel declared to him the result that, as shown by the mysterious word "Tekel," weighed in God's unerring balances, he was found wanting.
Judgment is contained in the next word, PERES,* the public judgment consequent upon Belshazzar's failure in the use of the power entrusted to him in the government of the earth: "Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians." The long suffering of God towards the "head of gold" was ended; and hence there is no exhortation to repentance, nothing but the announcement of the result of God's verdict, together with the accompanying judgment. Altogether "this narrative," as has been well said, "gives us the last character of the iniquity of the sovereign power of the Gentiles, in opposition to the God of Israel, and the judgment which falls in consequence upon the monarchy of which Babylon was the head, and to which Babylon had given its own character."
*Peres is another form of the word Upharsin. The former is the participle passive, and the latter the participle active of the verb P'ras, to divide.
Nothing is said as to the effect of this awful interpretation. With the judgment pronounced God had, save the execution of the sentence, done with the man who had arrogantly defied His power. One thing, however, is added, and that is Belshazzar's last act of royalty. He could not, whatever the attitude of Daniel, allow his public promise of reward to the interpreter to fall to the ground. Men who are false to God are often true to one another in their very selfishness. Belshazzar therefore commanded, "and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom" (v. 29). If he believed the interpretation, it is evident that he had no conception of the rapidly approaching execution of the sentence he had heard; but "in that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about three score and two years old" (vv. 30, 31).
God thus judged the first of the kingdoms of the Gentiles, and this was the monarchy of Babylon. The event was of the highest importance historically, and of no less moment prophetically; for the moral features which marked Belshazzar's sovereignty will appear in the future Babylon spoken of in Revelation.
There it is seen under two aspects — that of a woman, and that of a city.* The moral character of the former is given in these words: Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth; and we read of the ruler whose throne was derived from Satan, that "he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, and His tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven" (see Rev. 17: 5; Rev. 13: 6). Moreover, as to the judgment of Babylon it is said, "Her plagues shall come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine"; and so it will happen, for those who bewail her destruction are represented as saying, "Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come" (Rev. 18: 10). This will suffice to show the exactness of the correspondence, and the prophetic nature of these historical narratives. (Compare also Jer. 50: 35-46; Jer. 51: 24-64.)
*For an explanation of these two aspects see The Visions of John in Patmos.
A few words should perhaps be said upon the question of the historical event alluded to when Belshazzar was thus surprised and slain in his capital. Isaiah is thought to refer to the capture of Babylon by Cyrus in Isaiah 45: 1, 2; and in Isaiah 47 he speaks expressly of her sudden destruction (vv. 11-15; see also Isaiah 21: 1-9). Jeremiah also prophesies with more detail of the surprise and taking of Babylon, and that in connection with the Medes (Jer. 51: 28-32); and this of the two prophecies would rather point to the event recorded in our chapter. There are those who, in the hopeless confusion of the pretended histories of the past,* seek to establish the identity of Darius with Cyrus; but the Scripture narrative is clear that Darius took the kingdom, and that Cyrus is subsequently found in its possession. And let it not be forgotten that the importance of the narrative lies in its moral and prophetic instruction; and happy are they who, with unquestioning confidence in the word of God, have their hearts prepared and opened to receive its teaching.
*In proof of this it may be said, that in Smith's Bible Dictionary the articles on Babylon, Cyrus, and Darius are made up mainly of conjecture and of attempts to reconcile the contradictory statements of the ancient records.
IN this series of historical pictures there are presented, it will be remembered, the moral features which will distinguish, in the last days, the last form of Gentile sovereignty. If Belshazzar, therefore, typified the impiety that dared to lift itself up against the Lord of heaven, Darius sets forth the exaltation of man, and indeed, the substitution of man for God, as an object of worship. This is by no means altered by the fact that he was betrayed into taking this position, or that he himself was a man of an amiable character; for it is still true that he signed the decree, that whosoever should ask a petition of any god or man for thirty days, save of himself, should be cast into the den of lions (v. 7). It is not what he was in himself, but what he did, that contains the prophetic instruction; and it is quite possible that he, who in a future day will oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, and who will sit in the temple of God, and show himself that he is God (2 Thess. 2: 4), will possess many features which will extort the admiration and homage of men. When the Lord was upon the earth there was no beauty in Him that men should desire Him; there was nothing in Him to commend Him to the natural man; but, on the other hand, when Antichrist appears on the scene he will be marked by the features which will attract the hearts of men as men. Of the world, the world will love its own; whereas Christ, who was not of the world, was hated by it. It is just because Darius was naturally a man of an admirable character that he was fitted to shadow out in this respect this future ruler in his self exaltation and deification.
The first three verses of this chapter furnish the groundwork of what follows, the occasion of the actings that issued in the casting of Daniel into the lions' den. On taking possession of the throne of Babylon, Darius reorganized the affairs of the kingdom; and he "set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes . . . and over these, three presidents, of whom Daniel was first. . . . Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm" (vv. 1-3). Belshazzar had, on the eve of the capture of his city, proclaimed Daniel as the third ruler in the kingdom; Darius promoted him to the first place under himself, being God's instrument in doing so for the accomplishment of His purposes. Daniel was no unknown man; and he was hated both as a Jew and as a true worshipper of the God of heaven. His exaltation in the government still further provoked the envy and jealousy of the nobles, the princes, and the presidents over whom he had been placed. A man of incorruptible fidelity, and seeking only to commend himself to God, could not be loved by men of corrupt and covetous hearts. They therefore determined in some way or other to compass his deposition or destruction; and first of all they sought to find occasion against him concerning the kingdom — concerning his administration of the government. There are none so eagle-eyed as malicious men; so that nothing — whether in matters of finance or other branches of the affairs of this vast empire — would escape their notice; "but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him" (v. 4). What a testimony to the probity and uprightness of this servant of God; and it is all the greater because, as we read in the next verse, it was a testimony borne by his enemies, They knew not that Daniel laboured under the eye of Him who beholds the secrets of the heart, and that it was the joy of his life to walk in the favour and blessing of his God.
Foiled in this direction, with the inventiveness which ever characterizes the evil heart, they chose another ground of attack. They said — "these men" (a term seemingly chosen to express their iniquity) said, "We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God" (v. 5). Idolaters as they all were, and having a sovereign who was also an idolater, it was easy, they thought, to entangle Daniel in their net on such a ground. But Darius could scarcely have been ignorant of what had transpired between Daniel and Belshazzar, or of the fact that he was a godly Jew; and this will account for the method adopted by these princes and presidents. They did not proceed to charge Daniel with worshipping his God; in greater subtlety they determined, first, to flatter the king by offering to him the place of absolute supremacy — supremacy over heaven as well as earth — and then to bring Daniel into conflict with, as well as disobedience to, the king.
As inspired of Satan, their project was cleverly devised, and they sought immediately to put it into execution. Accordingly they "assembled together to the king, and said thus unto him, King Darius, live for ever"; and they then informed his majesty that, after due consultation, they had agreed "to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any god or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions" (v. 7). The only thing wanting to ensure the validity of the decree was the king's signature, and then it could not be changed, "according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not" (v. 8). The king, flattered probably by the homage and subjection of his nobles in his new dominions, fell at once into the snare they had woven about his feet, and not pausing to consider the awful place which he was accepting, a place belonging to God alone, "signed the writing and the decree" (v. 9). Nebuchadnezzar had made an image, and had commanded his nobles to be present at its dedication, and to unite in rendering it homage; but Darius himself now took the place of God, and forbade any of his subjects for the space of a whole month, whether in private or in public, to fall down before any "god" but himself. It was the deification of man, which will, as we have pointed out, have its counterpart in the last days, and towards which men are even now proceeding with such rapid steps. The displacement of God by man is seen even in Christendom; what wonder then if, after the church is gone, when the energy of Satan will be unlimited and unhindered, man publicly and avowedly assumes the place of God, even with approbation. Such a consummation is only gradually reached. The steps toward it are silently and unwittingly trodden; for the minds of men are so prepared through teachings which in their fruit must bring in this conclusion, that they will scarcely be astonished when a man who has won their homage by his earthly wisdom and power, declares that he is God.
But what of Daniel in the presence of such a decree? Will he yield obedience to it? or will he, like his three companions of the captivity, disregard the king's commandment? Who could doubt what his course would, be — seeing how faithfully he had spoken both to Nebuchadnezzar and to Belshazzar? The fact, moreover, that, within the circle of his responsibility and allegiance to his monarch, he had served so well that even his enemies could not find matter of accusation, affords a guarantee that he, a servant of the God of heaven, will be no less conscientious in that other sphere where God is supreme. Darius — however he had been entrapped — had stepped outside of the circle of his authority, and had, in signing this decree, intruded into God's circle, where man has neither right nor place. if Daniel, therefore, would maintain a good conscience towards God, he had no alternative but to refuse subjection to the decree that had been issued. When therefore he "knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime" (v. 10).
What a spectacle! A man of another race, an object of the envy of the Chaldeans, and enjoying his exaltation simply by the king's favour, dares, at all cost, the power of the whole realm, because he would not be unfaithful to his God! And observe that there was no ostentation in the course he pursued. He continued in his usual course; it was "as he did aforetime." He might have closed his windows and escaped observation, but to have done this, under the circumstances, would have been all one as if he were respecting the king's decree. His windows had ever been open towards Jerusalem, and they must still be kept so. Daniel, thus morning, noon, and evening, — Cried to the Lord "as he did aforetime," regardless, by the grace of God, of the consequences of his act.
There was a reason for his windows being opened towards Jerusalem. At the dedication of the temple Solomon had prayed thus concerning the people, should they be carried away into captivity in the enemy's. land, far or near: "If they shall bethink themselves in the land whither they were carried captives . . . and pray unto Thee toward their land which Thou gayest unto their fathers, the city which Thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for Thy name: then hear Thou their prayer and their supplication in heaven Thy dwelling-place, and maintain their cause" (1 Kings 8: 46-49). Daniel was consequently resting on the sure word of God in thus praying, for the Lord had said to Solomon, "I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, that thou hast made before me" (1 Kings 9: 3).
Daniel was no "secret disciple"; his habits of prayer were known, and accordingly his enemies understood how to discover whether he was, or was not, obedient to the decree. "These men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God" (v. 11). The term "these men," as in verse 5, is again employed (see also vv. 15, 24), doubtless to express the divine estimate of their wicked conduct. But they had gained their point; their wicked device had so far prospered; and, exulting over their success, "they came near, and spake before the king concerning the king's decree" (v. 12). Had not his majesty, they enquired, signed the decree? The king replied, "The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not." Alas! the king was in the hands of these unscrupulous men. He had accepted their flattery, and now he had become their. helpless slave. He himself had unsuspectedly riveted his own chains. Having thus secured the monarch in their toils, they proceeded to unveil the purpose of their malicious hearts; and the very words they used did but betray the depth of their iniquity. They said before the king, "That Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed, but maketh his petition three times a day" (v. 13).
Their personal enmity to Daniel and to his race, together with their envy because of his position, are plainly revealed, as well as the fact that they had but used the king, in their professed desire for his absolute supremacy, as their tool for the accomplishment of Daniel's destruction. The king was in this way brought face to face with the fruit of his own doings, and could no longer conceal from himself the real object of the writing he had signed. How often it is that we are blinded to the nature of our actions until we encounter their irrevocable consequences! So was it with Darius and when he heard the accusation against Daniel, he was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him: and he laboured till the going down of the sun to deliver him" (v. 14). His efforts were a testimony to his appreciation of Daniel, and also to the kindness of his own heart; but he was no longer his own master. He himself had declared the immutable character of the laws of the Medes and Persians; and Daniel's enemies were not slow to take advantage of this admission; for they again "assembled unto the king, and said unto the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed" (v. 15). They asserted their power; and their language, "Know, O king," betrayed their purpose to maintain it at all costs; so that Darius did not dare to trifle any longer with the most influential nobles of his realm, for they, through his own folly, had the law on their side. He therefore "commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions" (v. 16).
The deed was consummated, and "these men triumphed over both Daniel and Darius. But there was Another on Daniel's side on whom his enemies had not counted; and, as will be seen in the following narrative, their short-lived victory was but the prelude to their own defeat and destruction. If God is for His people none can be successfully against them, whatever the appearances for the moment. Even Darius had, in some way or other, the conviction that Daniel would not be allowed to perish. "Thy God," he said, "whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee" (v. 16). And yet he was still in the power of his servants, and was compelled to carry out his decree to its bitter end; for after the stone had been "brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; . . . the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel" (v. 17).
Before passing on, a remark may be permitted upon the similarity between the action of Darius and his lords and that of the chief priests and Pharisees, as recorded in Matthew's gospel. These had been allowed of God to compass the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, and after His death He was buried in the sepulchre. Not content with the attainment of their object, they obtained leave of Pilate to make "the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch." In both cases man thought to secure his end by making intervention and rescue impossible. But God was not in all his thoughts; and what can man do when he ventures to fight against God?
That the heart of Darius was not in what was done has been plainly seen; and now that the deed had been accomplished, notwithstanding his expressed assurance that God would deliver Daniel, he was filled with remorse. He passed the succeeding night fasting, dispensed with his usual music, his sleep went from him, and, rising early in the morning, he went in haste unto the den of lions. All his thoughts were for the time centred on Daniel. "And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice . . . O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?" God had not forgotten His servant; and though Daniel had been exposed to the full display of Satan's power,* he was not, and could not be, injured, for he was under the omnipotent protection of the living God. He was therefore able to reply to the king's question, after the customary loyal address, "My God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before Him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt" (v. 22).
*It was, of course, an actual den of lions into which Daniel had been thrown; but we see no reason for departing from the usual typical significance of the lion in Scripture.
It was thus still true that the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them. It should be noticed, however, Daniel claimed that "innocency" was found in him before God. The lesson is, that we could not be consciously under God's protection, nor could we claim, or rather expect, His succour, if we had not a good conscience in His sight. Before the king Daniel was as clear as before God; like the apostle, he had a conscience void of offence both towards God and towards men; and God, later on, stepped in and, vindicating His servant, delivered him, like Paul (2 Tim. 4: 17), from the mouth of the lion.
The decree having been executed, for the penalty of its infraction *as that the offender should be cast into the lions' den, not that he should be killed by the lions, the king was freed from the meshes of his lords. The law had been vindicated, and Daniel had suffered its punishment. Darius could therefore, no one forbidding on the ground of the unchangeable laws of the Medes and Persians, exercise his prerogative, and command that Daniel should be taken up out of the den; and being taken up, "no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God" (v. 23). The whole secret of his protection and deliverance is here revealed. Faith, divinely produced in his soul, brought in God, who shielded His servant from the malice of his enemies by subduing and restraining the natural and ravenous instincts of the lions. The apostle, with Daniel in mind, speaking of the prophets, says, "Who through faith . . . stopped the mouths of lions" (Hebrews 11: 33). It was one of the victories of faith that should encourage the people of God to trust in, and to count upon, Him at all times, remembering that while all things are possible with God, all things are also possible to him that believeth; and it is of this wondrous truth that Daniel is here the exemplification.
The king's work was not completed with the deliverance of Daniel. Made fully aware, by what had taken place, of the enormity of the iniquity of his presidents and princes, he, in righteous indignation, "commanded, and they brought those men which had, accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den" (v. 24). "These men" thus fell into the pit which their own hands had digged, and in the snare which they had laid for Daniel were their own feet taken. In this way God testified to His servant, and executed judgment upon His enemies.
A profound impression was made upon Darius by the events he had witnessed; and he sent a proclamation throughout the whole of his realm, to the different nations "that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for He is the living God, and steadfast for ever, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall be even unto the end" (vv. 25, 26). How far he entered into the truth of the words he caused to, be written is not revealed. However this might have been, it was no mean testimony he rendered to God and to His sovereignty. He went much farther than Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 3. This monarch contented himself with forbidding his subjects, under extreme penalties, to speak anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Darius commanded that in all his dominions men should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, because He was the living God, and His kingdom was everlasting. In such a marvellous way did God make the wrath of man to praise Him, and the attempt to quench for ever the light of His testimony in Babylon was made the means of kindling it throughout the whole earth.
At the commencement of this chapter we saw that Darius, in accepting the place which his counsellors offered him, was a type of the future head of the last form of Gentile sovereignty who will accept divine honours, and have his deification enforced upon his subjects (Rev. 13: 8-12). The deliverance of Daniel is also typical. He prefigures the remnant, God's faithful remnant, who will be found in Jerusalem and in the land during the days of Antichrist's fearful sway. Through the machinations of their enemies they will be cast, as it were, into the lions' den, surrounded on all sides by the various displays of Satan's power, and their destruction will appear to human eyes to be imminent and certain. But God will Himself protect them, and interposing for their release by the appearing of Christ, will bring upon their enemies the very judgment which they had designed for His people. This situation of the remnant, previous to the appearing of Christ in glory, is often depicted both in the prophets and in the Psalms. A citation from the latter will, make this clear: "My soul," says the Psalmist, speaking as the mouthpiece of the Spirit of Christ in this remnant, "My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword." Then turning upward, he cries, "Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens let Thy glory be above all the earth,". knowing that when the glory of God is thus displayed at the appearing of Christ, the time of the remnant's deliverance will have arrived. As indeed he says in a previous verse, "He shall send from heaven, and save me from the reproach of him that would swallow me up. God shall send forth His mercy and His truth." Yet again, in correspondence with the prophetic character of Daniel's deliverance, he says, "They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down: they have digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves" (Psalm 57). This psalm was written at least five hundred years before the time of Daniel; and yet its resemblance to his experience is so striking as to arrest the attention of any devout reader of the Scriptures. The explanation is, that the circumstances of David, which furnished the occasion for the psalm, as well as those of Daniel, were both alike prophetic of those of the remnant in the last days.
And it may be remarked again for the help of the younger students of Scripture, that very few of the narratives of the Bible are simply historical. As histories they are full of interest, and afford moral lessons of great value; but they are also often typical and prophetic. For example, David is a historical personage, and much instruction can be gleaned from his life and conduct, instruction which yields both encouragement and warning. But we have also, in all his rejection and persecution before ascending the throne, to view him as a type of Christ when He came to His own and His own received Him not. So afterwards in the kingdom he presents to us Christ as the King of righteousness, while Solomon, his son, shadows forth the Messiah as King of peace. David, moreover, as we know on the authority of the apostle Peter (Acts 2: 30), was a prophet, and hence it is, as in the Psalm above referred. to, that many of his writings are descriptive of the future, whether of the position and state of the remnant or of the blessings and glory of Messiah's reign and kingdom. It greatly enhances our interest in the Scriptures to remember this, and it enables us at the same time to understand their profound character and God's purpose in the special events recorded.
It only remains to point out that Darius's confession of Daniel's God as the living God is also typical, inasmuch as it prefigures the conversion of the Gentiles, consequent upon the interposition of Jehovah for the rescue of His people, and for judgment upon their enemies. In Psalm 18 we thus read, after a description of Messiah's victory over His foes, "Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people; and thou hast made me the head of the heathen [nations]: a people whom I have not known shall serve me. As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me."* And again, "He delivereth me from mine enemies: yea, Thou liftest me up above those that rise up against me: Thou hast delivered me from the violent man. Therefore will I give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, among the heathen [the nations', and sing praises unto Thy name" (vv. 43, 44, 48, 49). We learn, therefore, as from all the prophetic writings, that the Lord will deliver His people through unsparing judgments, and that, after He has visited His wrath upon their oppressors, He will establish His throne, and that then all kings will fall down before Him, and all nations will serve Him.
*The marginal rendering is more accurate "shall yield to me feigned obedience." Afraid before the display of Messiah's power, and apprehensive of the consequences of rebellion, they will, while still hating Him in their hearts, proffer their allegiance.