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Some join these verses to the end of the third chapter, but there is no reason for this; and it will clearly appear from the context that the edict is here set forth in the king’s name, and other events are inserted. Daniel, therefore, here, speaks in the person of the king; he afterwards narrates what happened to the king, and then returns to his own person. Those who separate these three verses from the context of the fourth chapter, do not seem to have sufficiently considered the intention and words of the Prophet. This passage may seem harsh and rough, when Daniel introduces the king of Babylon as speaking — then speaks in his own name — and afterwards returns to the person of the; king. But since this variety does not render the sense either doubtful or obscure, there is no reason why it should trouble us. We now see how all the sentences which we shall explain in their places are mutually united.
The contents of this chapter are as follow: Nebuchadnezzar was sufficiently instructed in the worship of the God of Israel as one God, and was compelled at the time to confess this; yet he did not depart from his own superstitions; his conceptions of the true God were but momentary, and hence he suffered the punishment due to such great ingratitude. But God intended him to become more and more blinded, as he is accustomed to treat the reprobate and even his elect at times. When men add sin to sin, God loosens his reins and allows them to destroy themselves. Afterwards he either extends his hand towards them, or withdraws them by his hidden virtue, or reduces them to order by his rod, and completely humbles them. He treated the king of Babylon in this way. We shall afterwards discuss the dream; but we must here briefly notice the king’s admonition, that he might feel himself without excuse when he was so utterly broken down. God indeed might justly punish him as soon as he saw he was not truly converted; but before he inflicted the final chastisement — as we shall see in its place — he wished to admonish him, if there were any hope of his repentance. Although he seemed to receive with the greatest modesty what God had manifested by his dream through Daniel’s interpretation of it, yet he professed with his mouth what he did not really possess. And he shews this sufficiently, because, when he ought to be afraid and cautious, he does not lay aside his pride, but glories in himself as a king of kings, and in Babylon as the queen of the whole world! Since, then, he spoke so confidently after being admonished by the Prophet, we perceive how little he had profited by his dream. But God wished in this way to render him more inexcusable, and although he did not bring forth fruit immediately, yet a long time afterwards, when God touched his mind, he very properly recognized this punishment to have been divinely inflicted. Hence this dream was a kind of entrance and preparation for repentance, and as seed seems to lie putrid in the earth before it brings forth its fruit, and God sometimes works by gentle processes, and provides for the teaching, which seemed for a long time useless, becoming both efficacious and fruitful.
I now come to the words themselves; the preface to the edict is, Nebuchadnezzar the king to all peoples, nations, and languages, which dwell in the whole earth, namely, under his sway. He does not mean this to be extended to Scythia, or Gaul, or other distant regions; but since his empire extended far and wide, he spoke boastingly. Thus we see the Romans, whose sway did not reach near so far, called Rome itself the seat of the empire of the whole world! Here Nebuchadnezzar now predicts. the magnificence and mightiness of his own monarchy. Hence he sends his edict to all peoples, and nations, and languages, which dwell on the earth He afterwards adds, it seemed to me good to relate the signs and wonders which the mighty God hath wrought with me No doubt he feels himself to have paid the penalty of his ingratitude, since he had so punctiliously ascribed the glory to one true God, and yet had relapsed into his own superstitions, and had never really said farewell to them. We see how often King Nebuchadnezzar was chastised before he profited by the rod of the Almighty. Hence we need not be surprised if God often strikes us with his hand, since the result of experience proves us to be dull, and, to speak truly, utterly slothful. When God, therefore, wishes to lead us to repentance, he is compelled to repeat his blows continually, either because we are not moved when he chastises us with his hand, or we seem roused for the time, and then we return again to our former torpor. He is therefore compelled to redouble his blows. And we perceive this in the narrative before us, as in a glass. But the singular benefit of God was this, Nebuchadnezzar, after God had often chastised him, yielded at length. It is unknown whether or not this confession proceeded front true and genuine repentance: I must leave it in doubt. Yet without the slightest doubt Daniel recited this edict, to shew the king so subdued at length, as to confess the God of Israel to be the only God, and to bear witness to this among all people under his sway.
Meanwhile we must remark, how this edict of the king of Babylon receives the testimony of the Spirit; for Daniel has no other object or purpose in relating the edict, than to shew the fruit of conversion in King Nebuchadnezzar. Hence, without doubt, King Nebuchadnezzar bore witness to his repentance when he celebrated the God of Israel among all people, and when he proclaimed a punishment to all who spoke reproachfully against God. Hence this passage is often cited by Augustine against the Donatists. (204) For they wished to grant an act of impunity to themselves, when they disturbed the Church with rashness and corrupted pure doctrine, and even permitted themselves to attack it like robbers. For some were then discovered to have been slain by them, and others mutilated in their limbs. Since, then, they allowed themselves to act so licentiously and still desired to commit crimes with impunity, yet they held this principle as of first importance. No punishment ought to be inflicted on those who differ from others in religious doctrine; as we see in these days, how some contend far too eagerly about this subject. What they desire is clear enough. If any one carefully observes them, he will find them impious despisers of God; they wish to render everything uncertain in religion, and as far as they can they strive to tear away all the principles of piety. With the view then of vomiting forth their poison, they strive eagerly for freedom from punishment, and deny the right of inflicting punishment on heretics and blasphemers.
Such is that dog Castalio (205) and his companions, and all like him, such also were the Donatists; and hence, as I have mentioned, Augustine cites this testimony in many places, and shews how ashamed Christian princes ought to be of their slothfulness, if they are indulgent to heretics and blasphemers, and do not vindicate God’s glory by lawful punishments, since King Nebuchadnezzar who was never truly converted: yet promulgated this decree by a kind of secret instinct. At all events, it ought to be sufficient for men of moderate and quiet tastes to know how King Nebuchadnezzar’s edict was praised by the approval of the Holy Spirit. If this be so, it follows that kings are bound to defend the worship of God, and to execute vengeance upon those who profanely despise it, and on those who endeavor to reduce it to nothing, or to adulterate the true doctrine by their errors, and so dissipate the unity of the faith and disturb the Church’s peace. This is clear enough from the Prophet’s context; for Nebuchadnezzar says at first, it pleases me to relate the signs and wonders which God has prepared for me He had already explained how wonderfully God had treated him; but this had passed away. Now God seizes him a second and even a third time, and then he confesses it to be his boast to explain the wonderful signs of God. He afterwards breaks forth into the exclamation, How mighty are his signs! How remarkable his miracles! His kingdom, is a kingdom of an age, and his dominion is from age to age Without doubt Nebuchadnezzar wished to excite his subjects to the attentive perusal of this edict, and to the acknowledgment of its value, and thus to subject themselves to the true and only God. He calls him The High God, meaning, doubtless, the God of Israel; meanwhile, we do not know whether he cast away his superstitions. I however incline to the opposite conjecture, since he did not put off his errors, but was compelled to give glory to the Most High God. He so acknowledged the God of Israel as to join inferior deities with him as allies and companions, just as all unbelievers, while admitting one supreme deity, imagine a multitude of others. So also Nebuchadnezzar confessed Israel’s God to be Most High; yet, he did not correct the idolatry which still flourished under his sway; nay, he mingled and confused the false gods with the God of Israel. Thus he did not leave behind his own corruption’s. He celebrates indeed with magnificence the glory of the supreme God, but this is not sufficient without; abolishing all superstitions, and promoting that religion alone which is prescribed by the word of God, and causing his pure and perfect worship to flourish.
(204) Ephesians 166:0. ad Donat. et alibi
(205) Sebastian Castalio is here referred to. He was an opponent of Calvin, and banished from Geneva by his influence. Being a man of extensive learning he was appointed Greek professor at Basil. See Mosheim, cent. 16. section. 3, pt. 2, and the authorities there quoted.
In fine, this preface might seem a proof of an important conversion; but we shall directly see how far Nebuchadnezzar was from being entirely purged of his errors. It ought, indeed, to affect us exceedingly to behold the king wrapt up in so many errors, and yet seized with admiration of the Divine virtue, since he cannot express his thoughts, but exclaims, — His signs how mighty! his wonders how powerful! He added, His kingdom is a perpetual kingdom, and his dominion is from age to age Here he confesses God’s power not to be dependent upon man’s will, since he had just before said, the statue which he had erected was to be worshipped, because he had chosen so to decree it. Now, however, he remits much of this pride by confessing God’s kingdom to be a perpetual one. The narrative now follows. Thus far we have merely a preface, because the edict was diffused among his subjects to render them attentive to the most important subjects.
Nebuchadnezzar here explains how he acknowledged the Supreme God. He does not relate the proofs which he had previously received; but since his pride was subdued in this last dream, he makes a passing allusion to it. Meanwhile, as he doubtless recalled his former dreams to mind, and condemned himself for his ingratitude, in burying in oblivion this great power of God, and in wiping away the remembrance of those benefits by which God had adorned him. Here, however, he speaks only of his last dream, which we shall see in its own place. But before he comes as far as the dream, he says, he was at rest. שלה , seleh, signifies “ rest ” and “ happiness; ” and since prosperity renders men secure, it is metaphorically used for “ security. ” David, when he pronounces the same sentence upon himself, uses the same words: (Psalms 30:6,) “I said in my prosperity,” or rest; שלוה, selueh, which some translate “abundance;” but it rather signifies a quiet or prosperous state. Nebuchadnezzar, therefore, here marks the circumstance of time; hence we may know him to have been divinely seized, because prosperous fortune had rendered him stupid and drunken. There is nothing surprising in this, for the old and common proverb is, “fullness is the parent of ferocity,” as we see horses when too much fed, prance about and throw their riders. Thus also it happens with men. For if God treats them rather indulgently and liberally, they become fierce and insolent towards all men, and strike off God’s yoke, and forget themselves to be but men. And when this happened to David, what shall happen to the profane and to others who are still too much devoted to the world? For David confesses himself to have been so deceived by his quiet and felicity, as to determine within himself that he had nothing else to fear, — “I said in my happiness,” or my quiet, “I shall not be removed;” and he afterwards adds,“
O Lord, thou didst chastise me, and I was laid low.” (Psalms 38:7.)
Since, therefore, David promised himself perpetual quiet in the world, because God spared him for a time, how ought our tranquillity to be suspected lest we should grow torpid on our lees? Nebuchadnezzar, then, does not recite this in vain — I was quiet at home, I flourished in my palace, since this was the cause of his confidence and pride, and of his carelessly despising God. He afterwards adds, he saw a dream and was disturbed He, doubtless, wished here to distinguish his dreams from common ones, which often arise from either a disturbance of the brain, or our daily thoughts, or other causes, as we have elsewhere seen. It is not necessary to repeat what we have already treated more copiously. It is sufficient to state, briefly, how this dream, in which God previously informed him of the future punishment at hand, is separated from others which are either troubled:, or fluctuating, or without reason. He, says, therefore, he saw a dream, and was disturbed, while he was awake. He adds, his thoughts were upon his bed; and then, he was disturbed by visions of the head These expressions only look towards that heavenly oracle, or vision, or dream, of which we shall afterwards speak more fully. It follows, he put forth a decree to summon all the wise men of Babylon to explain, or make manifest, the interpretation of the dream Doubtless the king often dreamt, and did not always call together the Magi and soothsayers, and astrologers, and others who were skilled in the science of divination, or at least professed to be so. He did not consult them on all his dreams; but because God had inscribed in his heart a distinct mark by which he had denoted this dream, hence the king could not rest till he heard its interpretation. As we previously saw the authority of the first dream about the Four Monarchies and the Eternal Kingdom of Christ confirmed, so the king perceived this one to have proceeded from heaves. There is another difference between this dream and the one formerly explained. For God blotted out the remembrance of the dream about the Four Monarchies from King Nebuchadnezzar, so that it became necessary for Daniel to bring his dream before the king, and at the same time to add the interpretation. Daniel was then more obscure, for although he proved himself to have excelled all the Chaldeans, yet King Nebuchadnezzar would have wondered at him less if he had only been an interpreter of a dream. God wished, therefore, to acquire greater reverence for his Prophet and his doctrine, when he enjoined upon him two duties; first, the divination of the dream itself, and then the explanation of its sense and purpose. In this second dream Daniel is only an interpreter. God had already sufficiently proved him to be endued with a heavenly spirit, when Nebuchadnezzar not only called him among the rest of the Magi, but separated him from them all. He afterwards says:
With respect to the words used above, we have formerly freed ourselves from all trouble, because we cannot accurately define what science each professed. Clearly enough they covered their shamelessness by honorable titles, although they gave themselves up to every possible imposture. They called themselves by the usual name of learned men, when they were really unacquainted with any art or science, and deluded mankind by miserable predictions; hence, by these words, Daniel comprehended all the Magi, soothsayers, astrologers, and augurs, who professed the art of divination. Here Nebuchadnezzar confesses that he sent; for these men in vain. Hence it follows, this whole science was a fallacy, or, at, least, Daniel’s exposition of the dream was not by human skill, but by revelation from heaven. I embrace this opinion, since Nebuchadnezzar wished clearly to express that Daniel’s power of interpreting his dream did not spring from man, but was a singular gift of the Spirit. He had considered it a settled point that, if any knowledge or skill in divination existed, it must belong to the Magi, soothsayers, augurs, and other Chaldeans who boasted in the possession of perfect wisdom. This, therefore, was with. out controversy—that the astrologers and the rest were most powerful in divination, and as far as human faculties would allow, nothing escaped them. Hence it follows, on the other hand, that Daniel was divinely instructed, since if he had been only an astrologer or magician, he must, like others, have required a long’ apprenticeship to this science. Nebuchadnezzar, therefore, wishes here to extol Daniel beyond all the Magi, as if he had said—He is a heavenly Prophet! And this, also, will appear better from what is added, as follows:
Here the king of Babylon addresses Daniel kindly, since he saw himself deserted by his own teachers. And hence we gather that no one comes to the true God, unless impelled by necessity. Daniel was not either unknown or far off; for we saw him to have been in the palace. Since then the king had Daniel with him from the first, why did he pass him over? Why did he call the other Magi from all quarters by his edict? Hence, as I have said, it clearly appears he would never have given glory to God, unless when compelled by extreme necessity. Hence he never willingly submitted to the God of Israel; and his affections were clearly but momentary, whenever they manifested any sign of piety. Because he besought Daniel so imploringly, we see his disposition to have been servile; just as all proud men swell out when they do not need any one’s help, and become overbearing in their insolence; but when they are reduced to extremity, they would rather lick the dust than not obtain the favor which they need. Such was the king’s disposition, since he willingly despised Daniel, and purposely preferred the Magi. But as soon as he saw himself left in difficulties, and unable to find any remedy except in Daniel, this was his last refuge; and he now seems to forget his own loftiness while speaking softly to God’s holy Prophet. But I shall proceed with the rest to-morrow.
9. O Belteshazzar, master of the Magi, since I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret can escape thee — or overcome thee, as I shall soon explain the word — relate the visions of my sleep which I saw, and their interpretation We yesterday shewed King Nebuchadnezzar to be a suppliant to Daniel, when reduced to extremity. He did not seek him at first, but consulted his Magicians, and he is now compelled to venerate the person whom he had despised. He calls him Belteshazzar, and doubtless the name severely wounded the Prophet’s mind; for another name had been imposed upon him by his parents from his earliest infancy; whence he could recognize himself as a Jew, and could draw his origin from a holy and elect nation. For his change of name was doubtless made by the tyrant’s cunning, as we have previously said, as to cause him to forget his own family. King Nebuchadnezzar wished, by changing his name, to render this holy servant of God degenerate. Hence, as often as he was called by this name, he was clearly offended in no slight degree. But this evil could not be remedied, since he was a captive, and knew he had to deal with a people victorious, proud, and cruel. Thus, in the last verse, Nebuchadnezzar had used this name according to the name of his god. Since then Daniel had a name of his own, which his parents had given him by God’s appointment, Nebuchadnezzar wished to blot out that sacred name, and so called him as a mark of respect Belteshazzar, which we may believe to have been deduced from the name of an idol. Hence this doubled the Prophet’s grief, when he was stained with that base spot in bearing an idol’s mark on his name; but it was his duty to endure this scourge of God among his other trials. Thus God exercised his servant in every way by enduring a cross.
He now calls him Prince of the Magi, and this doubtless wounded the holy Prophet’s feelings. He wished nothing better than separation from the Magi, who deceived the world by their impostures and soothsaying. For although they were skilled in the science of astrology, and knew some principles worthy of praise, yet we are sure they corrupted all the sciences. Hence Daniel did not willingly hear himself included among them; but he could not free himself from this infamy. Thus we see his patience to have been divinely proved in various ways. Now, Nebuchadnezzar adds, because I know the spirit of the holy gods to be in thee. Many understand this of angels; and this interpretation is not objectionable, as I have hinted elsewhere. For the existence of a supreme God was known to all the nations, but they fancied angels to be inferior deities. Whatever be the true meaning, Nebuchadnezzar here betrays his own ignorance, since he had made no real progress in the knowledge of the true God; because he was entangled in his former errors, and retained many gods, as from the beginning he had been imbued with that superstition. This passage might have been translated in the singular number, as some do, but it would be too forced, and the reason for such a translation is too weak; for they think Nebuchadnezzar to have been truly converted; but the vanity of this is proved by the whole context; and being occupied by this opinion, they wish to relieve him from all fault. But since it is clear that in this edict of Nebuchadnezzar many proofs of his old ignorance are comprehended, there is no reason why we should depart from the simple sense of the words. Hence he attributes a divine spirit to Daniel, but meanwhile imagines many gods. Since, therefore, the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, he says, and no secret overcomes thee Some translate אנס, anes, to be troublesome; it properly signifies to compel, or to force; for those who translate “there is no secret which can surpass thee,” depart from the correct sense. Others translate it, “to be troublesome.” This would be a more tolerable translation, but they would do better by translating, “no secret renders thee anxious or perplexed.” If the rules of grammar would allow the א aleph, to be a servile letter, the sense would be more suitable. For נסה, neseh, signifies to try, or prove, and also to elevate. We may translate it, “No secret is loftier than thy understanding;” or, “No secret proves thee;” if he had said, — Daniel was endued with a divine spirit; — he does not examine any proposition, and has no need to make an experiment in any science, since his answer is easy and at hand. But. it is necessary to remember what I said,—No secret renders thee anxious, or confounds thee. Nebuchadnezzar knew this. Then why did he not directly call him to himself in his perplexity? As Daniel could free him from all perplexity, the king’s ingratitude is proved, because he admitted the Magi to his counsels, and neglected Daniel. We see then how he always endeavored to avoid God, till he was drawn along by a violent hand, and thereby displayed the absence of conversion. For repentance is voluntary, and those only are said to repent, who willingly return by a change of mind to the God from whom they had revolted; and this cannot be done without faith and the love of God. He then asks him to relate his dream and its interpretation But the dream was not unknown, and he relates it to Daniel. There is, therefore, something superfluous in these words, but no doubt about the sense — as Nebuchadnezzar only asks for the explanation of his dream. It follows: —
Here Nebuchadnezzar relates his dream, of which the interpretation will follow in its place. Yet because this narrative is cold and useless unless we should say something of the subject itself, it is necessary to make some remarks — the rest shall be deferred. First of all, under the figure of a tree Nebuchadnezzar himself is intended, not because it fully represents the king’s office, but because God appointed the existence of governments in the world for this purpose—to be like trees on whose fruits all men feed, and under whose shadow they rest. Hence this ordinance of God flourishes, because tyrants, however they are removed from the exercise of just and moderate dominion, whether they wish it or not, are compelled to be like trees; since it is better to live under the most cruel tyrant than without any government at all. Let us suppose all to be on one equal level, what would such anarchy bring forth? No one would wish to yield to others; every one would try the extent of his powers, and thus all would end in prey and plunder, and in the mere license of fraud and murder, and all the passions of mankind would have full and unbridled sway. Hence I have said, tyranny is better than anarchy, and more easily borne, because where there is no supreme governor there is none to preside and keep the rest in check. Wherefore they philosophize too minutely who think this to be a description of a king endued with superior virtues; for there was no such superiority in justice and equity in King Nebuchadnezzar. God principally wished to shew, by this figure, with what intention and with what political order he desires the world to be governed; and why he sets over it kings and monarchies and other magistrates. Then he desired to shew, secondly, although tyrants and other princes forget their duty, it is still divinely enjoined upon them, and yet God’s grace always shines forth in all governments. Tyrants endeavor to extinguish the whole light of equity and justice, and to mingle all things; but the Lord meanwhile restrains them in a secret and wonderful manner, and thus they are compelled to act usefully to the human race, whether they will or not. This then is the meaning of the figure or image of the tree.
It is now added, the birds of heaven dwelt amidst the branches, and the beasts lived by its sustenance — which ought to be referred to mankind. For although even the beasts of the field profit by political order, yet we know society to have been ordained by God for the benefit of men. There is no doubt at all of the whole discourse being metaphorical, —nay, properly speaking, it is an allegory, since an allegory is only a continued metaphor. If Daniel had only represented the king under the figure of a tree, it would have been a metaphor; but when he pursues his own train of thought in a continuous tenor, his discourse becomes allegorical. He says, therefore, the beasts of the field dwelt under the tree, because we are sheltered by the protection of magistrates; and no heat of the sun so parches and burns up miserable men as living deprived of that shade under which God wished them to, repose. The birds of heaven also nestled in its boughs and leaves Some distinguish, with too much subtlety, between birds and beasts. It is sufficient for us to observe the Prophet noticing how men of every rank feel no small utility in the protection of princes; for if they were deprived of it, it were better for them to live like wild beasts than mutually to confide in each other. Such protection is needful, if we reflect upon the great pride natural to all, and the blindness of our self-love, and the furiousness of our lusts. As this is the case, God shews, in this dream, how all orders among us need the protection of magistrates; while pasture and food and shelter signify the various forms of usefulness which political order provides for us. For some might object—they have no need of government either for one reason or another; for if we discharge properly all the duties of life, we shall always. find God’s blessing sufficient for us.
It is now added, its height was great; then, it grew till it reached even to heaven, and its aspect extended itself to the furthest bounds of the land. This is restricted to the Babylonian monarchy, for there were then other empires in the world, but they were either powerless or but slightly important. The Chaldeans, also, were then so powerful that no prince could approach to such majesty and power. Since, therefore, King Nebuchadnezzar was so pre-eminent, the loftiness of the tree here described is not surprising, though it reached to heaven; while the altitude rendered it visible throughout the whole land. Some of the rabbis place Babylon in the middle of the earth, because it was under the same line or parallel with Jerusalem — which is very foolish. Those also who place Jerusalem in the center of the earth are equally childish; although Jerome, Origen, and other ancient authors, treat Jerusalem as in the center of the world. In this conjecture of theirs they deserve the laughter of the Cynic who, when asked to point out the middle of the earth:, touched the ground with his staff immediately under his feet! Then when the questioner objected to this determination of the center of the earth, he said,” Then do you measure the earth!” As far as concerns Jerusalem, their conjectures are not worth mentioning. That proud Barbinel [Abarbanel] wished to seem a philosopher, but nothing is more insipid than the Jews where they depart from their own rules of grammar; and the Lord so blinded them and delivered them up to a reprobate sense, when he wished them to be spectacles of horrible blindness and prodigious stupidity, — and in a small and minute matter that silly fellow shews his absurdity.
He now says, Its boughs were beautiful, and its fruit copious This must be referred to the common opinion of the vulgar; for we know men’s eyes to be dazzled by the splendor of princes. For if any one excels others in power, all men adore him and are seized with admiration, and are incapable of judging correctly. When the majesty of a general or a king comes before them, they are all astonished and perceive nothing, and they do not think it lawful for them to inquire strictly into the conduct of princes. Since, then, the power and wealth of King Nebuchadnezzar were so great, no wonder the Prophet says, His branches were beautiful, and their fruit copious But meanwhile we must remember what I lately said, namely, God’s blessing shines forth in princes, even if they materially neglect their duty, because God does not suffer all his grace in them to be extinguished; and hence they are compelled to bring forth some fruit. It is much better, therefore, to preserve the existence of some kind of dominion than to have all men’s condition equal, when each attracts the, eyes of his neighbors. And this is the meaning of what I have said — there was food and provision for all, as I have lately explained it.
The second part of the dream follows here. Hitherto Nebuchadnezzar has described the beauty and excellency of his state under the figure of a lofty tree which afforded shade to the beasts and on whose fruit they fed, and next as giving, nests to the birds of heaven under its boughs. The cutting down of the tree now follows. I saw, says he, in the visions of my head upon my couch, and, behold, a watcher and a holy one came down from heaven No doubt we ought to understand an angel by a watcher. He is called “ a holy one,” which is only another form of expression for an angel; and they are worthy of this name, because they are perpetually watchful in the performance of God’s commands. They are not subject to slumber, they are not nourished by either food or drink, but live a spiritual life; hence they have no use for sleep, which is the result of drink and food. Lastly, as angels have no bodies, their very spiritual nature makes them watchful. But this phrase not only expresses their nature but also their duty; because God has them at hand to fulfill his bidding, and destines them to the performance of his commands, hence they are called “watchers.” (Psalms 103:20.) In this Psalm angels are said to do his bidding, because, by an agility incomprehensible to us, they run about hither and thither, and fly directly from heaven to earth, from one end of the world to another — from the rising even to the setting sun. Since, therefore, angels can so easily and promptly fulfill God’s orders, they are deservedly called “ watchers ” They are called “ holy ones,” because they are not infected by human infirmities. But we are filled with really sins, not merely because we are earthly, but since we have contracted pollution from our first parents, which vitiates alike the whole body and mind. By this expression, then, Nebuchadnezzar desired to distinguish between angels and mortals. For although God here sanctifies his elect, yet as long as they dwell in the prison of the body they never arrive at the holiness of angels. Here then we mark the difference between angels and men. Nebuchadnezzar could not understand this by himself, but he was taught of God to perceive the destruction of the tree to arise not from man but from the Almighty.
He afterwards adds— the angel cried with a loud voice, cut down the tree, strip off the leaves, cut off its boughs, scatter its fruits, (or throw them away,) and let the beasts flee from its shadow, and the birds of heaven dwell no longer under its branches By this figure God meant to express that King Nebuchadnezzar should be for a time like a beast. This ought not to seem absurd, although it is but rough to speak of a tree being deprived of a human heart, since men know trees to have no other life than that usually called vegetable. The dignity or excellence of the tree cannot be lessened by its being without a human heart, for it never had one originally. But though this is rather a rough mode of expression., yet it contains in it nothing absurd, although Daniel bends a little aside from the strictness of the allegory; nay, Nebuchadnezzar himself had an allegorical dream, and yet God mingled something with it by which he might comprehend the meaning veiled under the image of a tree. The angel, then, orders the tree to be deprived of its human heart, and its bough and fruit to be torn down and cast away, after it had been cut down; next he orders the heart of a beast to be given to it, and thus its portion might be with the wild animals of the woods. But as this must be repeated elsewhere, I now pass it by rather hastily. The general meaning is this; King Nebuchadnezzar was to be deprived for a time not only of his empire but even of his human sense, and to be in no way different from the beasts, since he was unworthy of holding even the lowest place among mankind. Although he seemed to surpass the human race in his elevation, yet he must be cast down and thrown below even the lowest mortals!
The reason for this punishment follows, when it is added, seven times shall pass over him; and then, do not cut off its lowest root, but let the rain of heaven water it; and next; his portion shall be with the wild beasts. Although the chastisement is hard and horrible, when Nebuchadnezzar is expelled from the society of men, and rendered like wild beasts; but it is something in his favor when God does not tear him up by the roots, but allows the root to remain, for the tree to spring up again and flourish, and be planted again in its own place, and recover new vigor through its roots. Here Daniel reviews the punishment inflicted on King Nebuchadnezzar, in which God afforded a specimen of his clemency, in sparing him and not utterly cutting him down, but in allowing his root to remain. Some here discourse about the mitigation of penalties when God sees those repent whom he has chastised with rods; but I do not think it applicable here. There was no true conversion in King Nebuchadnezzar, as we said before, and shall see again more clearly. God did not wish to press him too hard, and this we must attribute to his clemency; because when he seems to set no bounds to his punishment of men’s sins, yet in all temporal punishments he allows men to taste his pity; so that even the reprobate remain without excuse. The assertion of some—that punishments are not remitted without the fault being excused, is false; as we see in the example of Ahab. For God remitted the fault to the impious king, but because he seemed to shew some signs of repentance, God abstained from greater punishment. (Genesis 21:29.) So also we may see the same in the case of Nebuchadnezzar. God was unwilling utterly to root him out—for the metaphor of the tree shews this—but he desired seven times to pass over him Some understand seven weeks, others seven years; but we shall treat this point more copiously by and bye. Lastly, we must notice this; in the midst of the time during which God’s wrath seemed to rage against this wretched king, his benefits were also mingled with it. We learn this from the words, his portion shall be with the beasts of the field; that is, he shall feed upon some food by which life shall be preserved; and then, it shall be watered or irrigated with the rain of heaven. For God signifies—though he wished to punish King Nebuchadnezzar, and to render him a remarkable example of his wrath—his knowledge of what he could bear; hence, he so tempers his punishment as to leave hope remaining for the future, Thus he took his food even with the beasts of the earth, but he is not deprived of the irrigation of the dew of heaven.
In this verse God confirms what he had shewn to the king of Babylon by means of a dream. He says, then, the king was instructed in a certain thing; since it had been so determined before God and his angels. The full meaning is this, —Nebuchadnezzar must know it to be impossible to escape the punishment whose image he had seen in the dream. There is, however, some ambiguity in the words, since interpreters find great difficulties with the second clause; for they say the angels ask the question, to afford proof to the king of Babylon, and that all men may acknowledge the supreme power of the one God. But this seems to me too forced. As far as the word פתגמא, pethegma, is concerned, it signifies “word” in Chaldee; but here I think it properly used for “edict,” as in the first chapter of Esther, (Esther 1:20;) and this is a very suitable sense, as the edict was promulgated in the decree so that the “word” or vision might not prove vain and inefficient; since God wished to point out to the king what was already fixed and determined in heaven. We now understand the Prophet’s intention. But a new question still remains, because it seems absurd to attribute power and authority to those angels, lest in this way they seem to be equal to God. We know God to be judge alone, and hence it is his proper office to determine what pleases him; and if this is transferred to angels, it seems as if it lessened his supreme authority, because it is not becoming to make them companions of his Majesty. But we know it to be no new thing in Scripture for God to join angels with himself, not as equals but as attendants, and to attribute to them so much honor as to deign to call them into counsel. Hence angels are often called God’s counselors. As in this place they are said to decree together with God; and not by their own will or pleasure, as they say, but because they subscribe to God’s judgment. Meanwhile, we must remark the double character assigned to them. In the first clause, Daniel makes them subscribe to the decree, and afterwards uses the word demand. And this suits the sense well enough; because the angels urge God by their prayers to humble all mortals and to exalt himself alone. Thus, whatever obscures his glory may be reduced into order. It is right for angels constantly to desire this, since we know them to desire nothing in comparison with the adoration of God by themselves in alliance with all mankind. But when they see God’s authority diminished by man’s pride and audacity, the object of their demand is that God would reduce under his yoke the proud who erect their crests against him.
We now see why Daniel says, this was declared in, the decree of the watchers, and was demanded in their speech; as if he should. say; “ thou hast all angels opposed to thee; for by one consent and with Gale mouth they accuse thee before God, for as far as possible thou obscurest his glory; and God, assenting to their prayers, has determined to cast thee away, and to render thee an object of contempt and reproach before the whole world; and this decree has been signed by all the angels, as if it were common between him and them. For by their subscription and agreement he might prevail[ in confirming the confidence of the profane king. Without doubt God, after his usual manner, accommodated the vision to the understanding of a man who never was taught in his law, but only imbued with a confused notion of his divinity, so that he could not distinguish between God and angels. Meanwhile, this sentiment is true — the edict was promulgated at the united consent and demand of the whole celestial host; for angels bear with the greatest reluctance whatever detracts from God’s glory, and all the folly of mankind when they wish to draw and attract to themselves the peculiar attributes of the only God. This seems to be flute genuine sense. The following sentence flows very suitably, — mortals must know God to be a ruler in the kingdoms of men For Daniel marks the end of the demand, since angels desire God’s rights to remain entire, and to be quite unaffected by the ingratitude of mankind. But men cannot ascribe even the slightest merit to themselves without detracting from God’s praise; hence angels continually seek from God the casting down of all the proud, and that he will not permit himself to be defrauded of his proper rights, but maintain in all its integrity his own sovereign powers. This also must. be diligently observed — mortals should notice how the Lord reigns in the kingdoms of men. For even the worst of men confess the mighty power of God; they dare not draw him down from his heavenly throne by their blasphemies, but they imagine themselves able to obtain and defend their worldly kingdoms, by either their exertions or their wealth, or by some other means. Unbelievers, therefore, willingly shut up God in heaven, just as Ephcurus fancied him to be enjoying his own delights at his ease. Hence Daniel shews God to be deprived of his rights, unless he is recognized as a ruler in the kingdoms of men, that is, on earth to humble all whom he pleases. So also it is said in the Psalms, (Psalms 75:7,) Power springs not from either the east or the west, but; from heaven; and elsewhere, God raises the poor out of the mire, (Psalms 113:6.) Then in the sacred Canticle of the Virgin, he casts down the proud from their seat, and exalts the abject and the humble. (Luke 1:52.) All indeed confess this, but scarcely one in a hundred feels in his mind the dominion of God over the earth, and that no man can raise himself, or remain in any post of honor, since this is the peculiar gift of God. Because men are persuaded of this with difficulty. Daniel eloquently expresses it, the Lord shall be lofty in the kingdoms of men; that is, shall not; only exercise his power in heaven, but also govern the human race, and assign to every one his own grade and position. He will give it to whom he wills He speaks of different empires in the singular number; just as if God had said, some: are raised up by God’s will, and others are cast down; and the whole happens according to God’s pleasure. The meaning is this — -every one has his own condition divinely assigned to him; and thus a, man’s ambition, or skill, or prudence, or wealth, or the help of others, do not profit men in aspiring to any altitude, unless God raises them by his stretched out hand. Paul also teaches the same thing in other words; there is no power but from God, (Romans 13:1,) and afterwards Daniel often repeats the same sentiment.
He adds, he raises up the humble man above himself In a change so remarkable as this, God’s power shines forth better while he raises from the dust those who were formerly obscure and contemptible, and even sets them above kings. When this happens, profane men say, God is playing with them, and rolls men about like balls in his hand, which are first tossed upwards and then thrown down upon the ground. But they do not consider the reason why God by open proofs wishes to shew how we are under his absolute power, on which our condition entirely depends; when we do not comprehend this of our own accord, examples are necessarily set before us by which we are compelled to perceive what almost all are willingly ignorant of. We now understand the whole intention of the Prophet. Angels seek from God by continual prayers to declare his own power to mortals, and thus to lay prostrate the proud who think to excel by their own power and industry, or else by chance, or by the help of men. To induce God to punish men for their sacrilegious deeds, the angels desire him to prostrate them, and thus to shew himself to be not only the king and ruler of heaven, but also of earth. Now, this not only happens in the case of a single king, but we know history to be full of such proofs. Whence, then, or from what order have kings often been created? And when there was no greater pride in the world than in the Roman empire, we see what happened. For God brought forward certain monsters which caused the greatest astonishment among the Greeks and all the 0rien.tals, the Spaniards, Italians, and Gauls; for nothing was more monstrous than some of the emperors. Then their origin was most base and shameful, and God could not shew more clearly their empires were not transferred by the will of man, nor even acquired by valor, counsel, and powerful troops, but remained under his own hand to bestow upon whomsoever he pleased. Let us go on:
Here Nebuchadnezzar repeats what he had formerly said about seeking an interpretation for his dream. He understood the figure which was shewn to him, but he could not understand God’s intentions nor even determine its relation to himself. On this point he implores Daniel’s confidence; he affirms his vision in a dream to induce Daniel to pay great attention to its interpretation. Then he adds, with the same purpose, All the wise men of his kingdom could not explain the dreary; where he confesses all the astrologers, and diviners, and others of this kind to be utterly vain and fallacious, since they professed to know everything. For some were augurs, some conjectures, some interpreters of dreams, and others astrologers, who not only discoursed on the course, distances, and orders of the stars, and the peculiarities of each, but wished to predict futurity from the course of the stars. Since, therefore, they boasted so magnificently in their superior knowledge of all events, Nebuchadnezzar confesses them to have been impostors. But he ascribes this power in reality to Daniel, because he was endued by the divine Spirit. Hence he excludes all the wise men of Babylon from so great a gift through his having proved them destitute of God’s Spirit. He does not assert this in so many words, but this meaning is easily elicited from his expressions implying all the variety of the Chaldean wise men. Then in the second clause he exempts Daniel from their number, and states the reason to be his excelling in the divine Spirit. Nebuchadnezzar, therefore, here asserts what is peculiar to God, and acknowledges Daniel to be his Prophet and minister. When he calls angels holy deities, we have mentioned this already as an expression which ought not to seem surprising in a heathen, uninstructed in the true doctrine of piety, and only just initiated in its elements. But we know this common opinion respecting angels being mingled together with the one God. Hence Nebuchadnezzar speaks in the ordinary and received language when he says, the spirit of the holy gods dwells in Daniel. It now follows:
Here Daniel relates how he was in some sense astonished. And I refer this to the sorrow which the holy Prophet had endured from that horrible punishment which God had shewn under a figure; nor ought it to seem surprising for Daniel to be grievously afflicted on account of the calamity of the king of Babylon; for although he was a cruel tyrant, and had harassed and all but destroyed God’s Church, yet since he was under his Sway, he was bound to pray for him. But God had deafly taught the Jews this, by means of Jeremiah, Pray ye for the prosperous state of Babylon, because your peace shall be in it. (Jeremiah 29:7.) At the close of seventy years it was lawful for the pious worshippers of God to beg him to free them; but until the time predicted by the Prophet had elapsed, it was not lawful either to indulge in hatred against the king, or to invoke God’s wrath upon him. They knew him to be the executor of God’s just vengeance, and also to be their sovereign and lawful ruler. Since then Daniel was treated kindly by the king when by the rights of warfare he was dragged into exile, he ought to be faithful to his own king, although he exercised tyranny against the people of God. This was the reason why he suffered so much sorrow from that sad oracle. Others think he was in an ecstasy; but this seems to suit better because he does not simply speak of being astonished, but even disturbed and terrified in his thoughts. Meanwhile, we must remark, how variously the Prophets were affected when God uses them in denouncing his approaching judgments. Whenever God appointed his Prophets the heralds of severe calamities, they were affected in two ways; on the one side, they condoled with those miserable men whose destruction they saw at hand, and still they boldly announced what had been divinely commanded; and thus their sorrow never hindered them from discharging their duty freely and consistently. In Daniel’s case we see both these feelings. The sympathy, then, was right in his condoling with his king and being silent for about an hour. And when the king commands him to be of good courage and not to be disturbed, we have here depicted the security of those who do not apprehend the wrath of God. The Prophet is terrified, and yet he is free from all evil; for God does not threaten him, nay, the very punishment which he sees prepared for the king, afforded the hope of future deliverance. Why then is he frightened? because the faithful, though God spares them and shews himself merciful and propitious, cannot view his judgments without fear, for they acknowledge themselves subject to similar penalties, if God did not treat them with indulgence. Besides this, they never put off human affections, and so pity takes possession of them, when they see the ungodly punished or even subject to impending wrath. For these two reasons they suffer sorrow and pain. But the impious, even when God openly addresses and threatens them, are not moved, but remain stupid, or openly deride his power and treat his threats as fabulous, till they feel them seriously. Such is the example which the Prophet sets before us in the king of Babylon.
Belteshazzar, he says, let not thy thoughts disturb thee; let not the dream and its interpretation frighten thee/ Yet Daniel was afraid for his sake. But, as I have already said, while the faithful are afraid though they feel God to be propitious, yet the impious sleep in their security, and are unmoved and unterrified by any threats. Daniel adds the cause of his grief, — O my lord, he says, may the dream be for thine enemies, and its interpretation to thy foes! Here Daniel explains why he was so astonished — because he wished so horrible a punishment to be turned away from the person of the king; for although he might deservedly have detested him, yet he reverenced the power divinely assigned to him. Let us learn, therefore, from the Prophet’s example, to pray for blessings on our enemies who desire to destroy us, and especially to pray for tyrants if it please God to subject us to their lust; for although they are unworthy of any of the feelings of humanity, yet we must modestly bear their yoke, because they could not be our governors without God’s permission; and not only for wrath, as Paul admonishes us, but for conscience’ sake, (Romans 13:5,) otherwise we should not only rebel against them, but against God himself. But, on the other hand, Daniel shews the impossibility of his being changed or softened by any sentiment of pity, and thus turned from his intended course:
Here we see what I have touched upon, namely, how Daniel acted respectfully to the king, and thus was mindful of his prophetic duty, while he punctually discharged the commands of God. We must notice this distinction, for nothing is more difficult for ministers of the Word than to maintain this middle course. Some are always fulminating through a pretense of zeal, and forget themselves to be but men: they shew no sign of benevolence, but indulge in mere bitterness. Hence they have no authority, and all their admonitions are hateful. Next, they explain God’s Word with pride and boasting, when they frighten sinners without either humanity, or pain, or sympathy. Others, again, who are wicked and perfidious flatterers, gloss over the grossest iniquities; they object to both Prophets and Apostles, esteeming the fervor of their zeal to have driven away all human affections! Thus they delude miserable men, and destroy them by their flattery. But our Prophet, as all the rest, here shews how God’s servants ought to take a middle course. Thus Jeremiah, when prophesying adversity, feels sorrow and bitterness of spirit, and yet does not turn aside from unsparing reproof of the severest threats, as both sprang from God. (Jeremiah 9:1.) The rest of the prophets also act in the same manner. Here Daniel, on the one hand, pities the king, and on the other, through knowing himself to be the herald of God’s anger, he is not frightened by any danger while setting before the king the punishment which he had despised. Hence we gather why he was not astonished. He felt no fear of the tyrant, although many do not dare to discharge their duty when an odious message is entrusted to them, which stimulates the impious and the unbelievers to madness. Daniel, however, was not astonished with any fear of this kind; he only wished God to act mercifully towards his king. For he says here, Thou art king thyself. He does not speak with any doubt or hesitation, neither does he use obscurity nor a number of excuses, but plainly announces king Nebuchadnezzar to be intended by the tree which he saw. Hence the tree which thou sawest is large and strong, under the shade of which the beasts of the field were dwelling, and in the boughs of which the birds of the air were making their nests: thou, says he, art the king. Why so? Thou hast become great and strong; thy magnitude has extended to the heavens, and thy power to the ends of the earth Now, what follows?
Daniel follows up what he had begun with perseverance, shewing judgment to be overhanging the king of Babylon. He calls him lord, indeed, with cordiality; meanwhile he was the ambassador of the Supreme King, he did not hesitate to elevate his discourse above the king’s command — as all the prophets do who rise up against mountains and hills, as Jeremiah does in Jeremiah 1:10. Thus this sentence is worthy of notice, — “I have appointed thee over kingdoms and peoples, to pluck them up and to plant them, to build and to destroy.” God, therefore, wishes to assert so great a reverence for his Word, because there is nothing in the world so magnificent or splendid which does not yield to it. Daniel, then, as far as concerns human events and political order, confesses the king to be his master; but meanwhile he goes on with the embassy entrusted to him. The king then, says he, saw a watcher descend from heaven, he always speaks of an angel (221) We have stated why Scripture calls angels “ watchers, ” since they are at hand to perform God’s commands; and we know God executes his decrees by their agency: I said angels always discharge this duty, and keep watch over the faithful. But the name “ watcher ” is a general one, and implies the promptness with which angels are endued, to enable them to discharge with the utmost celerity whatever God enjoins upon them. Thou hast seen, then, one descend from heaven, who said, Cut down the tree, and scatter it abroad He repeats what he had said before, namely, the time of his punishment was defined here, because God would destroy the king of Babylon and all remembrance of him. An exception is then added, — Until seven times pass over I have said nothing of those times, but their opinion is probable who take it for an indefinite number, meaning, until a long time shall pass away. Others think months denoted; others, years; but I willingly incline to this interpretation, since God wishes for no short time to punish King Nebuchadnezzar. It may not seem customary, indeed, but as he wished to put forth an example for all ages, he desired to prolong his punishment. This, therefore, seems the meaning of the seven years; for we know the number seven years to signify a long time in Scripture, since it denotes perfection.
(221) See Dissertation 14 at the end of this Volume.
Daniel proceeds with the explanation of the king’s dream, to whom the last verse which I explained yesterday applies. This ought to be expressed, because this message was sorrowful and bitter for the king. We know how indignantly kings are usually compelled not only to submit to orders, but even to be cited before God’s tribunal, where they must be overwhelmed in shame and disgrace. For we know how prosperity intoxicates the plebeian race. What, then, can happen to kings except forgetfulness of the condition of our nature when they attempt to free themselves from all inconvenience and trouble? For they do not consider themselves subject to the common necessities of mankind. As, therefore, Nebuchadnezzar could scarcely bear this message, here the Prophet admonishes him in a few words concerning the cutting down of the tree as the figure of that ruin which hung over him. He now follows this up at length, when he says, They shall cast thee out from among men, and thy habitation shall be with the beasts of the field. When Daniel had previously discoursed upon the Four Monarchies, there is no doubt about the king’s mind being at first exasperated; but this was far more severe, and in the king’s opinion far less tolerable, as he is compared to wild beasts, and cut off from the number of mankind, and then he was driven into the fields and woods to feed with the wild beasts. If Daniel had only said the king was to be despoiled of his royal dignity, he would have been greatly offended by that disgrace, but when he was subject to such extreme shame, he was, doubtless, inwardly maddened by it. But God still restrained his fury lest he should desire to be revenged upon the supposed injury which he suffered. For we shall afterwards see from the context that he did not grow wise again. Since, therefore, he always cherished the same pride, there is no doubt of his cruelty, for these two vices were united; but the Lord restrained his madness, and spared his holy Prophet. Meanwhile, the constancy of God’s servant is worthy of observation, as he does not obliquely hint at what should happen to the king, but relates clearly and at length how base and disgraceful a condition remained for him. They shall cast thee out, says he, from among men If he had said, thou shalt be as it were one of the common herd, and shalt not differ from the very dregs of the people, this would have been very severe. But when the king is ejected from the society of mankind, so that not a single corner remains, and he is not allowed to spend his life among ox-herds and swineherds, every one may judge for himself how odious this would be; nor does Daniel here hesitate to pronounce such a judgment.
The following clause has the same or at least similar weight, — Thy dwelling, says he, shall be with the beasts of the field, and its herb shall feed thee The plural number is used indefinitely in the original; and hence it may be properly translated, “ Thou shalt feed on grass; thou shalt be watered by the dew of heaven; thy dwelling shall be with wild beasts.” I do not wish to philosophize with subtlety, as some do, who understand angels. I confess this to be true; but the Prophet simply teaches punishment to be at hand for the king of Babylon, while he should be reduced to extreme ignominy, and differ in nothing from the brutes. This liberty, therefore, as I have said, is worthy of notice, to shew us how God’s servants, who have to discharge the duty of teaching, cannot faithfully act their part unless they shut their eyes and despise all worldly grandeur. Hence, by the example of the king, let us learn our duty, and not be stubborn and perverse when God threatens us. Although, as we have said, Nebuchadnezzar did not grow wise, as the context will shew us, yet we shall see how he bore the terrible judgment denounced against him. If, therefore, we, who are but as refuse compared to him, cannot bear God’s threats when they are set before us,-he will be our witness and judge, who, though possessed of such mighty power, dared nothing against the Prophet. Now, at the end of the verse, the sentence formerly explained is repeated, — Until thou dost acknowledge, says he, how great a Lord there is in the kingdom of men, who delivers it to whomsoever he will. This passage teaches us again how difficult it is for us to attribute supreme power to God. In our language, indeed, we are great heralds of God’s glory, but still every one restricts his power, either by usurping something to himself, or by transferring it to some one else. Especially when God raises us to any degree of dignity, we forget ourselves to be men, and snatch away God’s honor from him, and desire to substitute ourselves for him. This disease is cured with difficulty, and the punishment which God inflicted on the king of Babylon is an example to us. A slight chastisement would have been sufficient unless this madness had been deeply seated in his bowels and marrow, since men claim to themselves the peculiar property of God. Hence they have need of a violent medicine to learn modesty and humility. In these days, monarchs, in their titles, always put forward themselves as kings, generals, and counts, by the grace of God; but how many falsely pretend to apply God’s name to themselves, for the purpose of securing the supreme power! For what is the meaning of that title of kings and princes — “by the grace of God ? ” except to avoid the acknowledgment of a superior. Meanwhile, they willingly trample upon that God with whose shield they protect themselves, — so far are they from seriously thinking themselves to reign by his permission! It is mere pretense, therefore, to boast that they reign through God’s favor. Since this is so, we may easily judge how proudly profane kings despise God, even though they make no fallacious use of his name, as those triflers who openly fawn upon him, and thus profane the name of his grace! It now follows:
Here Daniel closes the interpretation of the dream, and shews how God did not treat King Nebuchadnezzar so severely by not giving way to clemency. He mitigates, indeed, the extreme rigor of the punishment, to induce Nebuchadnezzar to call upon God and repent, through indulging the hope of pardon, as a clearer exhortation will afterwards follow. But Daniel now prepares him for penitence, by swing His kingdom should stand For God might cast him out from intercourse with mankind, and thus he would always remain among wild beasts. He might instantly remove him from the world; but this is a mark of his clemency, since he wished to restore him, not to a merely moderate station, but to his former dignity, as if it had never been trenched upon. We see, therefore, how useful the dream was to King Nebuchadnezzar, so long as he did not despise the Prophet’s holy admonition, through ingratitude towards God; because Daniel not only predicted the slaughter which was at hand, but brought at the same time a message of reconciliation. God, therefore, had instructed the king to some purpose, unless he had been unteachable and perverse, like the majority of mankind. Besides, we may gather from this the general doctrine of our being invited to repentance when God puts an end to his chastisements; since he sets before us a taste of his clemency to induce in us the hope of his being entreated, if we only fly to him heartily and sincerely, We must notice also what Daniel adds in the second part of the verse, from which thou mayest know that there is power in heaven: for under these words the promise of spiritual grace is included. Since God will not only punish the king of Babylon, to humble him, but will work in him and change his mind, as he afterwards fulfilled, though at a long interval.
From which thou shalt know, then, says he, that power is in heaven I have stated the grace of the Spirit to be here promised, as we know how badly men profit, even if God repeats his stripes an hundredfold. Such is the hardness and obstinacy of our hearts — for we rather grow more and more obdurate, while God calls us to repentance. And, doubtless, Nebuchadnezzar had been like Pharaoh, unless God had humbled him, not only with outward penalties, but had added also the inward instinct of his Spirit, to allow himself to be instructed, and to submit himself to the judgment and power of heaven. Daniel means this when he says, Wherefore thou shalt know; for Nebuchadnezzar would never have acquired this knowledge of his own accord, unless he had been touched by the secret movement of the Spirit. He adds, That there is power in heaven; meaning, God governs the world and exercises supreme power; for he here contrasts heaven with earth, meaning all mankind. For if kings see all filings tranquil around them, and if no one causes them terror, they think themselves beyond all chance of danger, as they say; and through being desirous of certainty in their station, they look round on all sides, but never raise their eyes upwards to heaven, as if God did not concern himself to behold the kingdoms of the earth, and to set up whom he would, and to prostrate all the proud. The princes of this world never consider their power to be from heaven, as if this were entirely out of God’s hands; but, as I have said, they look right and left, before and behind. This is the reason why Daniel said, Power is from heaven. There is a contrast then between God and all mankind, as if he had said, Thou shalt know God reigns — as we have formerly seen. It follows:
Since interpreters do not agree about the sense of these words, and as the doctrine to be derived from them depends partly upon that, we must remark, in the first place, that מלכי , meleki, means “my counsel.” Some translate it “my king,” and both words are derived from the same, root מלך, melek, signifying “to reign; but it also signifies counsel”. There is no doubt flint this passage ought to be explained thus: — May my counsel therefore please thee, and mayest thou redeem thy sins. The word פרוק , peruk, is here translated “ to redeem;” it often signifies “ to break off, ” or “ separate, ” or “abolish.” In this passage it may conveniently be translated, “ separate or break off thy sins” by pity and humanity; as if he had said, Thus thou shalt make an end of sin, and enter upon a new course, and thus thy cruelty may be changed into clemency, and thy tyrannical violence into pity. But this is not of much consequence. The verb often signifies to free and to preserve; the context does not admit the sense of preserving, and it would be harsh to say, Free thy sins by thy righteousness. Hence I readily embrace the sense of Daniel exhorting the king of Babylon to a change of life, so as to break off his sins in which he had too long indulged. With respect to the clause at the end of the verse, behold there shall be a cure for thine error, as I have mentioned, the Greeks translate, “if by chance there should be a cure;” but the other sense seems to suit better; as if he had said, “this is the proper and genuine medicine,” some translate, “a promulgation,” since ארך, arek, signifies “to produce;” and at the same time they change the signification of the other noun, for they say, “there shall be a prolongation to thy peace or quiet.” That sense would be tolerable, but the other suits better with the grammatical construction; besides, the more received sense is, this medicine may be suitable to the error A different sense may be elicited without changing the words at all; there shall be a medicine for thine errors; meaning, thou mayest learn to cure thine errors. For length of indulgence increases the evil, as we have sufficiently noticed. Hence this last part of the verse may be taken, and thus Daniel may proceed with his exhortation; as if he had said, — it is time to cease from thine errors, for hitherto thou hast deprived thyself of all thy senses by giving unbridled license to thy lusts. If, therefore, there is any moderation in thine ignorance, thou mayest open thine eyes and understand at length how to repent.
I now return to the substance of the teaching. May my counsel please thee! says he. Here Daniel treats the profane king more indulgently than if he had addressed his own nation; for he used the prophetic office. But because he knew the king did not hold the first rudiments of piety, he here undertakes only the office of a counselor, since he was not an ordinary teacher. As to Nebuchadnezzar sending for him, this was not a daily thing, nor did he do this, because he wished to submit to his doctrine. Daniel therefore remembers the kind of person with whom he was treating, when he tempers his words and says, may my counsel be acceptable to thee! He afterwards explains his counsel in a few words, — Break away, says he, thy sins — or cast them away — by righteousness, and thy iniquities by pity to the poor These is no doubt that Daniel wished to exhort the king to repentance; but he touched on only one kind, which we know was very customary with the Prophets. For when they recall the people to obedience by repentance, they do not always explain it fully, nor define it generally, but touch upon it by a figure of speech, and treat only of the outward duties of penitence. Daniel now follows this custom. If inquiry is made concerning the nature of repentance, it is the conversion of man towards God, from whom he had been alienated. Is this conversion then only in the hands, and feet, and tongue. Does it not rather begin in the mind and the heart, and then pass on to outward works? Hence true penitence has its source in the mind of men, so that he who wished to be wise must set aside his own prudence, and put away his foolish confidence in his own reason. Then he must subdue his own depraved affections and submit them to God, and thus his outward life will follow the inward spirit. Besides this, works are the only testimonies to real repentance; for it is a thing too excellent to allow its root to appear to human observation. By our fruits therefore we must testify our repentance. But because the duties of the second table, in some sense, open the mind of man; hence the Prophets in requiring repentance, only set before us the duties of charity, as Daniel says. Redeem, therefore, thy sins, says he, or break away, or east them away — but how? namely, by righteousness. Without doubt the word “justice” means here the same as “grace” or “pity.” But those who here transfer “grace” to “faith,” twist the Prophet’s words too violently; for we know of nothing more frequent among the Hebrews than to repeat one and the same thing under two forms of speech. As, therefore, Daniel here uses sins and iniquities in the same sense, we conclude justice and pity ought not to be separated, while the second word expresses more fully the sense of justice. For when men see their life must be changed, they feign for themselves many acts of obedience which scarcely deserve the name. They have no regard for what pleases God, nor for what he commands in his word; but just as they approve of one part or another, they thrust themselves rashly upon God, as we see in the Papacy. For what is a holy and religious life with them? To run about here and there; to undertake pilgrimages imposed by vows; to set up a statue; to found masses, as they call it; to fast on certain days; and to lay stress on trifles about which God has never said a single word. As, therefore, men err so grossly in the knowledge of true righteousness, the Prophet here adds the word “pity” by way of explanation; as if he had said, Do not think to appease God by outward pomps, which delight mankind because they are carnal and devoted to earthly things, and fashion for them. selves a depraved idea of God according to their own imagination; let not then this vanity deceive you; but learn how true justice consists in pity towards the poor. In this second clause, then, only a part of the idea is expressed, since true just. ice is not restricted simply to the meaning of the word, but embraces all the duties of charity. Hence we ought to deal faithfully with mankind, and not to deceive either rich or poor, nor to oppress any one, but to render every one his own. But this manner of speaking ought to be familiar to us, if we are but moderately versed in the prophetic writings.
The meaning of the phrase is this: — Daniel wished to shew the king of Babylon the duty of living justly, and cultivating faith and integrity before men, without forgetting the former table of the law. For the worship of God is more precious than all the righteousness which men cultivate among themselves. But true justice is known by its outward proofs, as I have said. But he treats here the second table rather than the first: for, while hypocrites pretend to worship God by many ceremonies, they allow themselves to commit all kinds of cruelty, rapine, and fraud, without obeying any law of correct living with their neighbors. Because hypocrites cover their malice by this frivolous pretense, God sets before them a true test to recall them to the duties of charity. This, then, is the meaning of the verse from which we have elicited a double sense. If we retain the future time, behold, there shall be a medicine! it will be a confirmation of the former doctrine; as if he had said, We must not travel the long and oblique circuits — there is this single remedy: or, if we are better pleased with the word of exhortation, the context will be suitable; may there be a medicine for thine errors! Mayest thou not indulge thyself hereafter as thou hast hitherto done, but thou must open thine eyes and perceive how miserably and wickedly thou hast lived, and so desire to heal thine errors. As the Papists have abused this passage, to shew God to be appeased by satisfactions, it is too frivolous and ridiculous to refute their doctrine; for when they speak of satisfactions, they mean works of supererogation. If any one could fulfill God’s law completely, yet he could not satisfy for his sins. The Papists are compelled to confess this; what then remains? — The offering to God more than he demands, which they call works not required! But Daniel does not here exact of King Nebuchadnezzar any work of supererogation; he exacts justice, and afterwards shews how a man’s life cannot be justly spent unless humanity prevails and flourishes among men, and especially when we are merciful to the poor. Truly there is no supererogation here! To what end then serves the law? Surely this has no reference to satisfactions, according to the ridiculous and. foolish notions of the Papists! But if we grant them this point, still it does not follow that their sins are redeemed before God, as if works compensated either their fault or penalty, as they assert; for they confess their fault not to be redeemed by satisfactions — this is one point gained — and then as to the penalty, they say it is redeemed; but we must see whether this agrees with the Prophet’s intention.
I will not contend about a word; I will allow it to mean “to redeem” — Thou mayest redeem thy sins; but we must ascertain, whether this redemption is in the judgment of God or of man? Clearly enough, Daniel here regards the conduct of Nebuchadnezzar as unjust and inhuman, in harassing his subjects, and in proudly despising the poor and miserable. Since, therefore, he had so given himself up to all iniquity, Daniel shews the remedy; and if this remedy is treated as a redemption or liberation, there is nothing absurd in saying, we redeem our sins before men while we satisfy them. I redeem my sins before my neighbor, if after I have injured him, I desire to become reconciled to him, I acknowledge my sins and seek for pardon. If, therefore, I have injured his fortunes, I restore what I have unjustly taken, and thus redeem my transgression. But this does assist us in expiating sin before God, as if the beneficence which I put in practice was any kind of expiation. We see, therefore, the Papists to be foolish and silly when they wrest the Prophet’s words to themselves. We may now inquire in the last place, to what purpose Daniel exhorted King Nebuchadnezzar to break away from or redeem his sins? Now this was either a matter of no consequence — which would be absurd — or it was a heavenly decree, as the king’s dream was a promulgation of the edict, as we have formerly seen. But this was determined before God, and could not be changed in any way; it was therefore superfluous to wish to redeem sins. If we follow a different explanation, no difficulty will remain; but even if we allow the Prophet to be here discoursing of the redemption of sins, yet the exhortation is not without its use.
In whatever way Nebuchadnezzar ought to prepare to bear God’s chastisement, yet this would prove most useful to him, to acknowledge God to be merciful. And yet the time might be contracted, during which his obstinate wickedness should extend; not as if God changed his decree, but because he always warns by threatening, for the purpose of treating men more kindly, and tempering vigor with his wrath, as is evident from many other examples. This would not have been without its use to a teachable disposition, nor yet without fruit, when Daniel exhorted King Nebuchadnezzar to redeem his sins, because he might obtain some pardon, even if he had paid the penalty, since not even a single day had been allowed out of the seven years. Yet this was a great progress, if the king had at last humbled himself before God, so as to be in a fit state for receiving the pardon which had been promised. For as a certain time had been fixed beforehand, or at least shewn by the Prophet, hence it would have profited the king, if through wishing to appease his judge he had prepared his mind for obtaining pardon. This doctrine was therefore in every way useful, because the same reason avails with us. We ought always to be prepared to suffer God’s chastisements; yet it is no slight or common alleviation of our sufferings, when we so submit ourselves to God, as to be persuaded of his desire to be propitious to us, when he sees us dissatisfied with ourselves, and heartily detesting our transgressions.
After Nebuchadnezzar has related Daniel to be a herald of God’s approaching judgment, he now shews how God executed the judgment which the Prophet had announced. But he speaks in the third person, according to what we know to be a common practice with both the Hebrews and Chaldees. Thus Daniel does not relate the exact words of the king, but only their substance. Hence he first introduces the king as the speaker, and then he speaks himself in his own person. There is no reason why this variety should occasion us any trouble, since it does not obscure the sense. In the first, verse, Nebuchadnezzar shews the dream which Daniel had explained not to have been in vain. Thus the miracle shews itself to be from heaven, by its effects; because dreams vanish away, as we know well enough. But since God fulfilled, at his own time, what he had shewn to the king of Babylon by his dream, it is clear there was nothing alarming in the dream, but a sure revelation of the future punishment which fell upon the king. Its moderation is also expressed. Daniel says, when a year had passed away, and the king was walking in his own palace, and boasting in his greatness, at that moment a voice came down from heaven, and repeated what he had already heard in the dream. He afterwards relates how he had been expelled from human society, and dwelt for a long time among the brutes, so as to differ from them in nothing. As to the use of words, since מהלך, mehelek, occurs here, some think that he walked upon the roof of his palace, whence he could behold all parts of the city. The inhabitants of the east are well known to use the roofs of their houses in this way; but I do not interpret the phrase with such subtlety, since the Prophet seems to wish nothing else than to shew how the king enjoyed his own ease, luxury, and magnificence. There is nothing obscure in the rest of the language.
I now approach the matter before us. Some think Nebuchadnezzar to have been touched with penitence when instructed by God’s anger, and thus the time of his punishment was put off. This does not seem to me probable, and I rather incline to a different opinion, as God withdrew his hand till the end of the year, and thus the king’s pride was the less excusable. The Prophet’s voice ought to have frightened him, just as if God had thundered and lightened from heaven. He now appears to have been always like himself. I indeed do not deny that he might be frightened by the first message, but I leave it doubtful. Whichever way it is, I do not think God spared him for a time, because he gave some signs of repentance. I confess he sometimes indulges the reprobate, if he sees them humbled. An example of this, sufficiently remarkable, is displayed in King Ahab. (Genesis 21:29.) He did not cordially repent, but God wished to shew how much he was pleased with his penitence, by pardoning a king impious and obstinate in his wickedness. The same might be said of Nebuchadnezzar, if Scripture had said so; but as far as we can gather from these words of the Prophet, Nebuchadnezzar became prouder and prouder, until his sloth arrived at its height. The king continued to grow proud after God had threatened him so, and this was quite intolerable. Hence his remarkable stupidity, since he would have been equally careless had he lived an hundred years after he heard that threat! Finally, I think although Nebuchadnezzar perceived some dreadful and horrible punishment to be at hand, yet, while frightened for the time, he did not lay aside his pride and haughtiness of mind. Meanwhile, he might think this prediction to be in vain; and what he had heard probably escaped from his mind for a long time, because he thought he had escaped; just as the impious usually abuse God’s forbearance, and thus heap up for themselves a treasure of severer vengeance, as Paul says. (Romans 2:5.) Hence he derided this prophecy, and hardened himself more and more. Whatever sense we attach to it, nothing else eau be collected from the Prophet’s context, than the neglect of the Prophet’s warning, and the oracle rendered nugatory by which Nebuchadnezzar had been called to repentance. If he had possessed the smallest particle of soundness of mind, he ought to flee to the pity of God, and to consider the ways in which he had provoked his anger, and also to devote himself entirely to the duties of charity. As he had exercised a severe tyranny towards all men, so he ought to study benevolence; yet when the Prophet exhorted him, he did not act thus, but uttered vain boastings, which shew his mind to have been swollen with pride and contempt for God. As to the space of time here denoted, it shews how God suspended his judgments, if perchance those who are utterly deplorable should be reclaimed; but the reprobate abuse God’s humanity and indulgence, as they make this an occasion of hardening their minds, while they suppose God to cease from his office of judge, through his putting it off for a time. At the end, then, of twelve months, the king was walking in his palace; he spoke, and said This doubling of the phrase shews us how the king uttered the feelings of premeditated pride. The Prophet might have said more simply, The king says, — but he says, he spoke, and said. I know how customary it is with both the Hebrews and Chaldees to unite these words together; but I think the repetition emphatic in this place, since the king then uttered what he had long ago conceived and concealed in his mind; Is not this great Babylon, which I have built for a royal palace, and that too in the mightiness of my valor; as I have built it in the splendor of my excellency? In these words we do not see any open blasphemy which could be very offensive to God, but we must consider the king by this language to claim to himself supreme power, as if he were God! We may gather this from the verse, “Is not this great Babylon? says he. He boasts in the magnitude of his city, as if he wished to raise it giant-like to heaven; which I, says he — using the pronoun with great emphasis — which I have built, and that too in the greatness of my valor We see that by claiming all things as his own, he robs God of all honor.
Before I proceed further, we must see why he asserts Babylon to have been founded by himself. All historians agree in the account of the city being built by Semiramis. A long time after this event, Nebuchadnezzar proclaims his own praises in building the city. The solution is easy enough. We know how earthly kings desire, by all means in their power, to bury the glory of others, with the view of exalting themselves and acquiring a perpetual reputation. Especially when they change anything in their edifices, whether palaces or cities, they wish to seem the first founders, and so to extinguish the memory of those by whom the foundations were really laid. We must believe, then, Babylon to have been adorned by King Nebuchadnezzar, and so he transfers to himself the entire glory, while the greater part ought to be attributed to Semiramis or Ninus. Hence this is the way in which tyrants speak, as all usurpers and tyrants do, when they draw towards themselves the praises which belong to others. I, therefore, says he, have built it, by the strength of my hand Now it is easy to see what had displeased God in this boasting of the king of Babylon, namely, his sacrilegious audacity in asserting the city to have been built by his own mightiness. But God shews this praise to be peculiar to himself and deservedly due to him. Unless God builds the city, the watchman watches but in vain. (Psalms 127:1.) Although men labor earnestly in founding cities, yet they never profit unless God himself preside over the work. As Nebuchadnezzar here extols himself and opposes the strength of his fortitude to God and his grace, this boasting was by no means to be endured. Hence it happened that God was so very angry with him. And thus we perceive how this example proves to us what Scripture always inculcates, — God’s resistance of the proud, his humbling their superciliousness, and his detestation of their arrogance. (Psalms 18:27.) Thus God everywhere announces himself as the enemy of the proud, and he confirms it by the present example, as if he set before us in a mirror the reflection of his own judgment. (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5.) This is one point. The reason also must be noticed why God declares war on all the proud, because we cannot set ourselves up even a little, without declaring war on God; for power and energy spring from him. Our life is in his hands; we are nothing and can do nothing except through him. Whatever, then, any one assumes to himself he detracts from God. No wonder then if God testifies his dislike of the haughty superciliousness of men, since they purposely weary him when they usurp anything as their own. Cities, indeed, are truly built by the industry of men, and kings are worthy of praise who either build cities or adorn them, so long as they allow God’s praise to be inviolate. But when men exalt themselves and wish to render their own fortitude conspicuous, they bury as far as they can the blessing of God. Hence it is necessary for their impious rashness to be judged by God, as we have already said. The king also confesses his vanity when he says, I have built it for a royal palace, and for the excellency of my splendor. By these words he does not dissemble how completely he looked at his own glory in all those buildings by which he hoped to hand down his name to posterity. Hence, on the whole, he wishes to be celebrated in the world, both during his life and after his death, so that God may be nothing in comparison with himself, as I have already shewn how all the proud strive to substitute themselves in the place of God.
It now follows, — While the speech was in the mouth of the king, a voice descended from heaven — They say unto thee, O King Nebuchadnezzar, thy kingdom has departed from thee! God does not now admonish the king of Babylon by either the mouth of a Prophet or a dream by night; but he sends forth his own voice from heaven; and as if he had not tamed down the pride by which the king was puffed up, a voice is now heard from heaven which inspires greater terror than either the Prophet’s oracle or interpretation. Thus God is in the habit of dealing with the hardened and impenitent, since he causes his own prophets to denounce the penalty which hangs over them. Besides, when he sees them untouched or unaffected, he doubles the terror, until the final execution follows, as in. the case of this tyrant. The word was in the king’s mouth when, the voice was heard. We see how God restrains in a moment the madness of those who raise themselves extravagantly. But it is not surprising that the voice was so suddenly heard, because time for repentance was allowed to King Nebuchadnezzar. In the form of speech, they say to thee, it is not necessary to inquire anxiously to whom these words apply. Some restrict them to angels; but I do not agree to this; it seems rather to be used in the customary way, they say — meaning “it is said,” as if sanctioned by common consent. Hence they say to thee, O King Nebuchadnezzar; God does not simply call him by his name, but uses the word king — not for the sake of honor, but of ridicule, and to strike away from the king all the allurements by which he deceived himself. Thou indeed art intoxicated by thy present splendor, for while all adore thee, thou art forgetful of thy frailty; but this royal majesty and power will not hinder God from laying thee prostrate; for since thou: wilt not humble thyself, thy kingdom shall be taken from thee! This indeed appeared incredible, since Nebuchadnezzar had the tranquil possession of the kingdom in his hand; no one dared to shew himself his enemy; he had subdued all his neighbors; his monarchy was terrible to all nations; hence God pronounces, The kingdom has gassed away from thee! And this shews the certainty of the oracle; and thus Nebuchadnezzar may know the time to be fulfilled, and the punishment to be no longer delayed, because he had trifled with God’s indulgence.
It follows, — They shall expel thee from among men, and thy habitation shall be with the beasts of the field — or of the country, — they shall make thee eat grass like oxen! Some think Nebuchadnezzar to have been changed into a beast; but this is too harsh and absurd. We need not fancy any change of nature; but he was cut off from all intercourse with men, and with the exception of a human form, he did not differ from the brutes, — nay, such was his deformity in his exile that, as we shall afterwards see, he became a horrid spectacle; — all the hairs of his body stood up and grew like eagles’ feathers; his claws were like those of birds. In these points he was like the beasts, in others like the rest of mankind. It is uncertain whether God struck this king with madness, causing him to escape and he hid for a length of time, or whether he was cast forth by a tumult and conspiracy of nobles, or even the consent of the whole people. All this is doubtful, since the history of those times is unknown to us. Whether, then, Nebuchadnezzar was snatched away by madness, and while he continued a maniac was separated from the society of men, or was cast forth as many tyrants have been, his dwelling with beasts for a time, becomes a memorable example to us. He was probably rendered stupid, by God’s leaving him a human form while be deprived him of reason, as the context will make evident to us. They shall cast thee out from human society; thy dwelling shall be with wild beasts; they shall make thee eat grass like an ox! that is, when deprived of all delight, nay, of the commonest and plainest food, thou wilt find no other sustenance than that of oxen. Thou shalt eat the grass like an animal, and seven times shall pass over thee. Of the “seven times” we have spoken before. Some restrict this to days, but this is contrary not only to every reason, but to every pretext. Nor do I explain it of months; the space of time would have been much too short. Hence the opinion of those who extend it to seven years is more probable. If Nebuchadnezzar had been cast out by a tumult, he would not have been so quickly recalled: then, since God wished to make an example of him for all generations, I suppose him to have been driven out from common society for a length of time. For if the penalty had been for seven months only, we see how coolly God’s judgments would be received in the world. Hence, with the view of engraving this penalty more deeply in the hearts of all, he wished to protract it longer — I will not say to seven years, since I have previously expounded the certain number as put for an uncertain one, implying a long space of time.
Seven years, then, shall pass away, says he, until thou shalt know that there is a lofty ruler in the kingdoms of men. This is the end of the punishment, as we have previously said, for I need not repeat my former remarks. But we must remember this — God mitigates the bitterness of the penalty by making it temporary. Then he proposed this end to induce Nebuchadnezzar to repent, as he required many blows for this purpose, according to the old proverb about the fool who can never be recalled to a sound mind without suffering calamity. Thus King Nebuchadnezzar ought to be beaten with stripes, to render him submissive to God, as he never profited by any holy admonition or any heavenly oracle. God does not treat; all in this way. Hence we have here a special example of his clemency, which provides for the punishment inflicted on King Nebuchadnezzar, being both useful and profitable. For the reprobate are more and more hardened against God, and are ever stirred up and excited to madness. It was an act, then, of special grace, when Nebuchadnezzar was chastised for the time by the hand of God, to cause his repentance and his owning God’s entire sway over the whole world.
He says, that God may be Lord in the kingdom of men; because nothing is more difficult than to persuade tyrants to submit to the power of God. On the one side they confess themselves to reign by his grace; but at the same time, they suppose their own sway to be obtained by either valor or good fortune, and to be retained by their own guards, counsels, and wealth. Hence, as far as they can, they shut God out from the government of the world, while they are puffed up with a false conceit of themselves, as if all things were maintained in their present state by their valor or advice. This, then, was an ordinary effect when Nebuchadnezzar began to feel God to be the ruler in the kingdom of men, since kings wish to place him somewhere between themselves and the multitude. They confess the people to be subject to God’s power, but think themselves exempt from the common order of events, and in possession of a privilege in favor of their lusts, relieving them from the hand and empire of God. Hence, as I have said, it was no common thing for Nebuchadnezzar to acknowledge God to reign in the earth; for tyrants usually enclose God in heaven, and think him content with his own happiness, and careless about mingling in the concerns of men. Hence thou mayest know him to be the ruler. He afterwards adds the kind of dominion, because God raises up whomsoever he pleases, and casts down others: God is not only supreme in the sense of sustaining’ all things by his universal providence, but because no one without his will obtains empire at all. He binds some with a belt, and looseth the bonds of others, as it is said in the book of Job. (Job 12:18.) We ought not, therefore, to imagine God’s power to be at rest, but we should join it with present action, as the phrase is. Whether tyrants obtain power, or sovereigns are pious and just, all are governed by God’s secret counsel, since otherwise there could be no king of the world. It follows:
The Prophet concludes what he had said: As soon as the voice had come down from heaven, Nebuchadnezzar was cast out from mankind! Some occasion of expelling him might have preceded this; but since the divination is uncertain, I had rather leave undetermined what the Holy Spirit has not revealed. I only wished to touch upon this point shortly, when he boasted in the foundation of Babylon by the fortitude of his own energy; since his own nobles must have become disgusted when they saw him carried away with such great pride; or he might have spoken in this way when he thought snares were prepared for him, or when he felt some crowds moved against him. Whatever be the meaning, God sent forth his voice, and the same moment he expelled King Nebuchadnezzar from the company of mankind. Hence, in the same hour, says he, the speech was fulfilled If a long period had interposed, it might have been ascribed to either fortune or other inferior means, as a reason; but when such is the connection between the language and its effect, the judgment is too clear to be obscured by the malignity of mankind, tie says, therefore, He was cast forth and fed with herbs, differing in nothing from oxen: his body was soaked in, rain, since he lay out in the open air. We are ourselves often subject to the drenching shower, and in the fields are sure to meet with it, and travelers often reach their inn wet through. But the Prophet speaks of the continuance of God’s judgment, since he had no roof to shelter him, and always lay out in the fields. Hence he says, he was moistened by the dew of heaven until, says he, his nails became claws, and his hair like the wings of eagles This passage confirms what has been said concerning the explanation of the seven times as a long period, for his hair could not have grown so in seven months, nor could such great; deformity arise. Hence this change, thus described by the Prophet, sufficiently shews King Nebuchadnezzar to have suffered his punishment for a length of time, for he could not be so quickly humbled, because pride is not easily tamed in a man of moderate station, how much less then in so great a monarch! It afterwards follows:
The Prophet again introduces King Nebuchadnezzar as the speaker. He says, then, After that time had elapsed, he raised his eyes to heaven Without doubt, he means those seven years. As to his then beginning to raise his eyes to heaven, this shews how long it takes to cure pride, the disease under which he labored. For when any vital part of the body is corrupt and decaying, its cure is difficult and tedious; so also when pride exists in men’s hearts, and gains an entrance within the marrow, and infects the inmost soul, it is not easily plucked out; and this is worthy of notice. Then we are taught how God by his word so operated upon King Nebuchadnezzar, as not immediately and openly to withdraw the effect of his grace. Nebuchadnezzar profited by being’ treated disgracefully during those seven years or times, and by being driven from the society of mankind; but he could not perceive this at once till God opened his eyes. So, therefore, God often chastises us, and invites us by degrees, and prepares us for repentance, but his grace is not immediately acknowledged. But lest I should be too prolix, I will leave the rest till to-morrow.
Now the opposite clause is added to complete the contrast, because though it follows that nothing is firm or solid in mankind, yet this principle flourishes, namely, God is eternal; yet few reason thus, because in words all allow God to be firm and everlasting, yet they do not descend into themselves and seriously weigh their own frailty. Thus, being unmindful of their own lot, they rage against God himself. The explanation then which occurs here is required; for after Nebuchadnezzar praises God, because his power is eternal, he adds by way of contrast, all the dwellers on the earth are considered as nothing. Some take כלה, keleh, for a single word, meaning “anything complete, ” for כלה , keleh, is to “finish,” or “complete;” it also signifies to “consume” sometimes, whence they think the noun to be derived, because men are limited within their own standard, but God is immense. This is harsh; the more received opinion is, that ה, he, is put for א, a, here; and thus Nebuchadnezzar says, men are esteemed as of no value before God. Already, then, we see how suitably these two clauses agree together; for God is an eternal king, and men are as nothing in comparison with him. For if anything is attributed to men as springing from themselves, it so far detracts from the supreme power and empire of God. It follows, then, that God does not; entirely receive his rights, until all mortals are reduced to nothing. For although men make themselves of very great importance, yet Nebuchadnezzar here pronounces himself by the Spirit’s instinct, to be of no value before God; for otherwise they would not attempt to raise themselves, unless they were utterly blind in the midst of their darkness. But when they are dragged into the light they feel their own nothingness and utter vanity. For whatever we are, this depends on God’s grace, which sustains us every moment, and supplies us with new vigor. Hence it is our duty to depend upon God only; because as soon as he withdraws his hand and the virtue of his Spirit, we vanish away. In God we are anything he pleases, in ourselves we are nothing.
It now follows: God does according to his pleasure in the army of the heavens, and among the dwellers upon earth This may seem absurd, since God is said to act according to his will, as if’ there were no moderation, or equity, or rule of justice, with him. But we must bear in mind, what we read elsewhere concerning men being ruled by laws, since their will is perverse, and they are borne along in any direction by their unruly lust; but God is a law to himself, because his will is the most perfect justice. As often, then, as Scripture sets before us the power of God, and commands us to be content with it, it does not attribute a tyrannical empire to God, according to the calumnies of the impious. But because we do not cease to cavil against God, and oppose our reason to his secret counsels, and thus strive with him, as if he did not act justly and fairly when he does anything which we disapprove; hence God pronounces all things to be done according to his own will, so that the Holy Spirit may restrain this audacity. We should remember then, when mention is made of God, how impossible it is for anything either perverse or unjust to belong’ to him; his will cannot be turned aside by any affection, for it is the perfection of justice. Since this is so, we should remember how extremely unbridled and perverse our rashness is, while we dare object to anything which God does; whence the necessity of this teaching which puts the bridle of modesty upon us is proved, since God does all things according to his will, as it is said in Psalms 115:3, Our God in heaven does what he wishes. From this sentence we gather that nothing happens by chance, but every event in the world depends on God’s secret providence. We ought not to admit any distinction between God’s permission and his wish. For we see the Holy Spirit — the best master of language — here clearly expresses two things; first, what God does; and next, what he does by his own will. But permission, according to those vain speculators, differs from will; as if God unwillingly granted what he did not wish to happen! Now, there is nothing more ridiculous than to ascribe this weakness to God. Hence the efficacy of action is added; God does what he wishes, says Nebuchadnezzar. He does not speak in a carnal but in a spiritual sense, or instinct, as we have said; since the Prophet must be attended to just as if he had been sent from heaven. Now, therefore, we understand how this world is administered by God’s secret providence, and that nothing happens but what he has commanded and decreed; while he ought with justice to be esteemed the Author of all things.
Some object here to the apparent absurdity of saying God is the author of sin, if nothing is done without his will; nay, if he himself works it! This calumny is easily answered, as the method of God’s action differs materially from that of men. For when any man sins, God works in his own manner, which is very different indeed from that of man, since he exercises his own judgment, and thus is said to blind and to harden. As God therefore commands both the reprobate and the evil one, he permits them to indulge in all kinds of licentiousness, and in doing so, executes his own judgments. But he who sins is deservedly guilty, and cannot implicate God as a companion of his wickedness. And why so? Because God has nothing in common with him in reference to sinfulness. Hence we see how these things which we may deem contrary to one another, are mutually accordant, since God by his own will governs all events in the world, and yet is not the author of sin. And why so? Because he treats Satan and all the wicked with the strict justice of a judge. We do not always see the process, but we must hold this principle with firmness — supreme power is in God’s hands; hence we must not cavil at his judgments, however inexplicable they may appear to us. Wherefore this phrase follows, There is no one who can hinder his hand, or can say unto him, Why dost thou act thus? When Nebuchadnezzar says, God’s hand cannot be hindered, he uses this method of deriding human folly which does not hesitate to rebel against God. Already they raise their finger to prevent, if possible, the power of his hand; and even when convicted of weakness, they proceed in their own fury. Nebuchadnezzar, then, deservedly displays their ridiculous madness in conducting themselves so intemperately in wishing to restrain the Almighty, and to confine him within their bounds, and to fabricate chains for the purpose of restricting him. When mankind thus burst forth into sacrilegious fury, they deserve to be laughed at, and this is here the force of Daniel’s words.
He afterwards adds, No one can say, Why dost thou act thus? We know how they gave way to the language of extreme petulance; since scarcely one man in a hundred restrains himself with such sobriety as to attribute the glory to God, and to confess himself just in his works. But Nebuchadnezzar does not here consider what men are accustomed to do, but what they ought to do. He says therefore, and with strict justice, God cannot be corrected; since however the reprobate chatter, their folly is self-evident, for it has neither reason nor the pretense of reason to support it.
The whole sense is — God’s will is our law, against which we strive in vain; and then, if he permits us sufficient license, and our infirmity breaks forth against him, and we contend with him, all our efforts will be futile. God himself will be justified in his judgments, and thus every human countenance must submit to him. (Psalms 51:6.) This is the general rule.
We must now notice the addition, God’s will must be done as well in the army of heaven as among the inhabitants of earth By “the army of heaven” I do not understand, as in other places, the sun, moon, and stars, but angels and even demons, who may be called heavenly without absurdity, if we consider their origin, and their being “ princes of the air. ” Hence Daniel means to imply angels, demons, and men, to be equally governed by God’s will; and although the impious rush on intemperately, yet they are restrained by a secret bridle, and are prevented from executing whatever their lusts dictate. God therefore is said to do in the army of the heavens and also among men whatsoever he wishes; because he has the elect angels always obedient to him, and the devils are compelled to obey his command, although they strive in the contrary direction. We know how strongly the demons resist God, but yet they are compelled to obey him, not willingly, but by compulsion. But God acts among angels and demons just as among the inhabitants of the earth. He governs others by his Spirit, namely, his elect, who are afterwards regenerated by his Spirit, and they are so treated by him that his justice may truly shine forth in all their actions. He also acts upon the reprobate, but in another manner; for he draws them headlong by means of the devil; he impels them with his secret virtue; he strikes them by a spirit of dizziness; he blinds them and casts upon them a reprobate spirit, and hardens their hearts to contumacy. Behold how God does all things according to his own will among men and angels! There is also another mode of action, as far as concerns our outward condition; for God raises one aloft and depresses another. (Psalms 113:7.) Thus we see the rich made poor, and others raised from the dunghill, and placed in the highest stations of honor. The profane call this the sport of fortune! But the moderation of God’s providence is most just, although incomprehensible. Thus God acts according to his will among men and angels; but that interior action must be put in the first place, as we have said. It now follows:
Here Nebuchadnezzar explains at length what he had previously touched upon but shortly; for he had recovered his soundness of mind, and thus commends God’s mercy in being content with a moderate and temporary chastisement; and then he stretched forth his hand, and out of a beast formed a man again! He was not changed into a brute, as we have said, but he was treated with such ignominy, and made like wild beasts, and pastured with them. This deformity, then, was so dreadful, that his restoration might be called a kind of new creation. Hence with very good reason Nebuchadnezzar celebrates this grace of God. At that time, therefore, my intellect returned to me; he had said this once before, but since understanding and reason are inestimable blessings of God, Nebuchadnezzar inculcates this truth, and confesses himself to have experienced God’s singular grace, because he had returned to a sound mind. And at the same time he adds, he had returned to the honor and glory of his kingdom; because he had been consulted again by his counselors and elders How this was accomplished is unknown, since the memory of those times is buried, unless the princes of his kingdom were inclined to clemency — which is very probable — and desired among them the king who had been cast out. We do not say this was done by them on purpose, because God made use of them, and they were ignorantly carrying out his purposes. They had heard the voice from heaven, O King Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is said, thy kingdom is departed from thee! This indeed would be universally known and understood among all men; but we know how easily oblivion creeps over men when God speaks. These princes, then, were unaware of their doing God’s work when they demanded their king. In this way he returned to the dignity of his kingdom; and even additional dignity was next conferred upon him. At length it follows:
At the close of the edict, Nebuchadnezzar joins the ingenuous confession of his faults with the praises of God! What he says of the proud, he doubtless applies properly to himself; as if he had said, God wished to constitute me a remarkable monument of his method of humbling the proud for the instruction of all mankind. For I was inflated with pride, and God corrected this by so remarkable a punishment, that my example ought to profit the world at large. Hence I said, King Nebuchadnezzar does not simply return thanks to God, but at the same time confesses his fault, for though subdued with deserved harshness, yet his haughtiness could not be arrested by any lighter remedy. First of all he says, I praise, extol, and glorify the king of heaven! This heaping together of words doubtless proceeded from vehement affection. At the same time a contrast must be understood, on the principle formerly mentioned; since God is never rightly praised unless the ignominy of men is detected; he is not properly extolled, unless their loftiness is cast down; he is never glorified unless men are buried in shame and he prostrate in the dust. Hence, while Nebuchadnezzar here praises, extols, and glorifies God, he also confesses himself and all mortals to be nothing — as he did before — to deserve no praise but rather the utmost ignominy.
He adds, since all his works are truth Here קשוט , kesot, is taken for “ rectitude or integrity.” For דיני אמת, dini-ameth, mean true judgments, but refer here to equity. God’s works are therefore all truth, that is, all integrity, as if he had said, none of God’s works deserve blame. Then the explanation Follows, All his ways are judgments We see here the praise of God’s perfect justice; this ought to be referred to Nebuchadnezzar personally, as if he had said, God does not deal with me too strictly; I have no reason for expostulating with him, or for murmuring as if he were too severe with me. I confess, therefore, that I deserve whatever punishment I sustain. And why so? All his ways are justice; meaning the highest rectitude. Then, All his works are truth; that is, nothing contrary to equity is found there, nothing crooked, but everywhere the highest justice will shine forth. We see then how Nebuchadnezzar by this language condemns himself out of his own mouth by declaring God’s justice to be in all his works. This general form of expression does not prevent Nebuchadnezzar from openly and freely confessing himself a criminal before God’s tribunal; but it acquires greater force by his example, which admonishes us by the general confession of God’s justice, rectitude, and truthfulness in whatever he does. And this is worthy of notice, since many find no difficulty in celebrating God’s justice and rectitude when they are treated just as they like; but if God begins to treat them with severity, they then vomit forth their poison, and begin to quarrel with God, and to accuse him of injustice and cruelty. Since therefore Nebuchadnezzar here confesses God to be just and true in all his works, without any exception, notwithstanding his own severe chastisements, this confession is not feigned; for he necessarily utters what he says from the lowest depths of his heart, through his having experienced the rigor of the divine judgment.
He now adds at last, He can humble those who walk in pride. Here Nebuchadnezzar more openly displays his own disgrace, for he is not ashamed to confess his fault before the whole world, because his punishment was known to every one. As God then wished his folly to be universally detested, by making so horrible an example of him by his punishment, so Nebuchadnezzar now brings his own case forward, and bears witness to the justice of the penalty, in consequence of his extreme pride. Here then we see God’s power joined with his justice, as we have previously mentioned. He does not attribute to God a tyranny free from all law; for as soon as Nebuchadnezzar had confessed all God’s ways to be just, he condemns himself of pride directly afterwards. Hence he does not hesitate to expose his disgrace before mankind, that God may be glorified. And this is the true method of praising God, not only by confessing ourselves to be as nothing, but also by looking back upon our failings. We ought not only to acknowledge ourselves inwardly guilty before him, but also openly to testify the same before all mankind whenever it is necessary. And when he uses the word “humility,” this may be referred to outward dejection; for Nebuchadnezzar was humbled when God east him out into the woods to pass his life in company with the wild beasts. But he was also humbled for another reason, as if he had been a son of God. Since this humbling is twofold, Nebuchadnezzar wishes here to express the former kind, because God prostrates and throws down the proud. This is one kind of humiliation; but it becomes profitless unless God afterwards governs us by a spirit of submission. Hence Nebuchadnezzar does not here embrace the grace of God, which was worthy of no common praise and exaltation; and in this edict he does not describe what is required of a pious man long trained in God’s school; yet he shews how he had profited under God’s rod, by attributing to him the height of power. Besides this, he adds the praise of justice and rectitude, while he confesses himself guilty, and bears witness to the justice of the punishment which had been divinely inflicted on him.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Daniel 4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent