Monday, June 5th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Calvin's Commentary on the Bible Calvin's Commentary
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Daniel 6". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cal/ daniel-6.html. 1840-57.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Daniel 6". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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As to the translation, some translate the last clause of the second verse, “That the king should not have any trouble;” but since
, nezek, signifies “to suffer loss,” I willingly adopt this sense; because the king did not escape trouble, through a desire for ease, as he might have done, being an old man, but he willingly managed his own affairs, and committed the care of them to three men, lest anything should be lost through passing through too many hands. For experience shews us how confusion is caused by a multitude. If there had been only there an hundred and twenty governors of provinces, many inconveniences must have happened, and much loss would have occurred; hence the king placed three prefects over these hundred and twenty. נזק
Here again we may perceive how God cared for his Prophet, not so much for any private reason or through private respect, as by his aid the wretched captives and exiles should be benefited. God wished to stretch forth his hand to the Jews by means of Daniel. And we may deservedly call him God’s hand in sustaining the Jews. The Persians, being barbarians, were not naturally more merciful than others; hence God interposed his servant Daniel to succor them. We must notice, in the context of this history, how Daniel alone was chosen by Darius one of these three superior officers. He was the third in rank under king Belshazzar, although for a moment, yet it might occasion envy under the new king that so great an honor was conferred upon him. Very probably Darius was informed of the previous predictions of Daniel; how the hand appeared upon the wall, how he interpreted the writing, and became a heaven-sent messenger to denounce destruction on king Belshazzar. For unless this rumor held reached Darius, Daniel would never have obtained so much authority under him. His own army abounded in numbers, and we know how every conqueror is surrounded in war by many dependents, all of whom wish to share in the spoil. Darius, therefore, would never have noticed a stranger and a captive, and admitted him to such great honor and power, unless he had understood him to be a known Prophet of God, and also a herald in denouncing destruction against the Babylonish monarchy. Thus we gather how providential it was for him to be among the first satraps, and even third in the kingdom, as this brought him more quickly under the notice of Darius. For if Daniel had been cast down by king Belshazzar he would have remained at home in concealment; but when he appeared clothed in royal apparel, the king inquired who he was? He heard the means of his arriving at so high an honor; hence he acknowledged him as God’s Prophet, and appointed him one of the three prefects. Here also God’s providence is again set before us, not only in preserving his servant in safety, but in providing for the safety of the whole Church, lest the Jews should be still more oppressed by the change of masters. But a temptation is afterwards inflicted, by which the holy Prophet and the whole people were severely tried; for the Prophet says:
The Prophet now relates, as I have said, the origin of a temptation which might naturally cast down the spirits of the elect people as well as his own. For although Daniel alone was cast into the lion’s-den, as we shall afterwards see, yet, unless he had been liberated, the condition of the people would have been more grievous and severe. For we know the wicked petulantly insult the wretched and the innocent, when they see them suffering any adversity. If Daniel had been torn by the lions, all men would have risen up in a body against the Jews. God, therefore, here exercised the faith and patience of his servant, and also proved all the Jews by the same test, since they saw themselves liable to the most extreme sufferings in the person of a single individual, unless God had speedily afforded the assistance which he rendered. Daniel, first of all, says, he excelled all others, since a more excellent or superior spirit was in him It does not always happen that those who are remarkable for prudence or other endowments obtain greater authority and rank. In the palaces of kings we often see men of brutal dispositions holding high rank, and we need not go back to history for this. In these days kings are often gross and infatuated, and more like horses and asses than men! Hence audacity and recklessness obtain the highest honors of the palace. When Daniel says he excelled, he brings to our notice God’s two-fold benefit: first, a greater portion of his Spirit was bestowed upon him; and secondly, Darius acknowledged this, and raised him to honor when he saw him endued with no ordinary industry and wisdom. We now understand the Prophet’s teaching, here, as first divinely adorned with prudence and other endowments; and then, Darius was a competent judge of this, in estimating his prudence and other virtues, and holding them in great repute. Since, therefore, a noble spirit was in him, hence he overcame all others, says he; therefore the king determined to set him above the whole kingdom, that is, to place him first among the three satraps. Although it was a singular privilege with which God once blessed his people and his Prophet, yet we ought to weep over the heartlessness of kings in these days, who proudly despise God’s gifts in all good men who surpass the multitude in usefulness; and at the same time enjoy the society of the ignorant like themselves, while they are slaves to avarice and rapine, and manifest the greatest cruelty and licentiousness. Since, then, we see how very unworthy kings usually are of their empire and their power, we must weep over the state of the world, because it reflects like a glass the wrath of heaven, and kings are thus destitute of counsel. At the last day, King Darius alone will be sufficient to condemn them, for he had discretion enough not to hesitate to set a captive and a foreigner over all his satraps; for this was a royal, nay, a heroic virtue in Darius to prefer this man to all his own friends. But now kings think of nothing else than preferring their own panders, buffoons, and flatterers; while they praise none but men of low character, whom God has branded with ignominy. Although they are unworthy of being reckoned among mankind, yet they esteem themselves the masters of their sovereigns, and treat the kings of these days as their slaves. This happens through their mere slothfulness, and their discarding every possible anxiety. Hence they are compelled to deliver up their command to others, and retain nothing but the title. This, as I said, is a sure proof of the wrath of heaven, since the world is at this day unworthy of the government which God exercises over it by his hand.
With respect to the envy felt by the nobles, we see this vice rampant in all ages, since the aspirants to any greatness can never bear the presence of virtue. For, being guilty of evil themselves, they are necessarily bitter against the virtue of others. Nor ought it to seem surprising that the Persians who sustained the greatest labors, and passed through numerous changes of fortune, should be unable to bear with an obscure and unknown person, not only associated with them, but appointed as their superior. Their envy, then, seems to have had some pretext, either real or imaginary. But it will always be deserving of condemnation, when we find men selfishly pursuing their own advantage without any regard for the public good. Whoever aspires to power and self-advancement, without regarding the welfare of others, must necessarily be avaricious and rapacious, cruel and perfidious, as well as forgetful of his duties. Since, then, the nobles of the realm envied Daniel, they betrayed their malice, for they had no regard for the public good, but desired to seize upon all things for their own interests. In this example we observe the natural consequence of envy. And we should diligently notice this, since nothing is more tempting than gliding down from one vice to a worse. The envious man loses all sense of justice while attempting every scheme for injuring his adversary. These nobles report Daniel to have been preferred to themselves unworthily. If they had been content with this abuse, it would have been, as I said, a vice and a sign of a perverse nature. But they go far beyond this, for they seek for an occasion of crime in Daniel. We see, then, how envy excites them to the commission of crime. Thus all the envious are perpetually on the watch, while they become spies of the fortunes of those whom they envy, to oppress them by every possible means. This is one point; but when they find no crime, they trample upon justice, without modesty and without humanity, and with cruelty and perfidy lay themselves out to crush an adversary. Daniel relates this of his rivals. He says, They immediately sought occasion against him, and did not find it Then he adds how unjustly and perfidiously they sought occasion against him. There is no doubt they knew Daniel to be a pious man and approved by God; hence, when they plot against his holy Prophet, they purposely wage war with God himself, while they are blinded with the perverse passion of envy. Whence, then, does it spring? Surely from ambition. Thus we see how pestilential a plague ambition is, from which envy springs up, and afterwards perfidy and cruelty!
Besides this, Daniel admonishes us by his own example to study to strive after integrity, and thus to deprive the malevolent and the wicked of all occasion against us, which they seek. We shall find no better defense against the envious and the slanderous than to conduct ourselves righteously and innocently. Whatever snares they may lay for us, they will never succeed, for our innocence will repel their malice like a shield. Meanwhile we see how Daniel escaped utter ruin, since they sought a pretext against him in something else, namely, his worship of God. Hence let us learn how we ought to esteem piety and an earnest desire for it of more value than life itself. Daniel was faithful and upright in his administration: he discharged his duty so as to close the mouth of his enemies and detractors. Thus, as I have said, integrity is the best of all protectors. Again, Daniel was in danger because he would not leave off the sincere worship of God and its outward profession. Hence we must bravely undergo all dangers whenever the worship of God is at stake. This temporary life ought not to be more precious to us than that most sacred of all things — the preservation of God’s honor unstained. We therefore see how we, by these means, are urged to the cultivation of integrity, since we cannot be more secure than when fortified by a good conscience, as Peter in his first epistle exhorts us to the same purpose, (1 Peter 3:16.) Now, whatever we may fear, and whatever events await us, even if we become subject to a hundred deaths, we ought never to decline from the pure worship of God, since Daniel did not hesitate to submit to death and enter the lion’s den, because he openly professed the worship of Israel’s God. As these nobles entered into this barbarous and cruel counsel for oppressing Daniel under the pretense of religion, here, again, we gather the blindness and rashness of mankind when ambition and envy seize upon their minds. For it is a matter of no moment with them to come into collision with the Almighty, (284) for they do not approach Daniel as a fellow-creature, but they leap into an insane and sacrilegious contest when they wish to extinguish the worship of God and give way to their own indulgence. Thus, as I have said, we are admonished by this example how ambition is to be guarded against and avoided, and also the envy which arises from it. The nature of this charge — the worship of God — afterwards follows: —
(284) The French editions of 1562 and 1569,
a Geneva , translate the idiomatic phrase, susque deque illis est , by ce leur est tout un ; “it is all one to them.” — Ed.
The nobles of the kingdom purposely endeavored to ruin the holy Prophet, either by casting him into the lion’s den to perish or else by causing him to desist from the outward profession of worshipping God. They knew him to be so really in earnest that he would not redeem his life by so great an act of impiety, and hence they thought him doomed to death. We perceive in them great cunning; but God met them on the other hand and aided his servant, as we shall see. Meanwhile their malice was the more detestable, since they desired to destroy Daniel by this very pretense. Although they did not worship Israel’s God, they knew the Prophet’s mind to be pious and straightforward, and then they experienced the power of that God who was unknown to them. They did not condemn Daniel, nor blame the religion which he practiced; for, as I have said, their hatred of this man urged them to such cruelty that they rushed against the Almighty. They could not disguise from themselves the duty of worshipping God: they worshipped and adored unknown deities, and did not dare to condemn the worship of Israel’s God. We see how the devil fascinated them when they dared to impute this as a crime to the holy Prophet; while we are ignorant of the manner in which their opinion was changed.
Some suppose this was done because Darius could not bear with composure the glory of his son-in-law. For since he was an old man, and his relative in the flower of his age, he thought himself despised. Others think Darius to have been touched by secret emulation, and that he allowed his nobles to approach him for the purpose of deceiving the miserable and doting old man, and thus to throw dust in his eyes. But this conjecture does not seem to me sufficiently valid. Nor need I give myself much trouble in this matter, because it might happen that at the beginning of a new reign they wished to congratulate the king, and they fixed upon something new and unaccustomed, as we see often done by flatterers of royalty. Hence the old man might be deceived in this matter, since the monarchy was newly established. The king had hitherto ruled over none but Medes; now Chaldeans, Assyrians, and many other nations were added to his sway. Such an addition might intoxicate him with vain-glory, and his nobles might think this a plausible reason for offering to him divine honors. This single reason seems to me sufficient; I do not inquire further, but embrace what is probable and obvious at first sight. I defer the remainder till to-morrow.
WE said, yesterday, that the nobles who laid snares against Daniel were inspired with great fury when they dared to dictate to the king the edict recorded by Daniel. It was an intolerable sacrilege thus to deprive all the deities of their honor; yet he subscribed the edict, as we shall afterwards see, and thus put to the test the obedience of his people whom he had lately reduced under the yoke by the help of his son-in-law. There is no doubt of his wish to subdue the Chaldees, who up to that time had been masters; and we know how ferocity springs from the possession of authority. Since then the Chaldees had formerly reigned so far and wide, it was difficult to tame them and render them submissive, especially when they found themselves the slaves of those who had previously been their rivals. We know how many contests there were between them and the Medes; and although they were subdued in war, their spirits were not yet in subjection; hence Darius desired to prove their obedience, and this reason induced him to give his consent. He does not purposely provoke the anger of the gods; but through respect for the men, he forgets the deities, and substitutes himself in the place of the gods, as if it was in his power to attract the authority of heaven to himself! This, as I have said, was a grievous sacrilege. If any one could enter into the hearts of kings, he would find scarcely one in a hundred who does not despise everything divine. Although they confess themselves to enjoy their thrones by the grace of God, as we have previously remarked, yet they wish to be adored in his stead. We now see how easily flatterers persuade kings to do whatever appears likely to extol their magnificence. It follows:
Here, as I have said, it is sufficiently apparent how inclined to fallacies are the minds of kings when they think they can benefit themselves and increase their own dignity. For the king did not dispute long with his nobles but subscribed the edict; for he thought it might prove useful to himself and his successors: if he found the Chaldeans obedient to himself and rather prepared to deny the existence of every god than to refuse whatever he commanded! As to the use of the word, some, translate
, asra, by “writing,” deriving it from “to cut in, ” as we know that all laws were formerly graven on tablets of brass; but I interpret it more simply of their seeking from the king a signature of the writing, that is, he was to sign the edict after it was written. Which cannot be changed, they say — meaning, the edict is unchangeable and inviolable, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not pass away — that is, which does not vanish, as also Christ says, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away, or shall never become vain. (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31.) As to his joining the Medes with the Persians, this arises from what we said before, since Cyrus and Darius reigned in common as colleagues. Greater dignity was granted to Darius, while the power was in the hands of Cyrus; besides, without controversy, his sons were heirs of either kingdom and of the Monarchy of the East, unless when they began to make war on each other. When they say, the law of the Medes and Persians is immutable, this is worthy of praise in laws, and sanctions their authority; thus they are strong and obtain their full effect. When laws are variable, many are necessarily injured, and no private interest is stable unless the law be without variation; besides, when there is a liberty of changing laws, license succeeds in place of justice. For those who possess the supreme power, if corrupted by gifts, promulgate first one edict and then another. Thus justice cannot flourish where change in the laws allows of so much license. But, at the same time, kings ought prudently to consider lest they promulgate any edict or law without grave and mature deliberation; and secondly, kings ought to be careful lest they be counteracted by cunning and artful plots, to which they are often liable. Hence, constancy is praiseworthy in kings and their edicts, if only they are preceded by prudence and equity. But we shall immediately see how foolishly kings affect the fame of consistency, and how their obstinacy utterly perverts justice. But we shall see this directly in its own place. It follows: אסרא
Daniel now relates how he was clothed in the boldness of the Spirit of God to offer his life as a sacrifice to God, because he knew he had no hope of pardon left, if his violation of the king’s edict had been discovered; he knew the king himself to be completely in shackles even if he wished to pardon him — as the event proved. If death had been before the Prophet’s eyes, he preferred meeting it fearlessly rather than ceasing from the duty of piety. We must remark that the internal worship of God is not treated here, but only the external profession of it. If Daniel had been forbidden to pray, this fortitude with which he was endued might seem necessary; but many think he ran great risks without sufficient reason, since he increased the chance of death when only outward profession was prohibited. But as Daniel here is not the herald of his own virtue, but the Spirit speaks through his mouth, we must suppose that this magnanimity in the holy Prophet was pleasing to God. And his liberation shewed how greatly his piety was approved, because he had rather lose his life than change any of his habits respecting the worship of God. We know the principal sacrifice which God requires, is to call upon his name. For we hereby testify him to be the author of all good things; next we shew forth a specimen of our faith; then we fly to him, and cast all our cares into his bosom, and offer him our prayers. Since, therefore, prayer constitutes the chief part of our adoration and worship of God, it was certainly a matter of no slight moment when the king forbade any one to pray to God; it was a gross and manifest denial of piety.
And here, again, we collect how blind was the king’s pride when he could sign so impious and foul an edict! Then how mad were the nobles who, to ruin Daniel as far as they possibly could, endeavored to abolish all piety, and draw down God from heaven! For what remains, when men think they can free themselves from the help of God, and pass him over with security? Unless he prop us up by his special aid, we know how entirely we should be reduced to nothing. Hence the king forbade any one to offer up any prayer during a whole month — that is, as I have said, he exacts from every one a denial of God! But Daniel could not obey the edict without committing an atrocious insult against God and declining from piety; because, as I have said, God exacts this as a principal sacrifice. Hence it is not surprising if Daniel cordially opposed the sacrilegious edict. Now, with respect to the profession of piety, it was necessary to testify before men his perseverance in the worship of God. For if he had altered his habits at all, it would have been a partial abjuration; he would not have said that he openly despised God to please Darius; but that very difference in his conduct would have been a proof of perfidious defection. We know that God requires not only faith in the heart and the inward affections, but also the witness and confession of our piety.
Daniel, therefore, was obliged to persevere in the holy practice to which he was accustomed, unless he wished to be the very foulest apostate! He was in the habit of praying with his windows open : hence he continued in his usual course, lest any one should object that he gratified his earthly king for a moment by omitting the worship of God. I wish this doctrine was now engraven on the hearts of all men as it ought to be; but this example of the Prophet is derided by many, not perhaps openly and glaringly, but still clearly enough, the Prophet seems to them too inconsiderate and simple, since he incurs great danger, rashly, and without any necessity. For they so separate faith from its outward confession as to suppose it can remain entire even if completely buried, and for the sake of avoiding the cross. they depart a hundred times from its pure and sincere profession. We must maintain, therefore, not only the duty of offering to God the sacrifice of prayer in our hearts, but that our open profession is also required, and thus the reality of our worship of God may clearly appear.
I do not say that our hasty thoughts are to be instantly spread abroad, rendering us subject to death by the enemies of God and his gospel; but I say these things ought to be united and never to be separated, namely, faith and its profession. For confession is of two kinds: first, the open and ingenuous testimony to our inward feelings; and secondly, the necessary maintenance of the worship of God, lest we shew any sign of a perverse and perfidious hypocrisy, and thus reject the pursuit of piety. With regard to the first kind, it is neither always nor everywhere necessary to profess our faith; but the second kind ought to be perpetually practiced, for it can never be necessary for us to pretend either disaffection or apostasy. For although Daniel did not send for the Chaldeans by the sound of a trumpet whenever he wished to pray, yet he framed his prayers and his vows in his couch as usual, and did not pretend to be forgetful of piety when he saw his faith put to the test, and the experiments made whether or not he would persevere in his constancy. Hence he distinctly says, he went home, after being made acquainted with the signing of the decree. Had he been admitted to the council, he would doubtless have spoken out, but the rest of the nobles cunningly excluded him, lest he should interfere with them, and they thought the remedy would be too late, and utterly in vain as soon as he perceived the certainty of his own death. Hence, had he been admitted to the king’s council, he would there have discharged his duty, and heartily interposed; but after the signing of the edict, and the loss of all opportunity for advising the king, he retired to his house.
We must here notice the impossibility of finding an excuse for the king’s advisers, who purposely escape when they see that unanimity of opinion cannot be obtained, and think God will be satisfied in this way, if they only maintain perfect silence. But no excuse can be admitted for such weakness of mind. And, doubtless, Daniel is unable to defend them by his example, since, as we have already said, he was excluded by the cunning and malice of the nobles from taking his place among them as usual, and thus admonishing the king in time. He now says, His windows were open towards Jerusalem The question arises, Whether it was necessary for Daniel thus to open his windows? For some one may object — he did this under a mistaken opinion; for if God fills heaven end earth, what signified his windows being open towards Jerusalem? There is no doubt that the Prophet used this device as a stimulus to his fervor in prayer. For when praying for the liberation of his people, he directed his eyes towards Jerusalem, and that sight became a stimulus to enflame his mind to greater devotion. Hence the opening of the Prophet’s windows has no reference to God, as if he should be listened to more readily by having the open heaven between his dwelling and Judea; but he rather considered himself and his natural infirmity. Now, if the holy Prophet, so careful in his prayers, needed this help, we must see whether or not our sloth in these days has need of more stimulants! Let us learn, therefore, when we feel ourselves to be too sluggish and cold in prayer, to collect all the aids which can arouse our feelings and correct the torpor of which we are conscious. This, then, was the Prophet’s intention in opening his windows towards Jerusalem Besides, he wished by this symbol to shew his domestics his perseverance, in the hope and expectation of the promised redemption. When, therefore, he prayed to God, he kept Jerusalem in sight, not that his eyes could penetrate to so distant a region, but he directed his gaze towards Jerusalem to shew himself a stranger among the Chaldeans, although he enjoyed great power among them, and was adorned with great authority, and excelled in superior dignity. Thus he wished all men to perceive how he longed for the promised inheritance, although for a time he was in exile. This was his second reason for opening his windows.
He says, He prayed three times a-day. This is worthy of observation, because, unless we fix certain hours in the day for prayer, it easily slips from our memory. Although, therefore, Daniel was constant in pouring forth prayers, yet he enjoined upon himself the customary rite of prostrating himself before God three times a-day. When we rise in the morning, unless we commence the day by praying to God, we shew a brutish stupidity, so also when we retire to rest, and when we take our food and at other times, as every one finds most advantageous to himself. For here God allows us liberty, but we ought all to feel our infirmities, and to apply the proper remedies. Therefore, for this reason, Daniel was in the habit of praying thrice. A proof of his fervor is also added, when he says, He prostrated himself on his knees; not that bending the knee is necessary in prayer, but while we need aids to devotion, as we have said, that posture is of importance. First of all, it reminds us of our inability to stand before God, unless with humility and reverence; then, our minds are better prepared for serious entreaty, and this symbol of worship is pleasing to God. Hence Daniel’s expression is by no means superfluous: He, fell upon his knees whenever he wished to pray to God. He now says, he uttered prayers and confessions before God, or he praised God, for we must diligently notice how many in their prayers mutter to God. For although they demand either one thing or another, yet they are carried along by an immoderate impulse, and, as I have said, they are violent in their requests unless God instantly grants their petitions.
This is the reason why Daniel joins praises or the giving of thanks with prayers; as, also, Paul exhorts us respecting both. Offer up, says he, your prayers to God, with thanksgiving, (Philippians 4:6,) as if he had said, We cannot rightly offer vows and prayers to God unless when we bless his holy name, although he does not immediately grant our petitions. In Daniel’s case we must remark another circumstance: he had been an exile for a long time, and tossed about in many troubles and changes; still he celebrates God’s praises. Which of us is endued with such patience as to praise God, if afflicted with many trials through three or four years? Nay, scarcely a day passes without our passions growing warm and instigating us to rebel against God! Since Daniel, then, could persevere in praising God, when oppressed by so many sorrows, anxieties, and troubles — this was a remarkable proof of invincible patience. And, doubtless, he signifies a continuous act, by using the demonstrative pronoun
, deneh, which refers to his ordinary habit — as he had done before, and from former times By noticing the time, he marks, as I have said before, a perseverance, since he was not only accustomed to pray once or twice, but by a regular constancy he exercised himself in this duty of piety every day. It afterwards follows: — דנה
Here the nobles of Darius display their fraud when they observe Daniel, and unite in a conspiracy against him: for no other object but the death of Daniel could have induced them to dictate this edict. Hence they agree together, and find Daniel uttering prayers and supplications to his God If Daniel had prayed with the slightest secrecy, he would not have been a victim to their snares; but he did not refuse the prospect of death. He knew the object of the edict, and expected the arrival of the nobles. We see, then, how willingly he submitted to instant death, and for no other purpose than to retain the pure worship of God, together with its outward profession. Go to, now, ye who desire to shield your perfidy, pretending that you ought not to incur danger rashly, and when the wicked surround you on all sides! You become cautious lest you should rashly throw away your lives! For Daniel, in their opinion, was to be blamed for too great simplicity and folly, since he willingly and knowingly encountered certain danger. But we have already said, he could not escape from their snare without indirectly revolting from God, for he might have been immediately reproached — Why do you desist from your accustomed habit? Why do you close your windows? Why do you not dare to pray to your God? It appears, then, you regard the king of more importance than the reverence and fear of God. Because God’s honor would have been thus sullied, Daniel, as we have already seen, spontaneously offered himself to death as a sacrifice. We are taught, also, by this example, how snares are prepared for the sons of God, however circumspectly they act, and however soberly they conduct themselves. But they ought to conduct themselves so prudently as neither to be too cunning nor too anxious, that is, they should not regard their own security so as in the meantime to forget God’s requirements, and the preciousness of his name, and the necessity of a confession of faith in the proper place and time. It now follows:
Now the king’s nobles approach the king as conquerors, but they do so cunningly; for they do not openly say anything about Daniel, whom they knew to be a favorite with the king; but they repeat their previous assertion concerning the impossibility of changing the edict, since the law of the Medes and Persians is inviolable and cannot be rendered void. Again, therefore, as far as they possibly can, they sanction that edict, lest the king should afterwards be free, or dare to retract what he had once commanded. We must mark the cunning with which they indirectly circumvent the king, and entangle him, by preventing the change of a single word; They come, therefore,and discourse concerning the royal edict. They do not mention the name of Daniel, but dwell upon the royal decree, so as to bind the king more firmly. It follows — The king answered, The discourse is true We here see how kings desire praise for consistency, but they do not perceive the difference between consistency and obstinacy. For kings ought to reflect upon their own decrees, to avoid the disgrace of retracting what they have hastily promulgated. If anything has escaped them without consideration, both prudence and equity require them to correct their errors; but when they have trampled upon all regard for justice, they desire every inconsiderate command to be strictly obeyed! This is the height of folly, and we ought not to sanction a perseverance in such obstinacy, as we have already said. But the rest to-morrow.
Now, when Daniel’s calumniators see that King Darius had no wish to defend his cause, they open up more freely what they had previously conceded; for, as we have said, if they had openly accused Daniel, their accusation could have been instantly and completely refuted; but after this sentiment had been expressed to the king, their statement is final, since by the laws of the Medes and Persians a king’s decree ought to be self-acting; hence, after this is accomplished, they then come to the person. Daniel, say they, one of the captives of Judah, has not obeyed thy will, O king, nor the decree which thou hast signed. By saying, “Daniel, one of the Jewish captives,” they doubtless intended to magnify his crime and to render him odious. For if any Chaldean had dared to despise the king’s edict, his rashness would not have been excused. But now when Daniel, who was lately a slave and a Chaldean captive, dares to despise the king’s command, who reigned over Chaldea by the right of conquest, this seemed less tolerable still. The effect is the same as if they had said, “He was lately a captive among thy slaves; thou art supreme lord, and his masters to whom he was subject are under thy yoke, because thou art their conqueror; he is but a captive and a stranger, a mere slave, and yet he rebels against thee!” We see then how they desired to poison the king’s mind against him by this allusion, He is one of the captives! The words are very harmless in themselves, but they endeavor to sting their monarch in every way, and to stir up his wrath against Daniel. He does not direct his mind to thee, O king; that is, he does not reflect upon who you are, and thus he despises thy majesty and the edict which thou hast signed This is another enlargement: Daniel, therefore, did not direct his mind either to thee or to thy edict; and wilt thou bear this? Next, they recite the deed itself — he prays three times a-day This would have been the simple narrative, Daniel has not obeyed thy command in praying to his own God; but, as I have said, they exaggerate his crime by accusing him of pride, contempt, and insolence. We see, therefore, by what artifices Daniel was oppressed by these malicious men. It now follows:
In the first place, Daniel recites that the king was disturbed, when he perceived the malice of his nobles which had formerly escaped him; for their intention and their object had never occurred to him; he perceives himself deceived and entrapped, and hence he is disturbed. Here again we are taught how cautiously kings ought to avoid depraved counsels, since they are besieged on every side by perfidious men, whose only object is to gain by their false representations, and to oppress their enemies, and those from whom they hope for booty or who may favor their evil courses. Because so many snares surround kings, they ought to be the more cautious in providing against cunning. They are too late in acknowledging themselves to have been overreached, when no remedy is left, partly through fear, and partly through wishing to consult their own credit; and they prefer offending God to suffering any outward disrespect from men. Since, therefore, kings consider their own honor so sacred, they persevere in their evil undertakings, even when their conscience accuses them; and even if justice itself were to appear visibly before them, yet this restraint would not be sufficient to withhold them, when ambition urges them in the opposite direction, and they are unwilling to lose the slightest portion of their reputation among men. The case of Darius supplies us with an example of this kind.
First of all, it is said, He was sorrowful when he heard these words, and was anxious till the setting of the sun about the way of snatching Daniel from death He wished this to be done, if his own honor were sound and safe, and his nobles were satisfied. But on the one side, he fears disunion if his nobles should conspire to produce disturbance; and on the other side, he is moved by a foolish fear, because he does not wish to incur the charge of levity which awaited him, and hence he is vanquished and obeys the lusts of the wicked. Although, therefore, he labored till the setting of the sun to free Daniel, yet that perverse shame prevailed of which I have spoken, and then the fear of dissension. For when we do not lean upon God’s help, we are always compelled to vacillate, although anxious to be honestly affected. Thus Pilate wished to liberate Christ, but was terrified by the threats of the people, when they denounced against him the displeasure of Caesar. (John 19:12.) And no wonder, since faith is alone a certain and fixed prop on which we may lean while fearlessly discharging our duty, and thus overcome all fears. But when we want confidence, we are, as I have said, sure to be changeable. Hence Darius, through fear of a conspiracy of his nobles against himself, permitted Daniel to be an innocent sufferer from their cruelty. Then that false shame is added which I have mentioned, because he was unwilling to appear without consideration, by suddenly revoking his own edict, as it was a law with the Medes and Persians that whatever proceeded from kings was inviolable! Daniel now states this. He says, those men assembled together; when they saw the king hesitate and doubt, they became fierce and contentious with him. When it is said they meet together, this relates to their inspiring him with fear. They say, Know, O king! He knew it well enough, and they need not instruct him in any unknown matter, but they treat him in a threatening manner. “What? dost thou not see how utterly the royal name will be hereafter deprived of its authority if he violates thine edict with impunity? Will you thus permit yourself to become a laughingstock? Finally, they intimate, that he would not be king unless he revenged the insult offered him by Daniel in neglecting his commandment. Know, therefore, O king, that the Persians and Medes — he was himself king of the Medes, but it is just as if they said, What kind of rumor will be spread through all thy subject provinces; for thou knowest how far this prevails among the Medes and Persians — the king must not change his edict. If, therefore, thou shouldst set such an example, will not all thy subjects instantly rise against thee? and wilt thou not be contemptible to them?” We see, then, how the satraps rage against their king, and frighten him from any change of counsel. And they also join the edict with the statute, which the king had resolved upon, with the view of impressing upon him the necessity of not changing a single decree which he had often and repeatedly sanctioned. It follows:
The king, as we have said, frightened by the denunciation of the nobles, condemns Daniel to death. And hence we gather the reward which kings deserve in reference to their pride, when they are compelled to submit with servility to their flatterers. How was Darius deceived by the cunning of his nobles! For he thought his authority would be strengthened, by putting the obedience of all men to this test of refusing all prayer to any god or man for a whole month. He thought he should become superior to both gods and men, if all his subjects really manifested obedience of this kind. We now see how obstinately the nobles rise against him, and denounce ultimate revolt, unless he obey them. We see that when kings take too much upon themselves, how they are exposed to infamy, and become the variest slaves of their own servants! This is common enough with earthly princes; those who possess their influence and favor applaud them in all things and even adore them; they offer every kind of flattery which can propitiate their favor; but, meanwhile, what freedom do their idols enjoy? They do not allow them any authority, nor any intercourse with the best and most faithful friends, while they are watched by their own guards. Lastly, if they are compared with the wretches who are confined in the closest dungeon, not one who is thrust down into the deepest pit, and watched by three or four guards, is not freer than kings themselves! But, as I have said, this is God’s most just vengeance; since, when they cannot contain themselves in the ordinary rank and station of men, but wish to penetrate the clouds and become on a level with God, they necessarily become a laughingstock. Hence they become slaves of all their attendants, and dare not utter anything with freedom, and are without friends, and are afraid to summon their subjects to their presence, and to intrust either one or another with their wishes. Thus slaves rule the kingdoms of the world, because kings assume superiority to mortals. King Darius is an instance of this when he sent for Daniel, and commanded him to be thrown into the den of lions; his nobles force this from him, and he unwillingly obeys them. But we should notice the reason. He had lately forgotten his own mortality, he had desired to deprive the Almighty of his sway, and as it were to drag him down from heaven! For if God remains in heaven, men must pray to him; but Darius forbade any one from even daring to utter a prayer; hence as far as he could he deprived the Almighty of his power. Now he is compelled to obey his own subjects, although they exercise an almost disgraceful tyranny over him.
Daniel now adds — the king said this to him, Thy God, whom thou servest, or worshipest, faithfully, he will deliver thee! This word may be read in the optative mood, as we have said. There is no doubt that Darius really wished this; but it may mean, Thy God whom thou worshipest will deliver thee — as if he had said, “Already I am not my own master, I am here tossed about by the blast of a tempest; my nobles compel me to this deed against my will; I, therefore, now resign thee and thy life to God, because it is not in my power to deliver thee;” as if this excuse lightened his own crime by transferring to God the power of preserving Daniel. This reason causes some to praise the piety of King Darius; but as I confess his clemency and humanity to be manifest in this speech, so it is clear that he had not a grain of piety when he thus wished to adorn himself in the spoils of deity! For although the superstitious do not seriously fear God, yet they are restrained by some dread of him; but he here wished to reduce the whole divinity to nothing. What sort of piety was this? The clemency of Darius may therefore be praised, but his sacrilegious pride can by no means be excused. Then why did he act so humanely towards Daniel? Because he had found him a faithful servant, and the regard which rendered him merciful arose from this peculiarity. He would not have manifested the same disposition towards others. If a hundred or a thousand Jews had been dragged before his tribunal, he would carelessly have condemned them all because they had disobeyed the edict! Hence he was obstinately impious and cruel. He spared Daniel for his own private advantage, and thus embraced him with his favor; but in praising his humanity, we do not perceive any sign of piety in him. But he says, the God whom thou worshipest, he will deliver thee, because, he had formerly known Daniel’s prophecy concerning the destruction of the Chaldean monarchy; hence he is convinced, how Israel’s God is conscious of all things, and rules everything by his will; yet, in the meantime, he neither worships him nor suffers others to do so; for as far as he could he had excluded God from his own rights. In thus attributing to God the power of delivering him, he does not act cordially; and hence his impiety is the more detestable, when he deprives God of his rights while he confesses him to be the true and only one endued with supreme power; and though he is but dust and ashes, yet he substitutes himself in his place! It now follows, —
There is no doubt that God’s counsel provided that the nobles should seal the stone with their own rings, and thus close the mouth of the cave, and render the miracle more illustrious. For when the king approached on the morrow, the rings were all entire, and the seals all unbroken. Thus the preservation of this servant of God was manifestly by the aid of heaven and not by the art of men. Hence we see how boldly the king’s nobles had compelled him to perform their pleasure. For he might seem deprived of all royal power when he delivered up to them a subject dear and faithful to himself, and ordered him to be thrown into the lions’ den. They are not content with this compliance of the king; they extort another point from him — the closing up of the mouth of the cave; and then they all seal the stone, lest any one should release Daniel. We see, then, when once liberty has been snatched away, all is over, especially when any one has become a slave by his own faults, and has attached himself to the counsels of the ungodly. For, at first, such slavery will not prevail as to induce a man to do everything which he is ordered, since he seems to be free; but when he has given himself up to such slavery as I have described, he is compelled to transgress not once or twice, but constantly and without ceasing. For example, if any one swerves from his duty through either the fear of man or flattery, or any other depraved affection, he will grant various things, not only when asked, but when urgently compelled. But when he has once submitted to the loss of freedom, he will be compelled, as I have already said, to consent to the most shameful deeds at the nod of any one. If any teacher or pastor of the Church should turn from the right path through the influence of ambition, the author of his declension will come to him again and say, What! do you dare to refuse me? Did I not obtain from you, yesterday or the day before, whatever I wished? Thus he will be compelled to transgress a second time in favor of the person to whom he has joined himself, and will also be forced to repeat the transgression continually. Thus princes also, who are not free agents through being under the tyranny of others, if they permit themselves to be overcome contrary to their conscience, lay aside all their authority, and are drawn aside in all directions by the will of their subjects. This example, then, is proposed to us in the case of King Darius, who after inflicting unjust punishment upon Daniel, adds this, He must be enclosed in the cave, and then, the stone must be sealed, — and for what object? — lest the doom should be changed; meaning, he did not dare to attempt anything in Daniel’s favor. We see, then, how the king submitted to the greatest disgrace, because his nobles had no confidence in him; they refused to trust him when he ordered Daniel to be thrown into the lions’ den, but they exacted a guarantee against his liberation, and would not suffer him to attempt anything. We thus see how disgracefully they withdrew their confidence from their king; next they use their authority against him, lest he should dare to remove the stone which had been sealed, unless he would incur the charge of falsehood by corrupting the public signatures, and of deception by falsifying the public documents. Hence this passage admonishes us against prostituting ourselves in slavery to the lust of men. Let every one serve his nearest neighbors as far as charity will allow and as custom demands. Meanwhile, no one ought to permit himself to be turned aside in different directions contrary to his conscience, because when he loses his free agency, he will be compelled to endure many affronts and to obey the foulest commands. This we see exemplified in the case of the panders to the avarice, or ambition, or cruelty of princes; for when once they are under the power of such men, they are most miserable victims; they cannot avoid the most extreme necessities, they become wretched slaves, and call down against themselves, a hundred times over, the anger of both God and man. It now follows, —
Here Daniel relates the tardy repentance of the king, because although he was in the greatest grief, yet he did not correct his fault. And this occurs to many who are not hardened by contempt of God and their own depravity; they are drawn aside by others, and are dissatisfied with their own vices, while they still indulge in them. Would that the examples of this evil were rare in the world! but they occur everywhere before our eyes. Darius therefore is here proposed to us as intermediate between the ungodly and the wicked — the righteous and the holy. The wicked do not hesitate to stir up the Almighty against them, and after they have dismissed all fears and all shame, they revel in their own licentiousness. Those who are ruled by the fear of God, although they sustain hard contests with the flesh, yet impose a check upon themselves, and bridle their perverse affections. Others are between the two, as I have said, not yet obstinate in their malice, and not quite satisfied with their corruption’s, and still they follow them as if bound to them by ropes. Such was Darius; for he ought constantly to have repelled the calumny of his nobles; but when he saw himself so entangled by them, he ought to have opposed them manfully, and to have reproved them for so abusing their influence over him; yet he did not act thus, but rather bent before their fury. Meanwhile he bewails in his palace, and abstains from all food and delicacies. He thus shews his displeasure at the evil conduct at which he connived. We see then how ineffectual it is for our own conscience to smite us when we sin, and to cause us sorrow for our faults; we must go beyond this, so that sorrow may lead us on to repentance, as also Paul teaches us. (2 Corinthians 7:10.) Darius, then, had reduced himself to difficulties; while he bewails his fault, he does not attempt to correct it. This was, indeed, the beginning of repentance, but nothing more; and when he feels any compunction, this stirs him up and allows him neither peace nor comfort. This lesson, then, we are to learn from Daniel’s narrative of King Darius passing the whole of that night in wailing. It follows afterwards, —
Here the king begins to act with a little more consistency, when he approaches the pit. He was formerly struck down by fear as to yield to his nobles, and to forget his royal dignity by delivering himself up to them as a captive. But now he neither dreads their envy nor the perverseness of their discourse. He approaches the lions’ den early in the morning, says he, — that is, at dawn, before it was, light, coming during the twilight, and in haste. Thus we see him suffering under the most bitter grief, which overcomes all his former fears; for he might still have suffered from fear, through remembrance of that formidable denunciation, — Thou wilt no longer enjoy thy supreme command, unless thou dost vindicate thine edict from contempt! But, as I have said, grief overcomes all fear. And yet we are unable to praise either his piety or his humanity; because, though he approaches the cave and calls out, “Daniel!” with a lamentable voice, still he is not yet angry with his nobles till he sees the servant of God perfectly safe. Then his spirits revive, as we shall see; but as yet he persists in his weakness, and is in a middle place between the perverse despisers and the hearty worshippers of God, who follow with an upright intention what they know to be just.
WANT of time compelled me to break off our last Lecture at the point where Daniel relates how the king approached the cave Now he reports his words, — O Daniel, servant of the living God! thy God whom thou worshipest constantly, has he been able to deliver thee? says he. Darius declares the God of Israel to be the living One. But if there is a living God, he excludes all those imaginary deities whom men fancy for themselves by their own ingenuity. For it is necessary that deity should be one, and this principle is acknowledged by even the profane. However men may be deluded by their dreams, yet they all confess the impossibility of having more gods than one. They distort, indeed, God’s character, but they cannot deny his unity. When Darius uttered this praise of the God of Israel, he confesses all other deities to be mere fictions; but he shews how, as I have said, the profane hold the first principle, but afterwards allow it to escape entirely from their thoughts. This passage does not prove, as some allege, the real conversion of King Darius, and his sincere adoption of true piety; for he always worshipped his own idols, but thought it sufficient if he raised the God of Israel to the highest rank. But, as we know, God cannot admit a companion, for he is jealous of his own glory. (Isaiah 42:8.) It was too cold, then, for Darius simply to acknowledge the God whom Daniel worshipped to be superior to all others; because where God reigns, all idols must of necessity be reduced to nothing; as also it is said in the Psalms, Let God reign, and let the gods of all nations fall before him. Darius then proceeded so far as to devote himself to the true and only God, but was compelled to pay the greatest respect to Israel’s God. Meanwhile he always remained sunk in his own superstitions to which he had been accustomed.
He afterwards adds, Thy God, whom thou worshipest continually, could he free thee from the lions? He here speaks doubtfully, as unbelievers do, who seem to have some ground for hope, but no firm or sure persuasion in their own minds. I suppose this invocation to be natural, since a certain secret instinct naturally impels men to fly to God; for although scarcely one in twenty leans upon God’s word, yet all men call upon God occasionally. They wish to discover whether God desires to assist them and to aid them in their necessities; meanwhile, as I have said, there is no firm persuasion in their hearts, which was the state of the mind of King Darius. Could God deliver thee? says he; as if God’s power could possibly be doubted! If he had said, Has God delivered thee? this would have been tolerable. For God was not bound by any law to be always snatching his people from death, since, we very well know, this rests entirely with his good pleasure. When, therefore, he permits his people to suffer under the lusts of the impious, his power is by no means diminished, since their liberation depends upon his mere will and pleasure. His power, therefore, ought by no means to be called in question. We observe, that Darius was never truly converted, and never distinctly acknowledged the true and only God, but was seized with a blind fear, which, whether he would or not, compelled him to attribute the supreme honor to Israel’s God. And this was not an ingenuous confession, but was rather extorted from him. It now follows: —
Here Daniel answers the king moderately and softly, although he had been cast into the cave by his command. He might have deservedly been angry and expostulated with him, because he had been so impiously deserted by him, for King Darius had found him a faithful servant, and had used his services for his own advantage. When he saw himself oppressed by unjust calumnies, the king did not take his part so heartily as he ought; and at length, being overcome by the threats of his nobles, he ordered Daniel to be cast into the pit. Daniel might, as I have said, have complained of the king’s cruelty and perfidy. He does not do this, but is silent concerning this injury, because his deliverance would sufficiently magnify the glory of God. The holy Prophet desired nothing else, except the king’s welfare, which he prays for. Although he uses the ordinary phrase, yet he speaks from his heart, when he says, O king, live for ever! that is, may God protect thy life and bless thee perpetually. Many salute their kings and even their friends in this way through mere form; but there is no doubt that Daniel heartily wished the king the enjoyment of long life and happiness. He afterwards adds,
My God, says he, sent his angel, and shut the lions’ mouths! Thus we see that Daniel openly assigns to angels the duty of rendering assistance, while the whole power remains in the hands of God himself. He says, therefore, that he was freed by the hand and assistance of an angel, but shews how the angel was the agent and not the author of his safety. God, therefore, says he, sent his angel We have often seen how indistinctly the Chaldeans spoke when mentioning the Deity; they called their deities holy, but Daniel here ascribes the entire glory to God alone. He does not bring forward a multitude of deities according to the prevalent opinion among the profane. He puts prominently forward the unity of God; and then he adds the presence of angels as assisting God’s servants, shewing how they perform whatever is enjoined upon them. Thus the whole praise of their salvation remains with the one God, since angels do not assist whomsoever they please, and are not moved by their own will, but solely in obedience to God’s commands.
We must now notice what follows: God had shut the lions’ mouths For by these words the Prophet shews how lions and the most cruel beasts are in the hands of God, and are restrained by his secret curb, so that they can neither rage nor commit any injury unless by God’s permission. We may thus learn that savage beasts are only so far injurious to us as God may permit them to humble our pride. Meanwhile, we may perceive that no beast is so cruel as to injure us by either his claws or his teeth, unless God give him the reins. And this instruction is worthy of especial notice, since we tremble at the least danger, even at the noise of a falling leaf. As we are necessarily exposed to many dangers on all sides, and surrounded by various forms of death, hence we should be harassed by wretched anxiety unless this principle supported us; not only is our life under God’s protection, but nothing can injure us while he directs everything by his will and pleasure. And this principle ought to be extended to the devils themselves, and to impious and wicked men, for we know the devil to be always anxious to destroy us, like a roaring lion, for he prowls about seeking whom he may devour, as Peter says in his First Ephstle, (1 Peter 5:8.) For we see how all the impious plot for our destruction continually, and how madly they are inflamed against us. But God, who can close the lion’s mouth, will also both restrain the devil and all the wicked from hurting any one without his permission. Experience also shews us how the devil and all the impious are controlled by him, for we should perish every moment unless he warded off by his opposing influence the numberless evils which ever hang over us. We ought to perceive how the singular protection of God preserves us in daily safety amidst the ferocity and madness of our foes. Daniel says he suffered no loss of any kind, because before God his righteousness was found in him. These words signify that his preservation arose from God wishing to vindicate his own glory and worship which he had commanded in his law. The Prophet does not here boast in his own righteousness, but rather shews how his deliverance arose from God’s wishing to testify by a certain and clear proof his approval of that worship for which Daniel had contended even to death. We see, then, how Daniel refers all things to the approval of the worship of God. The conclusion is, he was the advocate of a pious and holy cause, and prepared to undergo death, not for any foolish imagination, nor by any rash impulse, nor any blind zeal, but because he was assured of his being a worshipper of the one God. His being the defender of the cause of piety and holiness was, as he asserts, the reason of his preservation. This is the correct conclusion.
Hence we readily gather the folly of the Papists who, from this and similar passages, endeavor to establish the merit and righteousness of good works. Oh! Daniel was preserved because righteousness was found in him before God; hence God repays every man according to the merits of his works! But we must first consider Daniel’s intention in the narrative before us; for, as I have said, he does not boast in his own merits, but wishes his preservation to be ascribed to the Deity as a testimony to his true and pure worship, so as to shame King Darius, and to shew all his superstitions to be impious, and especially, to admonish him concerning that sacrilegious edict by which he arrogated to himself the supreme command, and, as far as he could, abolished the very existence of God. With the view, then, of admonishing Darius, the Prophet says his cause was just. And to render the solution of the difficulty more easy, we must remark the difference between eternal salvation and special deliverance’s. God frees us from eternal death, and adopts us into the hope of eternal life, not because he finds any righteousness in us but through his own gratuitous choice, and he perfects in us his own work without any respect to our works. With reference to our eternal salvation, our righteousness is by no means regarded, because whenever God examines us, he only finds materials for condemnation. But when we consider particular deliverance’s, he may then notice our righteousness, not as if it were naturally ours, but he stretches forth his hand to those whom he governs by his Spirit and urges to obey his call; and if they incur any danger in their efforts to obey his will, he delivers them. The meaning then is exactly the same as if any one should assert that God favors righteous causes, but it has nothing to do with merits. Hence the Papists trifle, like children, when they use this passage to elicit from it human merits; for Daniel wished to assert nothing but the pure worship of God, as if he had said, not only his reason proceeded from God, but there was another cause for his deliverance, namely, the wish of the Almighty to shew the world experimentally the justice of his cause.
He adds, And even before thee, O king, I have committed nothing wrong It is clear that the Prophet had violated the king’s edict. Why, then, does he not ingenuously confess this? Nay, why does he contend that he has not transgressed against the king? Because he conducted himself with fidelity in all his duties, he could free himself from every calumny by which he knew himself oppressed, as if he had despised the king’s sovereignty. But Daniel was not so bound to the king of the Persians when he claimed for himself as a god what ought not to be offered to him. We know how earthly empires are constituted by God, only on the condition that he deprives himself of nothing, but shines forth alone, and all magistrates must be set in regular order, and every authority in existence must be subject to his glory. Since, therefore, Daniel could not obey the king’s edict without denying God, as we have previously seen, he did not transgress against the king by constantly persevering in that exercise of piety to which he had been accustomed, and by calling on his God three times a-day. To make this the more evident, we must remember that passage of Peter,
“Fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17.)
The two commands are connected together, and cannot be separated from one another. The fear of God ought to precede, that kings may obtain their authority. For if any one begins his reverence of an earthly prince by rejecting that of God, he will act preposterously, since this is a complete perversion of the order of nature. Then let God be feared in the first place, and earthly princes will obtain their authority, if only God shines forth, as I have already said. Daniel, therefore, here defends himself with justice, since he had not committed any crime against the king; for he was compelled to obey the command of God, and he neglected what the king had ordered in opposition to it. For earthly princes lay aside all their power when they rise up against God, and are unworthy of being reckoned in the number of mankind. We ought rather utterly to defy than to obey them whenever they are so restive and wish to spoil God of his rights, and, as it were, to seize upon his throne and draw him down from heaven. Now, therefore, we understand the sense of this passage. It follows, —
Daniel confirms what he had formerly narrated concerning the feelings of King Darius. As he had departed in anxiety to his palace, had abstained from food and drink, and had laid aside all pleasures and delights, so also he rejoiced in hearing of the wonderful deliverance from death of God’s holy servant. He afterwards adds, And by the king’s command Daniel was drawn out of the cave, and no corruption was found in him. This cannot be ascribed to good fortune. Hence God made his power conspicuous in providing for Daniel’s safety from the grasp of the lions. He would have been torn to pieces had not God closed their mouths; and this contributes in no slight degree to magnify the miracle, since no scratch or touch was found upon his body. As the lions then spared him, it arose from God’s secret counsel; and he marked this more clearly, when his calumniators were thrown into the cave, and were immediately torn by the lions, as he will soon add. But we must notice the reason which is given: He was preserved, since he trusted in his God! It will often happen, that a person may have a good cause, and yet succeed badly and unhappily; because he adds to what is otherwise worthy of praise, too great a confidence in his own counsels, prudence, and industry. Hence it is not surprising if those who undertake good causes often fail of success, as we often see among the profane. For the history of all ages bears witness, to the perishing of those who cherish a just cause; but this arises through their perverse confidence, since they never contemplated the service of God, but rather considered their own praise and the applause of the world. Hence, as ambition seized them, they became pleased with their own plans. Thus arose that saying of Brutus, “Virtue is a frivolous thing!” because he thought himself unworthily treated in fighting for the liberty of Rome, while the gods were adverse instead of propitious. As if God ought to have conferred upon him that aid which he had never hoped and never sought. For we know the pride of that hero’s disposition. I bring forward but one example; but if we diligently weigh the motives which impel the profane when they fight strenuously for good objects, we shall find ambition to be the prevailing motive. No wonder then if God deserted them in this particular, since they were unworthy of experiencing his help. For this reason Daniel states, that he was safely preserved, because he trusted in his God.
The Apostle refers to this in the eleventh chapter of the Ephstle to the Hebrews, (Hebrews 11:33,) where he says some were snatched away or preserved from the mouths of lions through faith. Hence he assigns the cause of Daniel’s escaping in safety, and recalls us to faith. But we must here consider the meaning and force of the word “believing.” For the Prophet does not simply speak of his deliverance as springing from believing Israel’s God to be the true and only God, the Maker of heaven and earth, but from his committing his life to him, from his reposing on his grace, from his fixed determination that his end must be happy, if he worshipped him. Since, therefore, Daniel was certainly persuaded that his life was in God’s hand, and that his hope in him was not in vain, he boldly incurred danger, and intrepidly suffered for the sincere worship of God; hence he says, he believed in God We see then that the word “belief” is not taken coldly, as the Papists dream, since their notion implies an unfolded or dead and shapeless faith, for they think faith nothing else but a confused apprehension of the Deity. Whenever men have any conception of God at all, the Papists think this to be faith; but the Holy Spirit teaches us far otherwise. For we must consider the language of the Apostle, — We do not properly believe in God, unless we determine him to be a rewarder of all who diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6.) God is not sought by foolish arrogance, as if by our merits we could confer an obligation upon him; but he is sought by faith, by humility, and by invocation. But when we are persuaded that God is the rewarder of all who seek him, and we know how he ought to be sought, this is true faith. So Daniel did not doubt that God would deliver him, because he did not distrust that teaching of piety which he had learnt from a boy, and through reliance on which he had always called upon God. This, therefore, was the cause of his deliverance. Meanwhile, it is clear that Daniel’s trust in God did not spring from any previous instruction concerning the result; for he rather committed his life to God, since he was prepared for death. Therefore Daniel could not acknowledge this before he was cast into the cave, and exposed to the lions, being ignorant whether God would deliver him, as we previously saw in the case of his companions, “God, if he pleases, will deliver us; but if not, we are prepared to worship Him, and to disobey thy edict.” If Daniel had been taught the issue beforehand, his constancy would not have deserved much praise; but since he was willing to meet death fearlessly for the worship of God, and could deny himself and renounce the world, this is a true and serious proof of his faith and constancy. He believed therefore in God, not because he hoped for such a miracle, but because he knew his own happiness to consist in persisting in the true worship of God. So Paul says, Christ is gain to me, both in life and in death. (Philippians 1:21.) Daniel therefore rested in the help of God, but he closed his eyes to the event, and was not remarkably anxious concerning his life, but since his mind was erected towards the hope of a better life, even if he had to die a hundred times, yet he never would have failed in his confidence, because our faith is extended beyond the boundaries of this frail and corruptible life, as all the pious know well enough. What I have already touched upon afterwards follows, —
By this circumstance God’s virtue shone forth more clearly in preserving Daniel, because those who had accused him were immediately destroyed by the lions. For if any one should say that the lions were satisfied, or there was any other reason why Daniel was not destroyed, why, when he was withdrawn, did such great madness immediately impel those beasts to tear and devour, not one man only, but a great multitude? Not one of the nobles was preserved; next their wives and children were added. Lions scarcely ever proceed to such a pitch of savageness, and yet they all perished to a man; then how did Daniel escape? We surely see how God by this comparison wished to bear witness to his own virtue, lest any one should object that Daniel was left by the lions because they were already gorged, and desired no other prey, for they would have been content with either three or four men; but they devoured men, women, and children. Hence the mouths of the lions were clearly restrained by the divine power, since Daniel was safe during a whole night, but they perished immediately, as soon as they were cast into the cave; because we again see how these beasts were impelled by sudden madness, so that they did not wait till their prey arrived at the bottom, but devoured them as they fell. We shall leave the rest till to-morrow.
Here Daniel adds the king’s edict, which he wished to be promulgated. And by this edict he bore witness that he was so moved by the deliverance of Daniel, as to attribute the supreme glory to the God of Israel. Meanwhile, I do not think this a proof of the king’s real piety, as some interpreters here extol King Darius without moderation, as if he had really repented and embraced the pure worship prescribed by the law of Moses. Nothing of this kind can be collected from the words of the edict — and this circumstance shews it — for his empire was never purged from its superstitions. King Darius still allowed his subjects to worship idols; and he did not refrain from polluting himself with such defilement’s; but he wished to place the God of Israel on the highest elevation, thus attempting to mingle fire and water! We have previously discussed this point. For the profane think they discharge their duty to the true God, if they do not openly despise him, but assign him some place or other; and, especially, if they prefer him to all idols, they think they have satisfied God. But this is all futile; for unless they abolish all superstitions, God by no means obtains his right, since he allows of no equals. Hence this passage by no means proves any true and serious piety in King Darius; but it implies simply his being deeply moved by the miracle, and his celebrating through all the regions subject to him the name and glory of the God of Israel. Finally, as this was a special impulse on King Darius, so it did not proceed beyond a particular effect; he acknowledged God’s power and goodness on all sides; but he seized upon that specimen which was placed directly before his eyes. Hence he did not continue to acknowledge the God of Israel by devoting himself to true and sincere piety; but, as I have said, he wished him to be conspicuously superior to other gods, but not to be the only God. But God rejects this modified worship; and thus there is no reason for praising King Darius. Meanwhile his example will condemn all those who profess themselves to be catholic or Christian kings, or defenders of the faith, since they not only bury true piety, but, as far as they possibly can, weaken the whole worship of God, and would willingly extinguish his name from the world, and thus tyrannize over the pious, and establish impious superstitions by their own cruelty. Darius will be a fit judge for them, and the edict here recited by Daniel will be sufficient for the condemnation of them all.
He now says, The edict was written for all people, nations, and tongues, who dwell in the whole earth. We see how Darius wished to make known God’s power not only to the neighboring people, but studied to promulgate it far and wide. He wrote not only for Asia and Chaldea, but also for the Medes and Persians. He had never been the ruler of Persia, yet since his father-in-law had received him into alliance in the empire, his authority extended thither. This is the sense of the phrase, the whole earth This does not refer to the whole habitable world, but to that monarchy which extended through almost the entire East, since the Medes and Persians then held the sway from the sea as far as Egypt. When we consider the magnitude of this empire, Daniel may well say, the edict was promulgated through the whole earth. Peace be multiplied unto you! We know how kings in this way soothe their subjects, and use soft persuasions for more easily accomplishing their wishes, and thus obtain the implicit obedience of their subjects. And it is gratuitous on their part to implore peace on their subjects. Meanwhile, as I have already said, they court their favor by these enticements, and thus prepare their subjects to submit to the yoke. By the term “peace,” a state of prosperity is implied; meaning, may you be prosperous and happy. He afterwards adds, the decree is placed in their sight, that is, they display their command before all their subjects. This, then, is the force of the phrase, my edict has been placed; that is, if my authority and power prevail with you, you must thus far obey me; that all may fear, or, that all may be afraid and tremble before the God of Daniel! By fear and terror he means simply reverence, but he speaks as the profane are accustomed to do, who abhor God’s name. He seems desirous of expressing how conspicuous was the power of the God of Israel, which ought properly to impress every one, and induce all to worship with reverence, and fear, and trembling. And this method of speaking is derived from a correct principle; since lawful worship is never offered to God but when we are humbled before him. Hence God often calls himself terrible, not because he wishes his worshippers to approach him with fear, but, as we have said, because the souls of men will never be drawn forth to reverence unless they seriously comprehend his power, and thus become afraid of his judgment. But if fear alone flourishes in men’s minds, they cannot form themselves to piety, since we must consider that passage of the Psalm,
“With thee is propitiation that thou mayest be feared.”
God, therefore, cannot be properly worshipped and feared, unless we are persuaded that he may be entreated; nay, are quite sure that he is propitious to us. Yet it is necessary for fear and dread to precede the humiliation of the pride of the flesh.
This, then, is the meaning of the phrase, that all should fear or be afraid of the God of Daniel The king calls him so, not because Daniel had fabricated a God for himself, but because he was his only worshipper. We very properly speak of Jupiter as the god of the Greeks, since he was deified by their folly, and hence obtained a name and a celebrity throughout the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Jupiter, and Minerva, and the crowd of false deities received their names from the same origin. There is another reason why King Darius calls the God whom Daniel worshipped Daniel ’s God, as he is called the God of Abraham, not through deriving any precarious authority from Abraham, but through his manifesting himself to Abraham. To explain this more clearly — Why is he called the God of Daniel rather than of the Babylonians? because Daniel had learnt from the law of Moses the pure worship of God, and the covenant which he had made with Abraham and the holy fathers, and the adoption of Israel as his peculiar people. He complied with the worship prescribed in the Law, and that worship depended on the covenant. Hence this name is not given as if Daniel had been free to fashion or imagine any god for himself; but because he had worshipped that God who had revealed himself by his word. Lastly, this phrase ought to be so understood as to induce all to fear that God who had made a covenant with Abraham and his posterity, and had chosen for himself a peculiar people. He taught the method of true and lawful worship, and unfolded it in his law, so that Daniel worshipped him. We now understand the meaning of the clause. Thus we may learn to distinguish the true God from all the idols and fictions of men, if we desire to worship him acceptably. For many think they worship God when they wander through whatever errors they please, and never remain attached to one true God. But this is perverse, nay, it is nothing but a profanation of true piety to worship God so confusedly. Hence, we must contemplate the distinction which I have pointed out, that our minds may be always included within the bounds of the word, and not wander from the true God, if indeed we desire to retain him and to follow the religion which pleases him. We must continue, I say, within the limits of the word, and not turn away on either one side or the other; since numberless fallacies of the devil will meet us immediately, unless the word holds us in strict obedience. As far as concerns Darius, he acknowledged the one true God, but as we have already said, he did not reject that fictitious and perverse worship in which he was brought up; — such a mixture is intolerable before God!
He adds, Because he is alive, and remains for ever! This seems to reduce all false gods to nothing; but it has been previously said, and the circumstances prove it true, that when the profane turn their attention to the supreme God, they begin to wander directly. If they constantly acknowledged the true God, they would instantly exclude all fictitious ones; but they think it sufficient if God obtains the first rank; meanwhile they add minor deities, so that he lies hid in a crowd, although he enjoys a slight pre-eminence. Such, then, was the reasoning and the plan of Darius, because he held nothing clearly or sincerely concerning the essence of the one true God; but he thought the supreme power resident in the God of Israel, just as other nations worship their own deities! We see, then, that he did not depart from the superstitions which he had imbibed in his boyhood; and hence, we have no reason for praising his piety, unless in this particular case. But, meanwhile, God extorted a confession from him, in which he describes his nature to us. He calls him “the living God,” not only because he has life in himself, but out of himself, and is also the origin and fountain of life. This epithet ought to be taken actively, for God not only lives but has life in himself; and he is also the source of life, since there is no life independent of him. He afterwards adds, He remains for ever, and thus distinguishes him from all creatures, in which there is no firmness nor stability. We know also how everything in heaven, as well as heaven itself, is subject to various changes. In this, therefore, God differs from everything created, since he is unchangeable and invariable. He adds, His kingdom is not corrupted, and his dominion remains for ever. Here he clearly expresses what he had formerly stated respecting the firmness of God’s estate, since he not only remains essentially the same, but exercises his power throughout the whole world, and governs the world by his own virtue, and sustains all things. For if he had only said, “God remains for ever,” we are so perverse and narrow-minded as to interpret it merely as follows: — God, indeed, is not changeable in his own essence, but our minds could not comprehend his power as universally diffused. This explanation, then, is worthy of notice, since Darius clearly expresses that God’s kingdom is incorruptible and his dominion everlasting.
Secondly, he calls God his deliverer. Those who consider this edict as an illustrious example of piety, will say Darius spoke evangelically as a herald of the mercy of God. But, as we have previously said, Darius never generally embraced what Scripture teaches concerning God’s cherishing his people with clemency, his helping them through his being merciful to them, and nourishing them with a father’s kindness. King Darius knew nothing of this reason. Daniel’s deliverance was well known; this was a particular proof of God’s favor. If Darius had only partially perceived God’s loving-kindness towards his servants, then he would have acknowledged his readiness to preserve and deliver them. This would be too frigid unless the cause was added, — God is a deliverer! since he has deigned to choose his servants, and bears witness to his being their Father, and listens to their prayers, and pardons their transgressions. Unless, therefore, the hope of deliverance is founded on God’s gratuitous adoption and pity, any acknowledgment of him will be but partial and inefficient. Darius, then, does not speak here as if truly and purely instructed in the mercy of God; but he speaks of him only as the deliverer of his own people. He correctly asserts in general, “God is a deliverer,” since he snatched Daniel from the mouth of lions, that is, from their power and fierceness. Darius, I say, reasons correctly, when he derives from one example the more extensive doctrine concerning the power of God to preserve and snatch away his people whenever he pleases; meanwhile, he acknowledges God’s visible power in a single act, but he does not understand the principal cause and fountain of God’s affection to Daniel to be, his belonging to the sons of Abraham, and his paternal favor in preserving him. Hence this instruction should profit us and touch our minds effectually, since God is our deliverer; and, in the first place, we must confess ourselves to be admitted to favor on the condition of his pardoning us, and not treating us according to our deserts, but indulging us as sons through his amazing liberality. This then is the true sense.
He afterwards says, he performs signs and wonders in heaven and earth! This ought to be referred to power and dominion, as previously mentioned; but Darius always considers the events before his eyes. He had seen Daniel dwelling safely with lions, and all the rest destroyed by them; these were manifest proofs of God’s power; hence he properly asserts, he performs signs and wonders. But there is no doubt, that Darius was admonished by the other signs which had taken place before he possessed the monarchy; he had doubtless heard what had happened to King Nebuchadnezzar, and then to King Belshazzar, whom Darius had slain when he seized his kingdom. He collects, therefore, more testimonies to God’s power, for the purpose of illustrating his glory in the preservation of Daniel. In short, if Darius had renounced his superstitions, the confession of his piety would have been pure, and full, and ingenuous; but because he did not forsake the worship of his false gods, and continued his attachment to their pollution, his piety cannot deserve our praise, and his true and serious conversion cannot be collected from his edict. This is the complete sense. It now follows:
, tzelech, properly signifies to “pass over,” and the signification is here metaphorical, in the sense of being prosperous. There is no doubt, however, of there being a silent contrast between the kingdom of the Persians and the Chaldean monarchy, that is, to speak more concisely and clearly, between the twofold condition of Daniel. For, as we have said, he was for some time in obscurity under Nebuchadnezzar; when this monarchy was about to perish he became conspicuous; and throughout the whole period of the reign of the Chaldeans he was obscure and contemptible. All indeed had heard of him as a remarkable and illustrious Prophet, but he was rejected from the palace. At one time he was seated at the king’s gate, in great honor and respect, and then again he was cast out. During the continuance of the Chaldee monarchy, Daniel was not held in any esteem; but under that of the Medes and Persians he prospered, and was uniformly treated with marked respect, for Cyrus and Darius were not so negligent as instantly to forget the wonderful works of God performed by his hand. Hence the word “passing through,” pleases me, since, as I have said, it is a mark of the continual possession of honor; for not only King Darius, but also Cyrus exalted him and raised him into the number of his nobles, when he heard of his favor. It is clear that he left Babylon and went elsewhere. Very probably he was not long among the Medes, for Darius or Cyaxares died without any heirs, and then his whole power passed to Cyrus alone, who was his nephew, through his sister, and his son-in-law being his daughter’s husband. No doubt, Daniel here commends God’s favor and kindness towards himself, because this was not the usual solace of exile, to obtain the highest favor among foreign and barbarous nations, or attain the largest share of their honor and reverence. God, therefore, alleviated his sorrow by this consolation in his exile. Hence Daniel here not only regards himself in his private capacity, but also the object of his dignity. For God wished his name to be spread abroad and celebrated over all those regions through which Daniel was known, since no one could behold without remembering the power and glory of Israel’s God. Daniel, therefore, wished to mark this. On the other hand also, no doubt, it was a matter of grief to him to be deprived of his country, not like the rest of mankind, but because the land of Canaan was the peculiar inheritance of God’s people. When Daniel was snatched away and led off to a distance, as far as Media and Persia, without the slightest hope of return, there is no doubt that he suffered continual distress. Nor was the splendor of his station among the profane of such importance as to induce him to prefer it to that pledge of God’s favor and paternal adoption in the land of Canaan. He had doubtless inscribed on his heart that passage of David’s, צלח
“I had rather be in the court of the Lord, than in the midst of the greatest riches of the ungodly: then, I had rather be a despised one in the house of God, than to dwell in the tents of the unrighteous.” (Psalms 84:10.)
Thus Daniel had been taught. Ezekiel, too, properly includes him among the three most holy men who have lived since the beginning of the world. (Ezekiel 14:14.) (320) This was of the greatest moment; for when he was a youth, or at least but middle aged, he was joined with Job and Noah, and was the third in rare and almost incredible sanctity! Since this was his character, he was no doubt affected with the greatest sorrow when he perceived himself subject to perpetual exile, without the slightest hope of return, and of being able to worship God in his temple and to offer sacrifice with the rest. But lest he should be ungrateful to God, he desires to express his sense of the uncommon benevolence with which, though an exile and a stranger, and subject to reproach among other captives, he was treated and even honored among the Medes and Persians. This, therefore, is the simple meaning of the passage. It is quite clear, as I have lately said, that Cyrus, after the death of Darius, succeeded to the whole monarchy; and we shall afterwards see in its proper place how Daniel dwelt with Cyrus, who reigned almost thirty years longer. Thus, a long time intervened between his death and that of Darius. This, therefore, did not occur without the remarkable counsel of God, since the change in the kingdom did not influence the position of Daniel, as it usually does. For new empires we know to be like turning the world upside down. But Daniel always retained his rank, and thus God’s goodness was displayed in him, and wherever he went he carried with him this testimony of God’s favor. I shall not proceed further, as we shall discuss a new prophecy to-morrow.
(320) See Dissertation, Number 25, at the close of this Volume.