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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters


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THERE is always a singular lustre, and nobility, and stately distinction about Daniel. There is a note of birth, and breeding, and aristocracy about Daniel's whole name and character. There is never at any time anything common or conventional in anything that Daniel says or does. Munro has gathered it all up in these three eloquent words: 'His refinement, his reserve, and the high sculpture of his character.'

The first thing in which Daniel's great qualities all come out is his so wise and so noble self-control and self-denial at the king's table. The narrative is a noble one. 'And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat, and of the wines which he drank, so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. But Daniel proposed not to defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and as thou then seest deal with thy servants. And at the end of the ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children that did eat of the king's meat.' 'I have remarked,' says an Eastern traveller, 'that their faces are ill fact more rosy and smooth than those of others, and that those who fast much, I mean the Armenians and the Greeks, are very beautiful, sparkling with health, and of a clear and lively countenance.' At the same time, Daniel did not at all times and in all places live on bare pulse and water. Calvin says that when Daniel and his three companions got far enough away from the royal table they would both eat flesh with pleasant bread, and would drink wine also in the wayside inns of Babylon, just as they had done when they were at home in Jerusalem. It was the company at the king's table; it was the idolatry, and the self-indulgence, and the indecency, and the riot among the young men of the palace that made Daniel determine that it would be both far easier and far safer to abstain altogether and from the beginning. When he was far enough away at any time from those snares and temptations and associations, and when he was alone with his three virtuous and temperate companions, Daniel did not make a voluntary and an ostentatious virtue of pulse and water.

A neat repast shall feast us, light and choice,
Of Canaan's taste, with wine, whence we shall rise.
He who of those delights can judge, and spare
To interpose them oft, is not unwise-
Belteshazzar would say on occasion to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, just as our English Daniel said in his fine sonnet to
Lawrence, of virtuous father virtuous son.

At the same time, there was nothing morose or melancholy in Daniel's total abstinence. Daniel was not of a sad countenance over his pulse and water. Daniel did not disfigure his face at the royal feasts. Because of his abstinence Daniel all the more anointed his head and washed his face; till, unless you had watched him well, you would have thought that all that affability, and good humour, and merriment of his must come of the abundance of the king's wine that be drank. Unless you had been in the secret you would never have supposed that Daniel was not eating and drinking with the same self-indulgence as all the rest. In nothing was Daniel's fine character finer seen, not even when his window was set open towards Jerusalem, not even when he stepped down into the den of lions, than it was when he was the last to rise from the royal feasts, with such sweetness, and geniality, and simplicity did he converse with the men of Babylon. Daniel did not expect the young men of Chaldea to deny themselves like captive Hebrews. They had not either his Hebrew sorrow or his Hebrew hope in their hearts, and he did not look for those things in them. Now it is just here that so many of ourselves both injure ourselves and injure other people by our abstinence. We enter on our abstinence out of some constraint and compulsion. We are abstainers, many of us, against our own hearts; or, if our hearts are in our abstinence, then it is our hard and self-righteous hearts. We abstain with self-importance, and with self-righteousness, and with sourness and soreness at those who still preserve their liberty. And this makes one man peevish and melancholy in his abstinence, and another man fierce and intolerant. And thus our latter end is worse than our beginning; and our self-denial than our self-indulgence. We must not only abstain, but we must make our abstinence genial and full of liberty and delight. 'Furthermore,' says Plutarch, 'Alexander was far less given to wine than men would have judged. He was thought to be a far greater bibber than he was because he sat long at the board, but it was rather to talk than to eat and drink. For even when he ate and drank he would propound some new and interesting subject, and yet but when he was at leisure. For, having matters to do, there was neither feast, nor banquet, nor marriage, nor any pastime that could stay him, as they had done other captains. He would ever sup late, and after his long day's work was done, and he was very curious to see that every man at his board was alike served, and would sit long at the table, because he ever loved to talk, as we have told you before. And in all other ways he was as gracious a prince and as noble to wait upon, and as pleasant as ever was.' One of Lord Ardmillan's daughters used to say of my dear old friend her father, that 'he breakfasted on the newspapers and dined on conversation.' And so he did; and thus it was that his step was the lightest, and his laugh the merriest, and his heart the most childlike of all the Parliament House men of his day. And in all other ways, like Plutarch's Alexander, Ardmillan was, I think, the most gracious and gentlemanly man I ever knew.

The Chaldean Schools: their literature, their true science and their pseudo-science, their architecture, their music, their political and military methods, their religion and the sacred arts connected with their religion-nothing of all that was at all foreign, or alien, or despicable to Daniel. The captive prince entered into all that with all the zest and with all the labour of what we would call a true student. Daniel foresaw that his whole life would have to be spent in Babylon, and he determined that his exile there should not be so much lost time either to his mind or to his heart. The Chaldean astrology has long since given way before the modern science of astronomy, and with it the so-called Magi, the star-gazers, and the soothsayers, and the sorcerers. But the truly philosophic temper that Daniel exhibited among the wise men of Babylon is still the true and wise temper for us all among the studies and the speculations and the scepticisms of our more learned, more scientific, and more speculative day. Daniel, by God's mercy, possessed the truth that the Chaldeans sought after in sun and moon and stars: in dreams and in incantations. And when he was cast among the speculations and superstitions of Chaldea he was able to study all he saw and all he heard with an interest, with an intelligence, and with a sympathy that are only to be found in a truly religious and a truly cultivated mind. In his birth, in his upbringing, in his breeding, and in his books, Daniel possessed a knowledge of God and of man that no sage of Chaldea could possibly approach: but, at the same time, Daniel was student enough to see that Chaldea had attained to a learning and to a religion of her own that well deserved his best attention. Till Daniel at last came to be acknowledged as more than the equal of the king's most learned and most consulted men. It was the largeness, and the expansiveness, and the hospitality of Daniel's fine mind, all combined with his extraordinary nobility and beauty of character, that gave Daniel such an unparalleled position in the court of Chaldea, and which has gained for Daniel such a famous and such a proverbial name in all subsequent literature, Ezekiel, a contemporary prophet, has heard so much of the wisdom of Daniel, that, to a proud enemy of Israel, he exclaims in irony: Thou art wiser than Daniel! We see the popular belief about Daniel strikingly illustrated also in the Apocryphal addition that was made to the Book of Daniel by its Greek translator and editor, and which was called the story of Susannah and the judgment of Daniel, And we are gratified to read in our own tongue a tribute to the same noble tradition in Shylock's exclamation;-

A Daniel come to judgment! yea, a Daniel!
O wise young judge, how I do honour thee!

The prophet Daniel became a great proficient both in penitential and in intercessory prayer also as the years went on. And he came to that great proficiency just as a great proficiency is come to in any other science or art: that is to say, by constant, and unremitting, and enterprising practice. Lord, teach us to pray, said a disciple on one occasion to our Lord. But not even our Lord with all His willingness, and with all His ability, can teach any of us off-hand to pray. Every man must teach himself, every day he lives, this most personal, most secret, and most experimental of all the arts. Every man must find out the best ways of prayer for himself. There is no royal road; there is no short or easy road to proficiency in prayer. It is like all the other arts that you have ever mastered; it must be early begun and assiduously practised, else you will be but a bungler at it all your days. You must also have special and extraordinary seasons of prayer, as Daniel had, over and above his daily habit of prayer. Special and extraordinary, original and unparalleled seasons of prayer, when you literally do nothing else day nor night but pray. You must pray an your very dreams. Till you will come at last to live, and move, and have your whole being in prayer. Now, it is plain that you cannot teach a lifetime of experiment and attainment like that to any chance man: and, especially, you cannot teach it to a man who still detests the very thought of such prayer. It was his yoke in his youth that first taught Daniel to pray. And Babylon taught Daniel and his three friends all to pray, and to pray together in their chambers, as we read. To be arrested in their fathers' houses by Nebuchadnezzar's soldiers; to have Babylonian chains put on their hands and their feet: to see the towers of Zion for the last time: to be asked to sing some of the songs of Zion to amuse their masters as they toiled over the Assyrian sands-you would have become experts yourselves in a school of prayer like that. You would have held little prayer-meetings yourselves with your class-fellows and your companions, if you had come through the half that Daniel and his three companions came through. It is because you are not being emptied from vessel to vessel all the week that we never see you at the prayer-meeting. Jeremiah, a great authority on why some men pray, and why other men never pray, has this about you in his book: 'Moab hath been at his ease from his youth up: he hath settled on his lees: he hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel: neither hath he gone into captivity; and, therefore, his taste remaineth in him, and his scent is not changed.'

'Why,' asks Pascal, 'has God established prayer?' And the first answer out of the three that Pascal gives to himself is this,-'To communicate to His creatures the dignity of causality.' And Daniel was of Pascal's deep and original mind. For Daniel, just because he read in Jeremiah that deliverance was at the door, all the more set himself to pray as if his prayer was to be the alone and predestinated cause of the coming deliverance. Daniel put on sackcloth, and fasted, and prayed, and went back upon all his own and all his people's sins in a way that confounds us to our face. We cannot understand Daniel. We are not deep enough. He prayed, and fasted, and returned to an agony of prayer, as if he had never heard of the near deliverance: he prayed in its very presence as if he despaired of ever seeing it. He fasted and prayed as he had not done all those seventy fasting and praying years. Read, all you experts in prayer, with all your mind, and with all your heart, and with all your experience, and with all your imagination this great causality chapter. It is written by a proficient for proficients. It is written by a great saint of God for all such. Read it and think about it. Read it with your Pascal open before you. Read it and sink down into the deep things of God and the soul. Read it and practise it till you know by experiment and by experience that decree, and covenant, and prophecy, and promise, and all, however sure, and however near, are only fulfilled in immediate and dependent answer to penitential and importunate prayer. Read it and pray as never before after the answer has actually begun. See the answer out to the last syllable before you begin to restrain penitence and prayer. And after the answer is all fulfilled, still read it and the still deeper chapters that follow it, till you learn new fastings, and new sackcloth, and new ashes, and new repentance, away out to your saintliest old age. Read Daniel's greatest prayer and

Know thy dread power-a creature, yet a cause.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Daniel'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. 1901.

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