It must be evident to any attentive reader that this first chapter is purely a preface to the book. It introduces us into the scene to which the prophecies, of which Daniel was either the interpreter or the vessel, are the great after-piece, the subject-matter which the Spirit of God is about to convey to us. We may therefore take advantage of this, to inquire into the peculiar nature of the book on which we are about to enter.
The properly prophetic part of Daniel begins with the second chapter. Then follow certain historical incidents, which, as I conceive, have a most intimate connection with the prophecy - if not directly, in the way of types - which show out the moral principles or the issues of the powers of the world, with which the book is occupied.
In order to understand Daniel it is necessary to bear in mind that prophecy in the Old Testament divides itself into two great parts. There were prophecies that concerned the people of God, Israel, when they were still under His government; unfaithful often, but still subject to His discipline and owned of Him to a certain extent. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and indeed many of the lesser prophets, such as Hosea, Amos, and Micah, have this first character. Israel was still recognized as God's people, if not the whole, at least that part of the people with which God still had certain dealings in the land: of course I refer to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, which clave to the house of David. After a while they too fell, and the heir of David became the leader in rebellious idolatry against the Lord. Then a change of the utmost importance ensued. The throne of the Lord, which was established in Jerusalem, ceased altogether upon the earth. God no longer owned Israel, nor even Judah, as His people. And I call your attention particularly to this, because there are often vague thoughts as to what is meant by "the people of God" in Scripture. As Christians we look at God's people as those that really belong to Him - His children by faith of Christ. Now there is a danger of carrying the same thoughts back to the language of the Old Testament. But it will be found, if we examine Scripture with care, that in the ancient oracles by "people of God" is meant only the Jews or Israel. Nor is it merely a certain aggregate of the elect among them, but the entire nation, or that part which still clung in a measure, though very unfaithfully, to God's king, and whatever they might be, owned as the people of God. Then came a time when God disowned His people. This was predicted by Hosea. It was accomplished when God gave up the last king of Judah to the Chaldean conqueror. God would have sacrificed His own holiness, truth, and majesty, if He had longer tolerated the Jews or their idolatrous king.
Now it is a remarkable thing in the history of the world, that although there were certain powers of growing importance and ambition in the east, none before had been allowed to step into positive superiority to all rivals. In the west there were only hordes of wanderers, or, if some were settled, they were uncivilized barbarians. In the east and south powers had rapidly risen; one of them, Egypt, is particularly well known in connection with Israel. Another too, Asshur, is quite as ancient in its origin: indeed, we read of its name, and of certain aspirations and efforts after power, before we read of Egypt at all. These were the great rivals of the early world, and they had a civilization of their own. It might have a rude character, but that it was barbaric grandeur none can deny who believes the Scriptures, nay, who sees the relics of Egypt and Assyria. Well, these powers were constantly struggling for the mastery. But however God might use the Egyptians and Assyrians, or others less considerable, as a rod of discipline for the good of Israel, yet to no nation on earth was supremacy allowed until it was perfectly plain that God's people were proved to be unworthy of being His witness and the scene of His government on the earth. First, then, Ephraim (the ten tribes), having sunk into hopeless idolatry, was swept away. For a long time there had been monarch after monarch only following or exceeding each other in evil; and all through it had been a scene of rebellion and idolatry. Thus God had been compelled to root such a people, that only disgraced Him, out of the land where they had been planted. Still the two tribes that clung to the house of David were owned. But clouds hung over them, and snares were laid by the enemy of the most fatal kind. At this crisis prophecy shines out in all its fulness. For prophecy always, I think, supposes failure. It never comes in during a normal state. But when ruin is impending or begun, then the lamp of prophecy shines in the dark place.
This we find true from the first. Take the revelation in Gen. 3 - that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. When was it given? Not when Adam walked sinlessly, but after he and his wife were fallen. Then God appears, and His word not only judged the serpent, but took the form of promise to be realized in the true Seed - certainly a blessed disclosure of the future, on which the hope of those who believed rested. It was the condemnation of their actual state. It did not allow the faithful who followed to sink into despair, but presented an object above the ruin on the part of God, to which their hearts became attached. Again, Enoch is the person in the antediluvian world who, above all others, is said to have "prophesied," though we do not get the record of it till one of the latest books of the New Testament. "Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." Now that the evil, found in the germ in Adam, had broken out into all but universal corruption and violence, we have a well-defined prophecy of judgment coming on the world. It was the interference of God in testimony before He acted in power. Then Noah is seen, who, still more than Enoch, was publicly connected with this evil state. I believe that Enoch's prophecy had a remarkable application to the deluge, though it looks onward, of course, to the grand catastrophe in the last days. When a prophecy is given there is often a partial accomplishment at the time or soon after. But we must never look back at the past pledge as if the whole thing were exhausted. That would be to make Scripture of "private interpretation." And this is the true sense of 2Pe_1:20: "No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation." We must take it in the vast scope of the plans of God, and the unfolding of His purposes, which alone find their consummation at the close. It is to that point that all prophecy looks. Then only we have the grand fulfilment.
Again, let us take the patriarchs, who are expressly called prophets. "He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, He reproved kings for their sakes; saying, Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm." (Psa_105:14-15 ) Their claim to this title may be explained on the same principle. They were the then interpreters of the mind of God; "called out," because there was a new and fearful evil come into the world, which we never read of before the days of Abraham - idolatry. Worship of idols, as far as Scripture reveals it to us, is only mentioned after the flood. This was spreading everywhere, and becoming paramount even in the descendants of Shem; and, therefore, God called out a witness in word and deed separate from so flagrant iniquity. Prophecy, or a prophet, always supposes the presence of new and increasing evil, because of which God is pleased to unfold His mind with regard to the future, and to make it of present practical value to those then on the earth.
In the case of Moses it was manifest; for, though he was the great lawgiver, the golden calf was set up almost immediately after, and thus the ruin of Israel, as a people under law, was complete. And so it remained for him, as the great prophet of Israel (Deu_34:10), to reveal the sure and growing corruption of the people, whatever might be the resources of God's grace at the end; as, at an earlier epoch, he had predicted the inevitable judgment of God upon Egypt. Coming lower down in the history of Israel, we have one who begins the line of prophets emphatically so called; for he is mentioned thus: "Yea, all the prophets from Samuel, and those that follow after," etc. His call was at a very critical period in Israel's history; at a time when the children of Israel had fallen into such a frightfully low state, that they were willing to use even the ark of God as a charm to preserve them from the power of their enemies. Then it was that God put His people to shame. His own ark was taken, and Ichabod was the only name that godly feeling could dictate. The glory was departed. Just about that time we hear of Samuel the prophet. If this was the token of some new crisis, equally at least did it show that God, in vindication of His own name, brings in the light of prophecy as a comfort to the hearts of those who stand for Himself.
Descending still further, we find the full outburst of prophetic light in the time of the prophet Isaiah. The reason is apparent. Not merely had Israel committed itself to idolatry, but the king, David's son, had actually taken the pattern of the heathen altar at Damascus, and must have another made for himself in the holy city! There was a sin heinous and most insulting to God. Isaiah is set apart with unusual solemnity to the prophetic office. The evil condition of the Jews is realized by him. He sees the glory of the Lord, which draws out from him the immediate confession of his own and the people's uncleanness. "Then said I, Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." But one of the seraphim touches his lips with a live coal, assuring him that his iniquity was taken away, and his sin purged. And he is sent with a message of judicial darkness upon the people, which must last till the cities were wasted, and the land made utterly desolate. Thus we have prophecy so much the more brilliant because the evil was manifest and profound. The consequence of the prophetic warning, where received, was a genuine spirit of repentance and of intercession. And God subsequently raised up a royal witness for Himself, so that for a time the evil was suspended.
And all this while you have prophecy coming out with more and more distinctness, directing the hearts of the saints to Him whom the virgin should conceive and bear - the Son of David, Emmanuel, that was to be the only and sure foundation for the people laid in Zion. I need not now attempt to give even an outline of the distinctive features of the prophets that followed. But this far, I trust, the great principle is clear, that prophecy, as a whole, comes in when there is ruin among the people of God. As the ruin deepens, prophecy adds fresh light in the goodness of God.
Besides this universal character of prophecy, we have seen it, first, while God is still disciplining the people and owning them as His. But there is another form of which Daniel is the great example in the Old Testament. This is, when God, no longer able to address His people as such, makes an individual to be the object of His communications.
For this is the manifest feature of Daniel. It is no longer a direct address to the people, reasoning, pleading, warning, opening out bright hopes, as in Isaiah, etc. Nor is it, as in Jeremiah, a prophet "ordained to the nations," with most affecting appeals to Israel and Judah, or at least a remnant there. In Daniel all is changed. There is no message to Israel at all; and the first and very comprehensive prophecy contained in the book, was not at first given to the prophet himself, but rather a dream of the heathen king, Nebuchadnezzar, though Daniel was the only one who could recall it, or furnish the interpretation. The other visions were seen by Daniel only, and to him all the interpretations were given. What is the great lesson to be drawn from this? God was acting on the momentous fact that His people had forfeited their place - at least for the present. They had lost their distinctive standing as a nation - God would no longer own them. The presence of elect persons among them did not, in the least degree, arrest the divine sentence. It was not a question of there being "ten righteous" in their midst. Of a corrupt Canaanitish city, like Sodom, that was said as a reason why it should be spared. But does God ever speak so about His people? He may liken them to Sodom for their iniquity, but there can be no such hindrance to judgment in their case. On the contrary, it is expressly said in Ezekiel 14, that "though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it [the land of Israel], they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness "; and again, "they shall deliver neither son nor daughter." That is, in His own land, and in the midst of His guilty people, no matter who were there, nor what their righteousness, the righteous only should be delivered, and God's four sore judgments must be sent. And so, at this very crisis of the captivity, there were righteous men, such as the prophets themselves, and others, kindred spirits in their measure. Whatever, then, be His willingness to spare the world, God does not refrain from judging the evil of His own people, because of a handful of righteous men in their midst. "Hear this word that the Lord hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities." (Amo_3:1-2) Otherwise, there never could have been a national judgment of Israel at all; for there was always a line of faithful ones in their midst. The entire principle is false. In a book I lately met with, such was the plea why England should come comparatively unscathed out of the terrible judgments about to fall on the nations of the earth. There are so many good men! - such changes for the better in high and low - such benevolent and Christian institutions - the Scriptures not only printed in abundance, but everywhere circulated, read, and expounded! But these are the very grounds which, to my mind, make divine judgment inevitable. For it is quite clear from Scripture, that, if there is to be any difference in the measure, those who know His will and do it not "shall be beaten with many stripes." A more fearful illusion can scarcely be conceived, than that the possession of a greater amount of spiritual knowledge and privilege is to be an effectual shield when the earth comes into judgment.
The Lord recalled the memory of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 11), but it was only to show the far greater guilt of the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done. "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you." But there was another city still more favoured (elsewhere called His own city, Mat_9:1), because it was where He then usually dwelt; and, therefore, was its case so aggravated in guilt. "And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell; for if the mighty works which were done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for thee." In other words, the measure of privilege is ever the measure of responsibility.
We have seen, then, the startling fact that the government which God had set up in Israel (accompanied by the visible sign of His presence, i.e. the Shekinah of glory), was now to subsist no more. God Himself stripped them of their name as His people. Henceforth they were "Lo-Ammi," not My people. That was their doom now, as far as He was concerned, whatever the ultimate designs of His grace might be: for His "gifts and calling" are "without repentance."
Along with this sad change, and dependent on it, the prophecy of Daniel begins. And in this respect there is a strong analogy between this book and the grand prophecy of the New Testament. No doubt, in the latter, special messages were sent to the seven churches through John. But the book, as a whole, was addressed and confided to him, however much it was intended that the things should be testified in the churches. Christ sent and signified the revelation, by His angel, unto His servant John, who stands in the same sort of relation to Christendom that Daniel did to Israel. The failure was so complete that God could no longer address the prophecy directly to His people in either case. Thus there is a very serious moral sentence of God upon the condition of Christendom. It was a ruin as regards practical testimony for God - Ephesus threatened with the removal of its candlestick, if it did not repent, and Laodicea with the certainty of being spued out of the Lord's mouth. Not but what God continued to save souls: this He always did and does. But it has nothing to do with the witness which His people are responsible to render. More than two hundred years after Judah had become "Lo-Ammi" Malachi could tell of them that feared the Lord speaking often one to another: "And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels, and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him." All that might be true; yet the solemn sentence of God - "not My people" - remained on them. Circumstances could affect neither His judgment of the nation nor His grace to faithful souls within it. And what was true then remains equally true now. The salvation and blessing of souls go on. But before God, that which bears the name of Christ in the world is as far from satisfying the thoughts of God about us, as the people of Israel were from fulfilling His design in them.
Accordingly, we find that the character of the book perfectly accords with the time and circumstances in which Daniel was called to be a prophet. It was when the last vestiges of God's people were being taken away. In Jer_25:1, the date of Nebuchadnezzar's reign is reckoned from the first attack. And I would just observe, that there is a little difference from what is said in Daniel 2. In Babylon, where the latter wrote, the reckoning was naturally from the time when Nebuchadnezzar succeeded to the throne upon his father's death; whereas, in Jerusalem, where Jeremiah prophesies, it was just as naturally from the time that Nebuchadnezzar, during his father's life, wielded the power of the kingdom, to the ruin of Jerusalem and the Jews. The truth is, the case is not uncommon, both in sacred and profane history. Whatever may be the difficulties in the word of God, they really arise from want of light. Generally, the object of the particular portion where they occur is not understood. But speaking of dates, another little thing it is well to bear in mind, which the first verse of our chapter, as compared with Jer_25:1, gives occasion to: years are sometimes reckoned from their beginning, sometimes from their end, that is, either inclusively or exclusively. So it is in the well-known instances of the days between our Lord's death and resurrection, and of the six or eight days before the transfiguration. Thus in Daniel it was said, "in the third year of Jehoiakim"; but in Jeremiah, "in the fourth year." The one was the complete, the other the current year.
Looking then at the moral character of Daniel's prophecy, the key to the ways of God at the time it was given lies in this, that God no longer exercised a direct, immediate government upon the earth. He had owned David and his seed as the kings that He had set upon the throne of Jehovah at Jerusalem. (1Ch_29:23) No other kings were thus recognized of God. They were emphatically His anointed, before whom even the high priest had to walk.
And here was what God intended to set forth by them: a foreshadowing of what He is going to do by and in the Christ, the true Son of David. The same thing is found throughout Scripture. First, a position is committed to man's responsibility, and failure is immediate; then, it is taken up by Christ, who establishes it on a foundation which cannot be moved. Thus, God makes man, and sets him sinlessly in paradise, with dominion over the lower creation. Man falls at once. But God never gives up His purpose of having a man in paradise. Where shall we find it now? In the first Adam it broke down utterly. He was turned out of Eden: his race became outcasts from that day to this; and all the efforts and the material progress that man makes in this world are only so many remedial measures to hide the fact that God has driven him out of paradise. But the last Adam is God's glorious answer to that first trust which was confided to man's keeping - the Second Man exalted in the paradise of God. Again, Noah, as it were, begins the world afresh after the flood, and has the power of life and death first committed to his hand. The sword of magistracy was introduced. "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man." This was the root of civil government, and man was thereby made responsible to restrain or punish the violent hand. This is never reversed. Christianity, wherever received, brings in other and heavenly principles. But the world remains bound by this irreversible statute of God for its guidance. Noah, however, failed in his trust as completely as Adam had in the garden. He did not govern himself nor his family to God's glory. He becomes intoxicated, and his younger son insults him: and the issue is, that, instead of the universal blessing of righteous rule, a curse falls upon a portion of his descendants, So, in due time, the principle of a king, responsible to rule righteously over God's people, was tried in the house of David. And what is found,, Even before David died, there was such dreadful sin that the sword was never to depart from that very family which ought to have secured blessing to Israel. Did God therefore abandon His designs? In no wise. The Lord Jesus takes up headship, government, and the throne of David's Son. And so with all the other principles that broke down in man's hands; all will be illustrated and established for ever in the person and glory of the Lord Jesus.
We saw that Jerusalem ceases to be Jehovah's throne. And Jeremiah shows us the holy city counted as one among the other nations; and as most privileged, so the first to drink the cup of God's fury. Babylon must drink it also, but Israel first. It is in the same chapter (Jer. 25) that you have the distinct prediction of the seventy years' captivity, during which Judah was to be carried away to Babylon; and then should come at the end the judgment of the power that led them captive. But while Jeremiah predicts the rising supremacy of Babylon, and its final judgment, and that, too, not as a matter of history alone, but as the type of the world's overthrow in the day of the Lord, we have not there the details that intervene. So Ezekiel, among the captives at Chebar, brings us up in the first half of his prophecy to the time of the great struggle for the chief place among the powers of the world. Pharaoh-Necho, king of Egypt, desired to have it; but, as the Assyrian before him, he is destroyed, and Babylon remains the ambitious claimant of universal dominion. There were these three powers, Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon; the latter comparatively young as a great kingdom, though founded probably upon the oldest associations of all, viz., Babel - "the beginning of Nimrod's kingdom." They were like fierce animals, held in by an unseen leash till the experiment was fairly tried, whether the daughter of Zion would walk humbly and obediently with the Lord, or whether she would turn from her backsliding and repent at His call. But she did neither. This left room for what had never been seen before - the rise of universal empire.
After the flood, and the judgment of the Lord at Babel, the great dispersion of nations took place - families, kindreds, tongues, and lands, all separate. Israel was the centre of this system of independent nations. So it is written in Deu_32:8: "When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance; when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel." All was arranged with reference to Israel, for "Jehovah's portion is His people, Jacob is the lot of His inheritance." They were the divine centre for the earth, and God will yet make good His purpose. Though completely frustrated through the wickedness of the people, Israel must yet be His centre of nations in this world, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. This, too, was first tried in the hands of man, and failed; then it is turned over into the hands of Christ, who will establish it in due time. Israel's pride made it to depend at first upon their obedience to God. At Sinai they undertook the responsibility of the law. Whenever a sinner attempts to stand upon that ground with God, he is lost. The only safe and lowly ground is, not what Israel would be for God, but what God would be in faithfulness and love and pity toward Israel. And so it is with every soul at all times. Israel accepting that condition, the law became their scourge, and God was compelled to judge them. Death accordingly was certain, spite of God's marvellous patience. People fail, priests fail, and kings at last became the leaders in all evil. God was compelled to give up His people. From that moment all that held in check the nations of the earth was taken away, and the vast rival dynasties struggled for the mastery. God no longer had a people that He owned as the theatre of His government. If their heart had only turned to Him, like the needle to the pole, spite of quivering to and fro, there would have been long-suffering (as indeed there was to the uttermost), and the intervention of divine power would have established them in blessing for evermore. But when not only the people, but the king anointed of Jehovah, blotted out His very name from the land; when His glory was given to another in His own temple, all was over for the present, and "Lo-Ammi" was the sentence of God. They had become now the most bitter in their idolatry, being apostates from the living God, and, if maintained, would have been the active champions of heathen abominations. By God's judgment, therefore, the people and the king at length passed into captivity.
At this crisis Daniel appears at the court of the Babylonish monarch, according to the sure word of Isaiah to King Hezekiah. (Isa. 39) "The times of the Gentiles" (for so runs the remarkable phrase in Luke 21) were begun, and of those times Daniel was the prophet. They are not always to run on; they have a limit assigned by God, when the present interruption of His direct earthly government shall cease, and Israel shall again be acknowledged as the people of God. During this interval, as we saw, their distinctive calling being lost, God allows in His providence a new system of government, the system of imperial unity, to rise up in the great successive Gentile powers It is no longer independent nations, each having its own ruler, but God Himself sanctioning, in His providence, the surrender of all nations of the earth to the absorbing authority of a single individual. This is what characterizes "the times of the Gentiles." Such a thing was unexampled before, though there may have been strong kingdoms encroaching upon weaker ones. Even the infidel historian is compelled to recognize, as all history does, the four great empires of the ancient world. Israel was now merged in the mass of nations. Hence that expression comes in, "the God of heaven." God had, as it were, retreated from the immediate control of the earth, in which character, at least in type, He had governed Israel. This had now wholly disappeared, and God, acting sovereignly, and at a distance, so to speak, from the scene - "the God of heaven" - gave certain defined powers of the Gentiles to succeed each other in a world-wide empire.
Before these preliminary remarks close, I add a little word on the great moral features of this chapter; for if they are brought out prominently in Daniel, they were not written for his sake only, but for ours, if we desire the same blessing.
The chapter opens with the scene of the complete prostration of the Jews before their conqueror. They were now besieged and overwhelmed in their last stronghold. "In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, came Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim, king of Judah, into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Shinar, to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure-house of his god." Next we have the fulfilment of the remarkable prophecy of Isaiah, already alluded to. Hezekiah had been sick, nigh unto death. At his urgent desire to live, God had added to his days fifteen years, and this was sealed to him by a striking sign; the sun returned ten degrees by which it was gone down. But it had been better to have learnt well the lesson of death and resurrection, than to have life prolonged, fall into a snare, and hear of the sorrows that yet awaited his house and, with it, the eclipse of Israel's hopes. Whether a sign so remarkable was what chiefly attracted the notice of a nation the most celebrated in the ancient world for its astronomical lore, I cannot say. Certain it is, that at that time the king of Babylon sent letters and a present to Hezekiah, and this, not merely because he was recovered of his sickness, but to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land. (2Ch_32:31) Instead of going softly all his years, Hezekiah displays his treasures to the ambassadors of Merodach-baladan. "There was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not." "Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."
Here we see this accomplished. "And the king spake unto Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes (or nobles); children in whom was no blemish, but well-favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans." Accordingly "the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat and of the wine which he drank; so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king." Along with this, the names of Daniel and of his three companions are changed. It would appear, that the desire was to efface the memory of the true God, by giving them names derived from the idols of Babylon. "The prince of the eunuchs gave to Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego"; in all probability names derived from Bel and the other false gods then worshipped in Chaldea.
And now let us mark what the Holy Ghost records, as peculiarly showing Daniel's heart for God, that in his moral ways he might be a vessel to honour, and meet for the Master's use. How remarkably is the power of God superior to all circumstances! Daniel and his companions say nothing to the change of names, painful as it must have been. They were slaves the property of another, who had the authority to call them as he pleased. "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank." Naturally they would have received such fare with thankfulness; faith works, and it is refused. It was connected with the false gods of the country, being a part of the daily food of an idolatrous king. Even in their own land, and apart from idols, God insisted upon separating between things clean and unclean, and much that was prized among the Gentiles was an abomination to a Jew. The law was stringent as to these defilements, and Daniel, as a Jew, was under its obligations. Christianity comes in and delivers the conscience from anxiety as to such things. "Whatsoever is sold in the shambles," Paul says, "that eat, asking no question for conscience' sake." And so at a feast. If it were known, however, that certain food had been offered unto idols, the Christian was not to eat, both for the sake of those that named the fact and for conscience' sake. But for the Jew, there was unqualified separation required. Daniel at once shows himself decided for the true God. It was not to him a question of doing at Babylon what was done there, but of the will of God as enjoined upon Israel. "Therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself." God had meanwhile wrought in His providence that Daniel should find special favour. But this did not lessen the trial of faith. And when difficulties and dangers were pleaded, still he has confidence in God. We are all apt to find good reasons for bad things; but Daniel's eye was single, and his whole body full of light - the only means of understanding the mind of God. He did not consider what was pleasing to himself; he did not fear to risk the peril; he looked at the matter in connection with God. He only asks that they may be proved for ten days; "and let them give us pulse to eat and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon," etc. Not "pleasant bread," but that which spoke of humbling themselves before God, was what a true heart felt to be their suited food; such fare as the lowest in that proud and luxurious city might have disdained. What is the result of this trial? Daniel and his companions turn out "fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat." Thus they were spared further trouble on that score.
But that is not all. There was the positive blessing of God, in giving them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom. And of Daniel it is said, that he was made to understand "all visions and dreams." They were prepared of God, each for what he had afterwards to fill. God was their teacher, and the trial of their faith was a needed, essential part of their training in His school. Then, when they stood before the king, none was found like them. When the king inquired of them, he found them, in all matters of wisdom and understanding, "ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.'' (Verses 17-20)
If we, too, are to understand the Scriptures, I believe that we must travel the path of separation from the world. Nothing more destroys spiritual intelligence than merely floating with the stream of men's opinions and ways. The prophetic word is that which shows us the end of all man's projects and ambition. "And the world passeth away, and the lusts thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." Doubtless, "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." But all the plans of men will come to nothing first, though "they shall labour in the very fire, and shall weary themselves for very vanity." Himself shall do it. If there be one Scripture truth which stands out more prominently than another, or rather which underlies all truth, it is the total failure of man in everything that pertains to God, before His grace interferes and triumphs. And this is true, not of unconverted men only, but of His people of old, and of His Church since. Nor is there any advantage greater for the enemy, short of destroying the foundations, than the mixing up of the saints of God with the world, and the consequent darkening of all spiritual intelligence in those who ought to be its light. God would have us in practical communion with Himself: in His light we see light. If we see the end of all the plots of Satan to thwart the work of God, it separates us from what leads thereto, and joins us with all that is dear to Him. Then "the path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day." So walking, we shall understand the word of God. It is not a question of intellectual capacity and learning. I am confident that human erudition in the things of God is only so much rubbish, wherever it is made to be anything more than a servant. Unless Christians can keep what they know under their feet, they are incapable of profiting fully by the word of God. Otherwise, whether a man know much or little, he becomes its slave, and it usurps the place of the Spirit of God.
Faith is the sole means and power of spiritual understanding; and faith puts and keeps us in subjection to the Lord, and in separation from this evil age. Daniel was separated from what, to a Jew, dishonoured God, and God blessed him with wisdom and understanding.