In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah.
Jehoiakim was the son of one of the best kings that ever sat upon the throne of David. His father, Josiah, was a fearer of the Lord from his youth. In a period of great degeneracy, he was enabled to live a holy and consistent life. Convinced that religion is the true source of national prosperity, and that sin is the procuring cause of national calamity, Josiah exerted his royal influence to promote the revival of godliness among his subjects. The land, however, was ripe for vengeance, and in wrath against it the days of this excellent prince were shortened. He was “taken away from the evil to come.” In the flower of his days, he was slain in the battle of Megiddo, while fighting against Pharaoh-Necho king of Egypt. After the death of Josiah, his son Jehoahaz was raised to the throne. This appointment being offensive to the king of Egypt, he deposed Jehoahaz, after a reign of three months, and selected, as his successor on the throne of Judah, Eliakim, another son of Josiah, who, on that occasion, had his name changed into Jehoiakim. The exaltation of such a prince to the throne, in so corrupt a state of society, was a token that judgment was nigh. So early as the third year of his reign, the land was overtaken by the first stroke of calamity. The minister of Divine indignation was Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. From the days of Manasseh, the land of Judea was tributary to Babylon. But when Pharaoh-Necho conquered Josiah, he obtained the superiority of Judea. Babylon and Egypt were then rival monarchies, struggling with one another for the ascendancy of the world. When, therefore, Nabopolassar king of Babylon heard that Pharaoh had taken Jerusalem and other towns in Palestine, he resolved to make an effort for their recovery. Through age and infirmity, being unable to head such an enterprise in person, he assumed Nebuchadnezzar his son into partnership with him in the empire, and sent him into Syria. Having conquered the Egyptians on the Euphrates, he marched into Judea and took Jerusalem. Secular history is generally written, just as it would have been, if no agent had the least influence on the affairs of the world, besides those who are visible to our senses. It traces the actions of man, as if man was all. It takes no notice, or but little notice, of God. But Scripture history is written on a different plan. It begins with God, as the creator of the world, and throughout, it exhibits him as its governor, everywhere present, and always operating. In an especial manner, it traces all the revolutions that take place in kingdoms--their origin--their progress--their decline and fall--to his sovereign and holy will, as the ultimate cause. “And the Lord gave into his hand Jehoiakim king of Judah,--a mode of expression which signifies that Divine displeasure was the true and proper cause of this calamity. In a period of defection from God, superstition often usurps the place of religion. When men have ceased to confide in God himself, they often place their confidence in something pertaining to him, and trust in it for protection from danger. To reprove such a spirit, God usually permits that in which they confide to fall into the enemy’s hand. But while they had no confidence in God, they placed the most overweening confidence in the temple. They thought, that so long as it remained among them, they was safe. In one of the earlier messages of Jeremiah, God warned them against this delusion (Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 4:12-14). This threatening God now began to execute. Literally, “judgment began at the house of God.” Having entered the temple, Nebuchadnezzar carried away part of the vessels of the Lord’s house. These he took into the land of Shinar, the ancient name of the region in which Babylon was situated, and placed them in the treasure-house of his god. Considering the place from which these vessels had been taken, and to whose service they had been consecrated for ages, they may certainly be regarded as one of the most remarkable trophies that ever a conqueror presented at the shrine of his deity. But victories obtained over God’s people, when they are also triumphs over God himself, will in the end be found pregnant with disaster. Thus, when the Philistines took the ark captive, God glorified himself in a very remarkable manner. And, when he summons the nations to the overthrow of Babylon, one reason mentioned is, to take vengeance on her for what she had done to his temple. “Make bright the arrows; gather the shields; the Lord hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes; for his device is against Babylon to destroy it; because it is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance of his temple.” In a subsequent chapter of the Book of Daniel, we shall meet again with these vessels, and see them prostituted, by an impious monarch, to bacchanalian purposes. Jerusalem was taken in the third year of Jehoiakim. We are not, however, to suppose that this was the end of his reign. Having humbled himself, and promised to pay tribute to the king of Babylon, he was restored to his throne, and reigned seven years. Having then rebelled a second time, Jerusalem was again taken, and he bound in chains, to be carried to Babylon, but died by the way. The final overthrow of Jerusalem did not take place till the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, about eighteen years after this period. When we consider that the sins of the Jewish people were so numerous, varied, and aggravated, and that they had been accumulating for ages, it might have been expected, that they would have suffered the seventy years of threatened captivity, from the time when the final stroke of vengeance came upon them, in the reign of Zedekiah. But, “for the sake of the elect, the days were shortened.” The seventy years of the Babylonian captivity did not begin when the temple was destroyed, but when the vessels of the temple were taken away--not when the nation was removed, but when Daniel and a few others of noble birth were carried into Babylon.
I. Nebuchadnezzar invested Jerusalem, and took it, by the union of his own skill, and the courage of his army, and yet it is here said, “the Lord gave Jehoiakim into his hand.” From this, we may learn, that there is a twofold agency concerned in all the events that take place in this world,--the agency of man on the earth, and the agency of God in the heavens. This twofold agency, however, is not co-ordinate. God and man are not possessed of equal efficiency in the production of events, Nebuchadnezzar besieges Jerusalem, but it is the Lord who gives Jehoiakim into his hand. Jehovah is the God of gods, and the King of kings, the First Cause of all events, as well as the First Cause of all beings. Men may form their plans, and gratify their passions, with the most entire freedom from all control, and yet they will only do “what God determined before to be done.” This is the fundamental truth of religion, whether natural or revealed; the denial of which shows as great a lack of philosophy, as of piety. If the material, or intelligent, creation, was in any respect independent of God, this would sap every rational ground of confidence and composure. I know few duties more necessary to be inculcated, than this, of connecting outward events with the Divine government. Jehovah is, to a great extent, practically deposed from his throne of providence. Even many who profess to believe in his supremacy, “put a reed into his hand for a sceptre.” Speculations on the state of the world too generally overlook the influence of God in the affairs that are occurring. In contemplating the world and its affairs, we should beware of looking only to the hand of man. Let us look beyond the creature, to the Creator.
II. The political causes, that led to the overthrow of Jerusalem, are apparent to all. These causes are not stated in the Book of Daniel. They are, however, fully developed in the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. In mentioning irreligion, as the radical cause of God’s controversy with Judea, it is unnecessary to produce proofs of the assertion from Scripture. While the outward forms remained, there was such a want of true godliness, that Jehovah loathed and abhorred his own ordinances. And, when a people cease to fear God, or decline in this, their national character will begin to lower. They will cease to be distinguished for those loftier sentiments, which have their origin in the more strictly spiritual department of human nature, and which, more than anything else, tend to cherish wisdom, courage, genius, and patriotism. When the religious feeling of a country begins to decline, it will be marked by a growing disregard for God’s holy day. Sabbath desecration is placed prominently among the causes of God’s wrath against Judah. Religion is the parent and the nurse of all genuine morality. As might have been expected, from the low state of religion, we find the prevalence of immorality stated as one cause of this calamity that came upon Judea. “Run ye,” said God to Jeremiah, “to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth; and I will pardon it “(Jeremiah 5:1-6). Zephaniah in like manner representsthe corruption of manners as extending to all classes. “Her princes within her,” says he, “are roaring lions, her judges are ravening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow. Her prophets are light and treacherous persons; her priests have polluted the sanctuary and done violence to the law.” There are some sins particularized by all the prophets. Among these none is mentioned more frequently than deceit. With the prevalence of this the prophet Jeremiah was so affected, that at the beginning of the ninth chapter of his book, he breaks forth in these heart-rending strains, “O that mine head were waters,” etc. (Jeremiah 9:1-8). Covetousness is specified as another sin (Jeremiah 6:12-13). Covetousness is represented as producing fraudulent dealing, and corrupting the sources of justice, because of which the Lord was displeased (Micah 6:10-11). Pride and luxury are also mentioned (Isaiah 3:16-24). The prevalence of immorality, and particularly, the prevalence of deceit, covetousness, and luxury, may, generally, be considered as symptomatic of the last stage of nations. These operate disastrously in two ways. First, They expose to danger, because they are offensive to God. Secondly, They operate, naturally, to produce a dissolution of the social body. Luxury has the same influence on the social health, that an Asiatic climate has upon an European frame; it enervates and debilitates, and causes premature decay, and death.
And deceit is like a secret poison, pent up within the bowels of the empire, and gliding fatally, yet imperceptibly, through its veins. And covetousness is like a vulture preying on a diseased and disabled victim, while its blood is still warm, and its breath has not gone forth. And general immorality is like begun mortification, a disease that has no successor in the list of maladies. Irreligion and immorality, when combined, never fail to produce a bitter and malignant aversion to the cause of holiness and truth, and to their adherents. Before the overthrow of Jerusalem, the spirit of irreligion did not exist in a state of apathy. It was roused to great fierceness; it stood forth in the form of malignant contumacy, and defiance against the Lord. His warnings were rejected, his denunciations were scorned, his prophets were persecuted.
III. We shall only mention two things illustrative of the circumstances in which the captivity came.
1. The overthrow of the Jewish state came gradually. Manasseh was first carried captive, then Josiah was slain in battle, Jerusalem was then taken four times by the enemy, twice in the days of Jehoiakim, again in the days of his son, and finally in the reign of Zedekiah. From this we may learn, that national destruction is sometimes a gradual thing. It comes in successive shocks, some at a greater interval, and others at a lesser interval. We are not to suppose, because the sins mentioned prevail in any land, that it shall be instantly overthrown. It is with nations as with individuals,--the impenitent person shall perish, but God may spare him to a good old age. Caution is, therefore, necessary, lest we should commit the honour of Christianity, as good men have often done, by denouncing judgment as certainly at hand. Sin will assuredly Bring it; but the times and the seasons are in the Father’s hands.
2. A second thing very observable is, that before each of these successive shocks of national disaster, God made use of means to promote the reformation of the country. Before the calamities that came upon the land, in the days of Manasseh, godly Hezekiah, had endeavoured, during a lifetime, to promote a revival of true religion. The reign of Josiah immediately preceded this disaster in the days of Jehoiakim. In the interval between the death of Josiah and the destruction of the temple, they were warned by divinely-commissioned prophets. Among others, God employed Jeremiah, a man in whose character, zeal for God was finely united with tenderness to man. And it has been God’s ordinary way, to use means for reforming nations, before their overthrow. The flood came and swept away the ungodly world, but did not God give them warning? Nineveh was not overthrown till she was called to repentance by the ministry of Jonah. If God’s government be a moral government, then moral evil must be the cause of all physical sufferings, and of all political difficulties. Moral evil is the crime, the political evil is the punishment. Moral evil is the disease, political evil is but the symptom. (William White.)
The Judean Captives
I. INTRODUCTORY. Nebuchadnezzar is called king, but he was not yet the reigning sovereign of Babylon. He shared the throne in conjunction with his father Nabopolassar. His accession to the sole sovereignty was some two or three years later (compare chapter 1, Daniel 1:5, with Daniel 1:18, and chapter 2, Daniel 2:1). This captivity is here said to have taken place during the third year of Jehoiakim, while Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:1) places it in the fourth. Both statements are true. Daniel reckons the three completed years. Jeremiah the fourth upon which Jehoiakim had just entered. There were three deportations of the Jews in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar; this--the first--in 606 B.C., a second in 598 B.C., and the third when Jerusalem was destroyed in 588 B.C. This captivity appears to consist of nothing more than a number of hostages carried to Babylon, among whom was Daniel and his three friends, whose history, more particularly of the first, is given in this book.
II. THE CAPTIVES.
1. They were of noble birth. They were selected of the king’s seed and of the princes. Daniel himself was probably of the blood-royal, as we learn in 1 Chronicles 3:1, that David had a son of that name. Josephus says he was the son of Zedekiah. It was a sad day at Jerusalem when the most promising of the young nobility, in whom the hopes of the nation were centred, were carried away captive to Babylon.
2. They were distinguished by personal beauty. The orientals connected a handsome form with mental power. This, alas! is not always true. Neither spirituality nor intellect appears to be partial to beautiful tenements; but sometimes the purest gem is found in the commonest setting. When Socrates, now an elderly man, becomes acquainted with Charmides, the loveliest youth in Athens, he is so deeply touched by the charms of this paragon that at first he knows not what to say. Recovering his self-possession, however, the sage speaks worthily of himself, telling Charmides that the fairest form needs one addition to make the man perfect--a noble soul. History makes it more than doubtful whether the, Grecian did not fail here; but about the Jewish youth there is no doubt whatever. (John Taylor.)
The Jewish traditions represent Daniel as a tall, spare man, with a beautiful expression.
3. They were intelligent and well instructed. They are represented as “skilful in wisdom,” “cunning in knowledge,” and “understanding science”: by which is probably meant that they had been well taught in the knowledge of their day and had discovered an aptitude for deep studies. The Babylonian king designed to induct them into all the lore of the Chaldeans, in order to wean them away from the worship of God and make them subverters of Israel’s national faith. If, therefore, they should be the future prophets of heathenism to their own people, it was necessary that they should be skilful and wise; and if he, indeed, had any such ulterior designs, it must be confessed he chose his instruments well. But there was an element in their previous training which he either overlooked or held too cheaply. If a Jewish youth was taught in science and earthly knowledge, he was yet far better instructed in the truths of his religion. Nebuchadnezzar will find it difficult to eradicate this deeply-planted faith; and the issue will show that, with four of them at least, he makes lamentable failure.
4. They were very young. But God can strengthen the hearts of the young and make the mouths of babes and sucklings to render him praise. Doubtless many a mother, parting with her offspring and sending them forth into life, or to the temptations of collegiate halls, can find comfort in this reflection.
III. THE PROSPECTS OF THESE CAPTIVES. Considered from a world-standpoint there were two sides to their future. There were elements of deep sorrow, and elements which might be regarded by some as mitigations of their lot.
1. They were exiles. This word is enough to excite our sympathies. So long as the sentiment of patriots remains, exile will be among the saddest of words. But chiefly to the Jew was exile a bitter misfortune. Not only patriotic sentiments, but religious, contributed to darken the life of one who was borne away from his loved Jerusalem, where stood that Holy Temple in its glorious beauty, the visible centre of the worship of Jehovah. Some of the psalms of the captivity reveal the depth of this great sorrow to a Jew, particularly that beautiful song: “By the rivers of Babylon” (Psalms 137:1-9).
2. They were cut off from hope of posterity. They were significantly given into the care of the “prince of the eunuchs,” and the ordinary practice of oriental courts leaves us little doubt of their fate. This, moreover, had been prophesied (2 Kings 20:18).
3. They were to be taught all the wisdom of the Chaldeans. No doubt much of the Chaldaic learning was valueless, but it is undeniable that they cultivated many useful arts and sciences. Daniel and his friends would learn new languages unfolding to them new literature. They would be trained in arts of divination by which they could obtain power over kings, and princes, and the common people. They would be taught the science of astronomy, which at that day the Chaldeans had carried beyond any people. They would be educated in the science of politics, rendering them necessary to rulers as advisers. All this knowledge would of itself give them caste among this new people, would elevate them to position and power.
4. They were to occupy honourable positions in the court of the king. This opens up many prospects which might fire the ambitions of youth. We can well imagine, then, that if these had been godless youths this prospect of power, stimulating their ambitions, might have suited to offset the horrors of exile; yet we may be sure that there was not one of them who would not have given all the wealth and splendour of Nebuchadnezzar’s court for one brief day on the hills of Judea, among the comrades of their childhood.
IV. A LESSON. The prince, their keeper, shall endeavour to make of these Jewish captives, Chaldean sages, and he begins this endeavour by changing their names. These four are named for the four chief deities of Babylon. Bel--the Chief-god, the Sun-god, the Earth-god, and the Fire-god. To renderthis change of character and religion complete all their external relations are correspondingly changed, and a whole new set of influences are brought to bear upon them. And yet, change what they would, they could not reach the heart. It is beyond man’s power to do that. How powerless man stands before the spirit of his fellows! (The Southern Pulpit.)
Affairs in Judea
From 2 Kings 23:34-36, we learn that Jehoiakim was raised to the throne of Judah by Pharaoh-Necho king of Egypt. He continued tributary to Egypt three years, but in his fourth year, which was the first year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, a great battle was fought near the Euphrates between the Egyptian and Babylonian kings, and the Egyptian army was defeated. This victory placed all Syria under the Chaldean government; and thus Jehoiakim, who had been tributary to Egypt, now became a vassal of the King of Babylon. (Jeremiah 25:1; Jeremiah 46:2; 2 Kings 24:1). After three years, the King of Judah rebelled against the King of Babylon, who came against Jerusalem, and besieged and took it, as soon as his engagements with other wars allowed him to direct his attention to Jewish affairs. The land of Shinar was the ancient name of Babylon. (W A. Scott, D.D.)
Children in whom was no blemish.
Piety at Court
I. THE HISTORY OF DANIEL’S FIRST APPEARANCE.
1. It is evident that this lad had come in with the others when Nebuchadnezzar led home his captives from the smoking ruins of Jerusalem.
2. Suddenly comes a summons for this young Hebrew to take a position at court (Daniel 1:3-5). Nebuchadnezzar appears to have determined to bring forward into his service some of this captive race. Quite likely his reasons were these:
3. The group of companions thus strangely thrown together has enough of picturesqueness in it, if nothing else, to attract attention. Only three besides Daniel are mentioned by name, but there were others associated in the transaction. It is always a serious moment when any young man is summoned to come to the front. Good men are often found in the unlikeliest places, even in our day.
II. THE DESCRIPTION OF DANIEL’S PERSONAL ENDOWMENTS (verse 4).
1. For one thing, he was finely fashioned in figure and stature. This makes us think how the Israelites once admired Saul, the son of Kish, when he came to the throne; and how the same wayward people afterwards went into rebellion with Absalom, won by his height and his hair.
2. He was nobly born. These all were to be “of the king’s seed, and of the princes,” when the selection was made. Some say that Daniel was a descendant of Hezekiah, concerning whose Sons it was once predicted that they should reign in Babylon. We need not reason much concerning birth or rank, for God’s choice of us is all we can wish.”
3. He was liberally educated. That counts grandly in the career of each young man; for knowledge is power. The Israelites were not an intellectual race, as a whole; most of the people were farmers, and had flocks and fields; it was an agricultural nation, rather than a scientific. But Daniel had been taught to study, and had learned to think.
4. He was religiously trained. Those old Jews made thorough and honest work of this part of their duty. Here our golden text comes in with all its power: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy word.”
5. He was studious in taste. There is an expression in the narrative which is very significant (verse 20). We are told that when in consultation with these Hebrew advisers, the king found them ten times better than his magicians and astrologers; the original word is “hands”; they were ten hands above them in wisdom and understanding; they were, hand over hand, superior to them in common-sense and, intelligence.
6. He was eminent in the Divine favour (verse 17.) The Lord even then was giving help from heaven to this young man for his calling.
III. THE TEMPTATION TO WHICH DANIEL WAS SUBJECTED (verses 5-7).
1. The king’s plan was this: he designed to swerve these men out from the straight lines of traditional fidelity and belief, and commit them to the orthodox religion of his own country.
2. But the implied condition was this: the whole thing was an adroit ruse and a snare. It made at least four distinct pledges for an alienation of all that these young Hebrews cherished.
IV. THE EXPEDIENT OF ESCAPE WHICH DANIEL PROPOSED, (verses 8-14).
1. Observe carefully what Daniel did not do. He did not decline the chance given him for conspicuous service. He only avoided the embarrassing conditions attached to it. He was willing to be useful, if so splendid an opportunity was offered him; but he would not peril his convictions, nor sacrifice his principles. No young man has any right to refuse an opening in life that is advantageous; he must just accept the gift which in the providence of God comes to him, and then consecrate it to the service of God and his fellow-men.
2. Observe the devoutness and trust of the piety these young Hebrews exhibited.
3. Finally, observe the superb success these young men achieved. The ten days passed; they were “fairer and fatter.” But there were now three years more before they should come before the king; and still they trusted God.. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” (C. S. Robinson, D.D.)
1. The narrative of striking facts and the delineation of celebrated characters, is perhaps, of all methods of instruction, the most effective. No one is ignorant of the power of example both for good and evil. Such is man’s nature, that he is more guided by the practice of others than by his own reason. A child writes more easily after a copy than by rule. Men are prone to imitate whatever they see done, be it good or bad, emulating the one and aping the other.
2. Examples inform and impress the mind in a manner more compendious, easy, and pleasant than precepts or any other instrument or way of discipline. Precepts are abstract, naked, powerless--without a hold on either the fancy, sense, or memory; like the shadows of a passing cloud, too subtle to make any great impression, or leave any remarkable footsteps. But example comes home with irresistible power and strikes out its likeness. Precept is the man chiselled out, standing mute in the awful majesty of a statue of Praxiteles; example is the man with the life-speaking eye, the grace of living motion, and the lips parted with instructive lessons. The most successful professors of arts and sciences explain, illustrate, and confirm their general rules and precepts by particular examples. Mathematicians demonstrate their theorems by schemes and diagrams; orators back their enthymemes with inductions; philosophers urge the reason and nature of things, and then throw themselves aback on the practice of Socrates, Zeno, and such like personages. Politics are more easily and clearly drawn out of veritable history than out of books De Republica. Artificers describe models, and set patterns before their learners with greater success than if they merely delivered accurate rules and precepts to them. Nor is the ease at all different when these principles are applied to morals. Seneca says “that the crowd of philosophers which followed Socrates derived more of their ethics from his manners than his words.” It is said of Origen, the most learned man of his age, the author of a Hexapla--a man that employed seven amanuenses at once--“that he recommended religion more by his example than by all he wrote.” One good example may represent more fully and clearly the nature of virtue than a thousand eloquent descriptions of it. Is it faith we have to acquire? Then we have but to look at Abraham. Is it wisdom, constancy, humility, and resolution? Behold Moses. Is it zeal, patience, perseverance, and piety? Then look at Peter, Paul, and John.
3. Good examples are powerful, because they persuade and incline us to follow them by plausible authority. In a word, examples incite our passions and impel us to duty. It is by reading and studying the lives of those who have distinguished themselves above the rest of mankind, that we may both amuse and instruct ourselves. History has, therefore, done well in immortalizing those men who have, by their talents or genius, or by their enterprise and benevolence, done much for the well-being of their fellowmen. Two important particulars are worthy of being mentioned here and remembered; namely, that the field is open to all, and that special Divine energy is promised to all that will trust in God, and walk in the way of his commandments. Circumstances aid great men, but do not make them. On the contrary, great men make circumstances. (W. A. Scott, D.D.)
I. WHAT DO WE KNOW OF THE PERSONALITIES OF THESE YOUNG-MEN?
1. They appear to have been nobly born. At all events, if the instructions which Ashpenaz received were literally carried out, that must have been the case. Birth, however, is nothing if it be a man’s sole claim upon the esteem of his fellows.
2. But Daniel and his friends were both noble and good, not only of the king’s, seed but children of the living God. When one thinks of the temptations to which those of high rank are exposed, it would almost appear that a pious prince is one of the most admirable of men. Of old, man, for his sin, was doomed to labour for his bread in the sweat of his brow. But the curse has proved, in the good providence of God, the greatest boon which fallen man could have bestowed upon him. Let us think with prayerful sympathy of those perils of a life of leisure and temptation to which some by their birth are exposed, while we thank God for our own humbler, and, it may be, safer lot.
3. Then, further, we may gather from the text that the personal appearance of these four young nobles was attractive. They were “children in whom was no blemish, but well-favoured” (Josephus, “Ant.10; 10, 1). The body, it is true, is only the house which the spirit inhabits. But while the tenant is of infinitely more importance than his dwelling, we have no right to despise either a goodly home or a comely body. If the whole man belongs to God, physical beauty is a gift which the fortunate possessor of it may use for the glory of Him who bestowed it.
4. But the beauty of these young Hebrews was not that of those who have only their faces and forms to recommend them. The powers of their minds were of no mean order (verse 17). Observe here that their knowledge and skill, their learning and wisdom, are directly traced to the hand of the Giver of all good. How apt we are, if we excel our fellows in the matter of intellectual ability, to become proud of our superiority! Ours! It is not ours; it is God’s. Did you ever reflect that the mental ability with which a sceptic argues out his conclusions, with which even an atheist seeks to disprove the existence of God, is the glorious gift of God Himself, prostituted to ignoble uses, and turned in defiance against its Maker and Giver? How sure and immovable the truth must be, and how certain, if I may use the expression, must God be of its ultimate triumph, when he allows men to go on year after year using the precious endowments which He has given, and could in a moment take away, for the purpose of endeavouring to overthrow His dominion ever the minds and hearts of their fellows!
5. Once more, here, the story of these comely and accomplished youths touches our deepest sympathies when we read that they were involuntary exiles from their native land. We cannot but think that they loved their country. Who shall, say what sorrows pierced the heart of this young prince, thus, with his companions, doomed to mourn, in the land and at the court of a heathen conqueror, not only his own sad fate, but still more grievously the appalling desolation which had befallen the land of his birth?
II. OF COURSE IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE BUT THAT THESE YOUNG EXILES SHOULD HAVE THEIR FAITH SORELY TRIED. The king, with that lavish and somewhat indelicate kindness so often associated with despotic power, doubtless meant them well. He had not, it is true, consulted their feelings in tearing them away from the land of their birth, but in his rough way he desired to treat them kindly. Yet to partake of the food and drink thus provided was just what they could not do. It was not wine as wine, any more than it was meat as meat, that they refused. Times are changed with us now, and our difficulties are not of the precise nature either of these captive Hebrews, or of the early Christians (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). But though customs change and ceremonial observances vanish away, principles abide unchanged for evermore. One of the favourite texts in the unwritten and unholy Bible of the world is, “When you are in Rome you must do as Rome does.” Few of us dare to be singular. And yet to be right we must often be singular, not in phraseology, or tone, or look, or garb, but in character and conduct. What would some of us have said if we had been placed in the circumstances described in the text? On the one hand, there was food of the daintiest, wine of the richest; on the other, danger of displeasing the king, and perhaps being cast into an Oriental dungeon. Would it have been a thing to be wondered at if Daniel had reasoned thus; “What does it matter? The notions of our father are antiquated. Moses was well enough in his day, but that day is a long time since. Other times, other manners. It’s our policy now to please the king.” He would have had his meat and drink, but he would have lost his God, turned his back upon his early faith, forgotten his country, become a Babylonian idolater, and his life, unwritten and unsung, would have sunk into the oblivion which his time-serving cowardice deserved. (J. R. Bailey.)
Excellence in Youth
“Children in whom was no blemish.” Such as were Joseph, David, Artaxerxes Longimanus, Germanicus, and others, in whom beauty proved to be the “flower of virtue” as Chrysippus called it. Of Galba the Emperor once said, that his good wit dwelt in an ill house, like an excellent instrument in a bad case; whereas Vatinius the Roman was not more misshapen in body than in mind. The heathens also advise us to beware of those whom nature hath set a mark upon. (J. Trapp.)
The Four Hebrew Children
I. THE BODY.
As they were princes they were chosen to be pages of the king of Babylon. They were to be fed for three years with all the royal dainties. Most boys would have blest their good fortune, and taken their fill of all that was going in the palace. But these Jewish boys refused the king’s meat and wine, lest they should eat anything forbidden by their religion. And they grew fairer and fatter than all the children in the palace. Like them, you should religiously think about what you eat and drink. The children who are content with plain food become the healthiest and fairest men and women. You will smile with suspicion when I tell you what is the healthiest place in all Scotland, and perhaps in the world. Sir Robert Christion proves that it is Perth Prison. For every man who dies inside it, about ten men of the same age die outside. Many of the prisoners have uneasy minds, and their lives have been wild, but no matter: they have by necessity what our four boys had by choice,--water, and the plainest food, and splendid health. Their food costs fourpence a day. I was in Richmond, Virginia, shortly after the great war. Nearly the whole city was a mass of blackened ruins. Two things, they said, astonished them during the siege; first, that they could live on so very little; and secondly, that fewer people died in days of starvation, than in days of abundance. They made the same discovery during the cotton famine in Lancashire. Plenty, it seems, harms more by its excesses than poverty by its privations. Your eating and drinking help greatly to form your character; for your diet influences the soul as well as the body. That Turk was much mistaken, who, when about to drink wine, warned his soul to quit the body for a little, lest it should be harmed. How many evils have sprung from luxurious living? It destroyed Rome, after Rome had conquered the whole world. How safe and noble is the spirit of these boys! They did not despise the body, as monks do: in the spirit of the Bible they honoured it as the handmaid of the soul. They were not as those who live to eat, but who eat to live. By keeping under their bodies they escaped being castaways.
II. THE MIND.--They were young thinkers, quickwitted, and eager to learn. Well-favoured and without blemish, they had minds to match their bodies. Your mind is nobler far than your body, and nobler than all the things your eyes behold. The powers of mind are more valued than powers of body by all but savages and stupid people. Often the body is the grave of the spirit; and many value the mind as the minister of the body: they would use it as a sort of chief cook or confectioner for the body. Yet he hardly lives at all, whose mind is not thoughtful. When the mind is not trained or used, man sinks toward the level of the sheep feeding in the pastures, and of the oxen fattening in the stall. His history is made up of nothings. For life without thought is death to all but the body. With many boys and girls the powers of the mind are roused at first as by a kind of sudden conversion. A book, or a conversation, or a lesson, or even a problem in arithmetic--I have known such cases--deeply stirs the mind and makes the youth conscious of new powers. From that day he tastes the sweets of thinking, and burns with the love of knowledge. William Arnot tells that the first time he read a book of his own accord, he was half-intoxicated with the new-found pleasure. Many a writer has used with real affection the words, “my master,” as remembering how much he owes to his teacher. Thus also students long ago called their university, “Alma Mater,” that is, Bountiful Mother. Their university cherished them into mental health and joy, even as a kind mother cherishes her dear children. Because the powers of the mind are so great you should be careful to read only healthy books. If the books of your boyhood are bad, you will regret the reading of them as long as you live.
III. THE SOUL.--As the mind is nobler than the body, so the soul is nobler than the mind. The soul is the man, the mind is the soul’s servant, and the body is the servant’s servant. As thought is the life of the mind, so true Christian life is the grandeur of the soul. Their state of body and mind was most helpful to their soul. Their minds were not dulled by overfeeding, nor were their souls clogged with stupid minds. We wonder at their holy lives in such a wicked palace, and at their perfect boldness. The poets speak of a river that preserves the sweetness of its waters amid the bitterness of the sea, and of an animal that lives in the midst of the fire; and such-like were their lives. There is a little insect that gathers around itself a viewless coat of air, and goes down clad in it to the bottom of the sea. The little diver moves about at its ease, unhurt amid the stagnant waters. The grace of God wove such a garment of Heaven’s air around these children, that they passed unhurt through the poisoned atmosphere of Babylon. It made them the children of Heaven, and gave them a nobility of nature more than nature can give. (J. Wells, M.A.)
Education and training of youth
Those raw country lads with the hulking, slouching gait which gives such a look of clumsiness and stupidity just need training. They are the rough material of which a vast deal may be made. You have in them the water-worn pebble which will yet take on a beautiful polish. Take him and send him to a college for four years; let him then become a tutor in a good family, and before long you find him with the quiet, self-possessed air and easy address of the gentleman who has seen the world. Remember this and look with respect on the diamond that only needs to be polished, the people of whom more might have been made. (H. O. Mackey)
From the beginning of next chapter, it appears, that astrology was a principal branch of learning among the Chaldeans. As Daniel was afterwards appointed master of the magicians, we see no reason to doubt that he was taught this, and the other occult sciences of Babylon. We are warranted, from Daniel’s tenderness of conscience, to conclude that he neither believed in astrology, nor practised it; but we see no sin in his becoming acquainted with it, just as we see no sin in a Christian being taught the mythology of Greece and Rome, or in a missionary studying the superstitious of the Hindoos. (J. White.)
A wise royal policy
The instructions, which Nebuchadnezzar gave respecting the education of these young men, show that he had the talents of a statesman, as well as of a general, and that he had an enlargement of view worthy of him who was to be the golden-head in the image of empire. It would have been well for the world if he, and all kings and emperors had always showed as much wisdom in the selection, and care about the education, of those who were to rule under them. (J. White.)
The College Student
1. Young men may be carried into captivity by their enemies. There is a captivity more galling than the one into which Daniel was transported, it is the captivity of evil habit. Men do not go into that wittingly. Slyly and imperceptibly are the chains forged upon them, and one day they wake up to find themselves away down in Babylon. Men talk of evil habits as though they were light and trivial; but they are scorpion whips that tear the flesh; they make a road of spikes more bloody than the path of a Brahmin; they are the poisonous robe of Nessus; they are the sepulchre in which millions are buried alive. The young are in more peril because they are unsuspecting.
2. Early impressions are almost ineffaceable. Daniel had a religious bringing up. From the good meaning of his name I know he had a pious parentage. When I find what Daniel is in Jerusalem I am not surprised to find what he is in Babylon. The father plans the character of the child, and its destiny for time and eternity; then the son completes the structure.
3. The beauty of Christian sobriety. The meat and the wine that were to come to Daniel’s table were to come from the King’s table. Daniel had no right to take that food. He chose pulse. It was a miracle that he did not dwindle away. When God for his self-denial puts upon him this benediction he puts a benediction upon all Christian sobriety.
4. The beauty of youthful character remaining incorrupt away from home. If Daniel had plunged into every wickedness of the city of Babylon, the old folks at home would never have heard of it. But Daniel knew that God’s eye was on him. That was enough. There are young men not so good away from home as at home. God forbid that any of us, through our misconduct, should bring disgrace upon a father’s name, or prove recreant to the love of a mother. (T. De Witt Talmage, D.D.)
Men’s qualifications for public service
It was like the proud spirit of the King to surround himself with all spendour of talent that should throw additional glory on himself and on his throne. Accordingly directions to select candidates for the public service were given to Aspenaz, the chief of the eunuchs. Of him we know nothing more than is stated in the first chapter of the Book of Daniel. He belonged to a class always existing in Oriental courts, often high in royal favour, of large influence, authority and power. This individual appears to have been marked by much wisdom, considerate care, a gracious bearing, and courtly courtesy. That he regarded Daniel with “favour and tender love,” should be his passport to our esteem. The King prescribed the qualifications of the candidates.
1. Some of these were physical. Vigour and beauty were required. Probably Daniel was tall, strong, well-built, handsome.
2. The King required knowledge. “Skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science.” They were to be generally intelligent, and in particular, acquainted with the science of their country, namely--music, architecture, natural history, agriculture, morals, theology, and prophecy. There is reason to believe that in many of these departments the Hebrews were in advance of the Babylonians. The King proposed to turn their superiority to account. He was evidently a broad-minded and sagacious man.
3. The next requirement was what we understand by “capacity.” “Such as had ability in them to stand in the King’s palace.” “Ability” is here the Hebrew word for strength, power, resource of almost any kind. The King required general capacity, not overlooking moral qualifications.
4. They were to be teachable. Without that spirit, these tall, handsome men would be but as ornamental logs of wood in the palace of the King. Present attainment in knowledge and in moral culture is as nothing compared with the capacity of receiving more, and power to do more in the future. (H. T. Robjohns, B.A.)
The Learning and Tongue of the Chaldeans.
Facility in acquiring languages
It is amazing what pains some saintly people have taken in order to win souls for Christ! When John Wesley was crossing the seas on his way to Georgia, he found on board a number of German emigrants who were also crossing to the Western lands. He was seized by a passionate desire to speak to them about the love of the Saviour, but he was hampered by the hindrance of an unknown tongue. He did not know German, and so an intimate communion was impossible. There and then he set himself to learn the language. For many hours every day he laboriously pursued the study, until, long before the journey ended, he was able to tell his German brothers the uplifting story of the Christ of God. Keith Falconer was once in great need of information which would enormously help him in his sacred work. He found, however, that the information was buried in the Dutch language, which was altogether unknown to him. There and then he set himself to learn Dutch, and mastered it in order that he might gain the hidden treasure. (Hartley Aspen)
The Study of Science
From one point of view religion and science are altogether separate spheres, with different methods. Physical science consists in the observation, description, and classification of the phenomena of the material universe. But the physicist mistakes when he applies the same principle of investigation to the phenomena of the human mind, and especially to theological and cosmological questions. On the other hand, you cannot learn the laws of matter from the necessary conditions of the operations of mind. You cannot teach science by the exposition of the Bible. In scientific studies you may be profoundly religious. A certain enthusiasm of heart and a deep moral purpose are as needful for true advance in science as the clear light of the understanding itself. May the study of science afford illustrations, enforcements, helps to a religious life? Yes. Religion and science both rest upon truth. It is truth that religion recognises. It is truth that science seeks. They cannot be irreconcilable, and finally they must be one. It must be remembered, that no finality has been reached in either sphere. Dogmatism is as impertinent as it is unphilosophical. The very principles of some of our sciences have been reversed within a few years. And in religion, men’s conceptions are ever changing, growing in their sweetness, in their scope. Is the study of science to be pursued without any religious thoughts being associated with it? Certainly not. Both religion and morality aid scientific investigation. The man of science will not gain his highest purpose unless he seek in the subject of his learning, to find the supreme God. Two points. The first relates to the care which the scientific student must; observe when he transfers his attention from the objects of his proper pursuit to other occupations. And be careful that you do not forget in science that you have human duties. All knowledge is but the means to that nobility of living which we gather up in the word “service.” (Llewellyn D. Bevan, L.L.B.)
They were to be taught “the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.” The name “Chaldeans” is used by the Old Testament writers in a double sense. Sometimes it is used instead of “Babylonian,” and applies to the whole nation of which indeed it was the ancient name. Sometimes it refers to a certain order or sect within the nation, the “wise men of Babylon,” as they are called throughout the Book of Daniel. To speak of the Chaldean order as a “priestly caste” would be misleading. They were not a caste, since foreigners might be numbered among them, as Daniel afterwards was. Neither were they priestly, in the sense of their functions being confined solely to religion, and their studies to mythology. (Niebuhr compares them to the Brahmins). The Chaldeans were the most influential class in the nation, and derived their power from a remote antiquity. They had a monopoly of the national learning, secular and sacred, and members of their order took a leading part in the affairs of state. Their president stood next to the king; in the event of an interregnum, the government devolved on him; as, for example, after the death of Nabopolassar, when the throne was kept vacant for his son. The wise men of Babylon formed a class which is without precise analogy in the history of any other nation. Religion, politics, science, education--all were in their hands. It would be hard to over-estimate the importance of such an order in an empire like the Babylonian, founded on military conquest, and made up of a congeries of different races. They were the civilisers of the empire; they gave continually to the national life, and conserved the national traditions; to them it was owing that mental progress in any measure kept pace with the material. (P. H. Hunter.)
Enlarged Mental Outlook
Among those chosen for the royal service were some whose hearts God had specially touched. Young as they were, the troubles through which they had passed had wrought upon them both for moral and spiritual good. But how strange are the workings of God’s providence! Up to this time they had been trained in that noble learning, which, from the time of Samuel, had been the glory of the prophetic schools. Now they were to be trained in that strange heathen learning, so wonderfully disentombed in our days. Magic, and the interpretation of dreams and omens, formed an important part of this knowledge; and there were besides, liturgies, hymns, and histories. Up to this time the documents discovered at Babylon have been mostly of a religious character, while among those found at Nineveh and other Assyrian cities have been historical documents of priceless value. To Jewish youths much of this heathen literature must have been repulsive; it must have offended their religious ideas, and often shocked their moral sense. It had nevertheless a good side. It taught them how large the world is, and that God’s empire extendeth over all, and that all are objects of his care. Possibly coming before them with the charm of novelty, it may have made them pursue their studies with the same eagerness and zeal and curiosity which have spurred on scholars to recover the interpretation of the Sanscrit language, and to decipher these very cuneiform inscriptions in which Daniel and his friends were to have their training. And in thus enlarging their mental vision, God was preparing them to do service for His Church at a time when it was no longer hidden away among the mountains of Judah, but in danger of being trampled under foot in the highway of the nations. (Dean Payne Smith, D.D.)
Revelation from a new stand point
The new revelation which the people of God required for the period beginning with the Babylonian captivity, was to teach them how to regard the powers of the world which they were to obey, to teach them their nature and purpose, and to show them the relation in which the work of salvation which was to begin in Israel, stood to them. A new subject was thus given to prophecy, which, in the nature of things, could not have been given before the captivity, but which now forced itself, as it were, by an internal necessity. But if, according to God’s intention, a revelation was to be given concerning the powers of the world and their development, the prophet must needs take a different standpoint from his predecessors; for the Divine word has always a historical starting point, and thus its organ is made fit to receive the Divine revelation. Revelation does not fall from heaven like a written book, which one has but to take into his hands and read; but a man must first receive it into his living spirit, and afterwards write it down, so that it may be adapted to the necessities of the horizon of men. And to qualify him for this work, his historical position must be such that the word from above is not altogether strange to him, such that his whole situation may be, so to say, the human question to which revelation proclaims the divine answer. As the subject of revelation now was no longer as it had been in the time of the earlier prophets, Israel in its relation to the Powers of the world, but the powers of the world m their relation to Israel, so the man of God who was chosen to prophecy of this, could not have lived among his own people, but necessarily, at the very centre of the heathen world-power. For only there could he gain such a clear insight into its nature and development as would fit him for receiving the revelation from on high. (Carl August Auberlen.)
A daily provision of the King’s meat.
The Unnamed Captive Royal Children
1. That we should abstain from the least appearance of evil. Daniel and his three companions, alone of the royal children, refrained from partaking of the meat that probably had been offered to idols. They would avoid the least appearance of evil. They would model their conduct so that, placed as they were in a conspicuous position, their public profession and public acts should be such as were calculated to incite in the hearts of their humbler captive fellow countrymen, a spirit of patriotism and a spirit of reverence. They determined to take their stand at the very outset on the side of the right, instead of on the side of the expedient, and to resist the very first appearance of evil, however plausible and outwardly harmless these appearances may be. The first step in the path of sin or crime, the first wandering from the path of righteousness, must be carefully guarded against, lest, inadvertently and heedlessly, if not wilfully--we do violence to the dictates of our own conscience, or cause in any way a weak brother to offend.
2. That the road to eminence is through the gate of self-denial. Their countenance appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the King s meat.” So in religious matters as well as secular, it is eternally true.
3. That it is not what we receive, but what we assimilate, that enriches us. It is not what we eat, but what we digest, that nourishes the body. It is not what we read, but what we apprehend, that strengthens the mind. It is not what we profess but what we believe, that edifies the soul. Spirituality is not composed of doctrinal accuracy, or of ceremonial observances, but of practical Christian morality, and of unsullied Christian faith.
4. That the issues of events are in the hands of God. Through God’s blessing the pulse and water were rendered more powerfully nutritious than the diet provided by the king. God’s ways are not as man’s ways.
5. That the education of these royal captives is typical of the course of human life. We are sent into this world as into a training school, by the King of kings, that we may be fitly taught the heavenly knowledge, and the celestial language we need to make us able duly to appreciate the beauties and to join in the hallelujahs of the strange land wherein hereafter we are destined to abide. Our great King, too, of His bounty, gives us each our daily bread for body, mind, and soul, and pours out for us freely the wine from the true vine. This heavenly food some grossly abuse, some foolishly neglect, some ascetically reject, simply from human ignorance or conceit. Asceticism in itself, any more than worldly-mindedness in itself, or sensualism in itself, cannot render anyone fit for the presence of the heavenly King. A proud, a vain, an envious, a jealous, an uncharitable heart may beat as well under the hair shirt of the self-torturing flagellist as under the purple robe of the monarch; and Antony in his dreary cell, and Simon Stylites on his lonely pillar may have been as far from the kingdom of heaven as the sensual Belshazzar at his luxurious banquet, or the worldly-minded Pilate in his tesselated hall. (R. Young.)
Wine wisely avoided
Charles Lamb, who made all the world laugh at his humour, and then afterward made all the world weep at his fate, who outwitted everybody, and was at last outwitted of his own appetites, wrote thus: “The waters have gone over me; but out of the depths, could I be heard, I would cry out to all those who have set a foot in the perilous flood. Could the youth to whom the flavour of the first wine is delicious as the opening scenes of his life, or the entering upon some newly-discovered paradise--could he look into my desolation, and be made to understand what a dreary thing it is when a man shall feel himself going down a precipice with open eyes and a passive will; to see his destruction and have no power to stop it, yet feel it all the way emanating from himself; to see all godliness empty out of him, and yet not able to forget the time when it was otherwise; to bear about the piteous spectacle of his own ruin--could he see my feverish eye, feverish with last night’s drinking, and feverishly looking for to-night’s repetition of that folly--could he but feel the body of the death out of which I cry hourly with feeble outcry to be delivered, it were enough to make him dash the sparkling beverage to the earth in all the pride of its mantling temptation.” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The Early Life of Daniel
In the first instance there was a religious difficulty. Daniel had been brought up in the Mosaic institutions, and therefore he had been trained to abjure all meat that had been offered to idols, and all drink that had been laid on the altar of forbidden gods. He was a religious man from home! He was a man who took the commandments into captivity with him! Alas! there are some of us who can throw off our old selves, and do in Rome as the Romans do with a vengeance. Daniel, driven into captivity, took his religion with him. When we are thrown into difficult circumstances, do we take our religious faith with us? When we go to other countries, do we take the old home training? Do we repeat the commandments as they were thundered from Sinai, and do we re-pronounce the oath we took when we gave ourselves to the Saviour, as He hung upon the cross, and welcomed us to His love, and kingdom, and service? That is a poor religion which can be put off like a garment we are tired of for the time being, and can be put on again to serve occasion. How independent man is who has risen above the point of the merely animal life! Temperance all the world over is independence. Moderation means mastery. There are some men in the world who will not be pampered; Daniel was one of them; his compeers belonged to the same class. In order to hold yourselves masters of your appetites, begin early. It is no use a man of fort-five years of age beginning to say he is going to turn over a new leaf; the leaves won’t be turned then. You cannot go anywhere where discipline will be a disadvantage to you, and where the the power of saying “no” to appetites and tastes will go against you. To the young I am a severe disciplinarian. See how right doing is always willing to be proved. Daniel was willing to take a space of ten days for the proof of the proposition which he submitted to the men who had charge of him and his companions. (J. Parker, D.D.)
Life in Babylon
The opening chapter of the Book of the Prophet Daniel contains the key and clue to all that follows, for it tells us of what stuff that man was made who gives his name to the book. The policy of Nebuchadnezzar must be admitted to have been admirable. He clearly wished to avail himself in the interest of his own kingdom, of the best talent and capability of the kingdom he had conquered. He first of all chose out the best material wad then proceeded (as he hoped) to subject it to the habits and discipline which should naturalise it in its new country. As he had poured the treasure taken from the Temple of the God of Israel into the Temple of his own god, so he hoped to adapt the human treasure he had acquired to the purposes of his religion and its institutions. He thought they might be cured, not only of all homesickness, as ordinarily understood--the wasting regret and longing for Zion, and the God of Zion, but ofthose home ideas and affections which are at the root of all patriotism worthy of the name. And among other means which the sagacity of their royal master devised for the accomplishment of this purpose, was that they should be fed, as well as taught, after a fashion to which they were not born. Nominally, the motive assigned for this special treatment of his prisoners was that they should grow physically strong and well-liking: that they should be well-nourished as befitted the attendants of a court. But can we doubt that the wily king was not regarding only the bodily condition of his pupils, but knew well enough that if he could but once acclimatise them in this respect also--if he could once foster a liking, an appetite for these flesh-pots of Babylon, and make these things, at first luxuries, to become in time necessaries, he would have gained a still closer hold upon the future services of his young counsellors and administrators? And he had no suspicion that the body and the mind, or whatever he held to be the seat and origin of wisdom, needed any separate treatment and regimen. Doubtless he honestly believed that body, soul and spirit would thrive alike, and together, upon this more generous diet. But he little knew the man with whom he was dealing. The young student in the wisdom and learning of the Chaldeans may well have felt the temptations of his novel position, for the brain is not independent of the rest of the animal economy, and the stimulant and support of the “King’s meat” might have seemed even necessary and allowable to sustain him in the ardent pursuit of this new learning. But he had a past experience to which he could appeal. He had laboured and striven thus far upon simpler fare, and he would make no change. Daniel, the young and wise and spiritual, was in training to be a Prophet of the Most High; and his story shows, only with more detail and circumstance, what we had already gathered from the whole prophetic class before him, that to be a prophet--in that wide sense in which the prophet is a model to the least able and cultivated, the most common-place person among us--the man must be trained upon a food, and in surroundings, which are not those of the reigning influences of the land on which he is to leave his mark The Prophets of Israel and Judah were no doubt exceptional persons--exceptional in the greatness of their intellectual gifts, as well as moral excellencies. The very mention of a prophet suggests to us one set apart from his brethren because of his superior endowments to teach and guide his fellows. But is not the truer representation of the prophet one who, because he has lived and walked with God, and has not lived the life of the world, has grown up in that wisdom and insight which form three parts of the prophetic faculty? Not chosen to be a prophet because of his eloquence and intellectual force, but because the training of his heart and conscience had fitted him to teach, and to influence by example, the men of his day and habitation. It is the prophet, nourished and growing daily in wisdom and in moral power on his homely porridge, that is the precious image and model of the life that is in a fit state and position for hearing the voice and doing the will of God. Not in the occasional pang and spur of total abstinence, but in the daily moderation; not in the excitement of a ceremonial observance, but in the habitual self-discipline, is the condition of daily growth. But I have said that this history is for us an allegory. The “king’s house” and the “king’s meat” have a wide-reaching moral and meaning. The very name of Babylon itself has already, in the vivid imagination of men, been seized upon to express certain modern parallels. The great metropolis was long ago nicknamed the “modern Babylon,” and in its wealth and splendour, in the height to which the arts and resources of human capacity have been cultivated, the parallel is ingenious and happy. But the parallel has another side to it than that of wealth and the cultivation of the “liberal arts.” We shall miss altogether the deeper lessons of the story of Daniel, unless we recognise strongly that Babylon, for us, is not a city, or a place at all, but a Spirit, the Spirit of our habitual surroundings. The ideals, the habits, the standards, the hopes and fears, among which we are content to live; the atmosphere of which we are content to breathe; these constitute for us, whether we are young men, just arrived like Daniel from purer, wholesomer surroundings, into the glare and glitter, the luxury and beauty, the stimulating food, and the stimulating culture and ideas, of some new centre of life and action; or whether we are living and travelling elsewhere (for we change our climate but not ourselves, for all the seas we cross), these constitute for us our Babylon. There may be no defined and concrete head and king of this country, no one building that can be called the king’s house; no one diet that can be called the “king’s meat.” Yet there is a governing power which we may be living in subjection to, though we do not see anywhere set down its rules and codes. To live in Babylon, and yet to be the true citizen of a far different country; to be “in the world,” yet not “of it”; this is for us the translation of Daniel’s action with regard to the king’s meat. The very object and design of supporting him from the king’s table was to wean him from the food of his native land. He would live apart, with the nourishment and the associations that were bound up with the service of a very different master; lest in this now world of his exile he should forget the “imperial palace whence he came.” The resolve of Daniel and his companions was just this: “Though we are in the country and the policy and the religion of Nebuchadnezzar, we will not have this man to reign over us.” And in order that they might preserve their faith in their own God, they would not live a life that was organically bound up with the god of Nebuchadnezzar. So subtle, so intangible, is this hold over us, this Babylonian sovereignty, that many a man is first awakened to a suspicion that he is in slavery to it, by discovering that his allegiance to another master once prayed to and believed in, is slipping from him. How many a young man coming from afar to live in the Babylon of London, or the Babylon of a University, has come after longer or shorter time to be aware that convictions which he had once hoped never to part with are becoming weaker, without obvious and apparent reason. Before the glitter and the enchantment of Babylon, before the interest and fascination of the new learning of the Chaldeans, the old duties and worships of the faith of his fathers seem to pale their ineffectual fires. Without apparent cause, the arguments for the truth of the old Gospel of Jesus Christ seem less valid than before. Why is this? Why is it so difficult to preserve the faiths and standards of Zion in the streets of Babylon? The answer surely is because it is so difficult for a strength that is merely human, to live in the streets of Babylon and not to imbibe the spirit of Babylon, even though the avowed philosophies and worships of Babylon are not yet by name accepted. So difficult to resist the contagion of its example, its habits, its easy toleration of things evil and debased; so difficult not to ascribe our changed relations to the faith of Christ to the cogent power of anti-religious argument, rather than to the corroding influences of the world, which do their work silently but surely, even as the noble stonework of some city cathedral crumbles beneath the acids of the mere city’s breath. There are many Babylons in which it may fall to our lot to take up our abode, and make choice of our life’s gods. There are the Babylons of great cities where boundless wealth and luxury are found, and boundless pleasure for eye and ear and fancy. There are the Babylons of great centres of education, where the god of the country takes a fairer and loftier shape--the god of knowledge:--the Nebo--the “god of the learning of the Chaldeans.” It is not the grosser idolatries--the rites of Baal and Ashtaroth--that the nobler and better spirits among us have to guard against, but the more specious idolatry of things in themselves justly beautiful and engaging--the ever developing knowledge and culture of a still growing civilisation. Difficult it is--we know it--in any strength of our own to live in Babylon, and not to be of Babylon. So difficult, unless we set ourselves, with the ever-shadowing might of a power not our own, to walk with God. To traverse the common ways of men, and eat temperately of their common meat, and to do the duties and pursue the studies that are the immediate purpose of our being here, and yet to be strengthened by another food that the world knows not of--this is to live as Daniel lived. (Canon Ainger.)
The Saintly Captive
Realising Daniel’s captivity, we gather three familiar elemental and important lessons:
I. THAT SEVERE TROUBLES BEFALL THE GOOD. All that Daniel had to endure was in strange reversal of what we might have thought the blameless, noble, devout character of a man so “well-beloved,” deserved or needed. This fact may well be a voice to all of us.
1. Teaching us not to regard the present state of things as final. The social wrongs of this life involve the need of a future life as a justification of a Righteous Governor of the Universe. Daniel was a captive. His coronation is to come.
2. Teaching us not to judge men’s character by their circumstances. We may never conclude, because a man is healthy, affluent, famous, that he is, as a cause of all this, unselfish, humble, devout. Nor must we conclude, because a man is wasting with disease, sunk in poverty, obscure amongst even the meanest, that he is therefore false, ungenerous, Christless. You find Daniels among the captives.
3. Teaching us not to be surprised when, notwithstanding our conscious integrity, adversity befalls us. “Think it not strange,” etc.
II. THAT STRENGTH OF CHARACTER CAN OVERCOME THE EVIL OF CIRCUMSTANCE. He, though a youth in a pagan and profligate court, was not overborne by its evil influences. There seem in him to have been four sources of strength.
1. His incorruptible conscience. This manifested its present vigour, and prophesied its victorious manhood, when, in his youth, it led him to refuse the king’s meats. He who has and obeys a robust conscience, is before a contending world as David was before Goliath.
2. His chosen companions. The three Hebrew youths, fellows in misfortune, were evidently also his companions for counsel and prayer. Men are energized for battle with half a world by the true words, the hallowing influence of but two or three choice souls. The friends of the true heroes of history are amongst the most beautiful clusters of human lives.
3. His direct communications from heaven. “A dream is from God.” Daniel’s dreams opened another world above him, around him, before him, and under its power he became mighty to do, or to dare, or to bear.
4. His habitual prayers. Some are recorded. It is implied that it was his lifelong custom to pray three times a day. Such devotion clothed him as in asbestos garments that, no temptation could burn.
III. THE ADVERSE EXPERIENCES OF ONE PERIOD OF LIFE QUALIFY FOR RIGHT USE OF A SUCCEEDING PERIOD. The ways in which Daniel was, in his youthful captivity, being prepared for successive stages of his life, were very like the ways in which all may be prepared by any adverse days or years for some usefuller, and it may be happier lot in coming times. Such a life as that of Daniel’s youth was an apprenticeship for the work of the Statesman, the Dreamer, the man he afterward became. To us this ought to be clearer than to the men of the prophetic age: for have we not read of Jesus, that he was made “perfect through suffering.” (Homilist)
The Prince of the Eunuchs gave names.
The highest import of names arises from their association with the highest of all beings. Among Jews and Christians a name gathers round it a halo of beauty, strength, and sanctity, by reason of its relations with the divine. In pagan climes a name becomes significant and revered in proportion to its connection with some idol deity. Daniel and his three companions had received from their fathers names divinely significant. In Babylon they are called upon to assume the names of the idol-gods belonging to the land of their captivity. They were dedicated to the four leading gods Bel, the chief god; the Sun-god; the Earth-god; and the Fire-god. What the “prince of the Eunuchs” did with these young and heroic Hebrews, the “prince of the power of the air” seeks to effect with the children of faith everywhere. His great effort is to merge the divine in the human; the spiritual in the material; and to convert the Church to the world.
1. Daniel. His name may be rendered “God my judge.” Instead, he was called Belshazzar, derived from Bel. Daniel’s estimate of this change may be inferred from the small use he made of it. He appears to have regarded it as no compliment. Thrice happy are they who, like Daniel, have God for their judge. Whenever they are falsely judged, the just Judge can “bring forth their righteousness as the light, and their judgment as the noon-day.”
2. Hananiah. This names signifies, “the grace and favour of God.” Shadrach, for which it was changed, denotes the same thing in an idolatrous sense--“the favour, or illumination, or inspiration, of the Sun-god.” A contrast is thus illustrated between the divine complacency, and the favour and applause of the world. “The God of this world” is worshipped with as much devotion as the Babylonians coveted the shining rays of their great Sun-god. The world’s smiles, her caresses, honours, wealth, and pleasures, are the inspirations of the eager devotion of the multitude. In these things consist their sunshine. Contrasted with this is the true light, revealing by its clear and steady rays all dangerous passes, pitfalls, and precipices, whereby so many perish through the glare of sin. And this favour is a light that shines always.
3. Mishael. This name is composed of two Hebrew words which may be rendered “comparable to God,” or resemblance to God.” The substituted name retains a part of the word, displacing the last syllable, which is the name of Jehovah, by the name “Shak,” the chief goddess of Babylon, the goddess of beauty and pleasure. Meshach, therefore, signifies a votary to the chief goddess of beauty and pleasure, who smiles upon all who bear her name. Babylon’s goddess still rules with successful sway. Men are “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” Too often is the temptation yeilded to by God’s spiritual Israel.
4. Azariah. This name may be rendered “God my help.” “Abednego” means “servant of the shining light,” or “servant of Lucifer.” The two names furnish illustrations of the contrasted characters of the servants of righteousness and those of sin. The service of sin is the service of grief. In a course of evil pleasure and pain are twin companions. Light is attractive, sad so is sin; but the light is the effect of fire, and fire burns; so does sin--like the glaring taper alluring to slay the bewildered moth. (Anon.)
Names changed for reasons of religion
Their very names were a witness, not only to their nationality, but to their religion. Daniel means “God is my judge, Hananiah “ Jehovah is gracious,” Mishael (perhaps) Who is equal to God? Azariah God is a helper. It is hardly likely that the Chaldeans would have tolerated the use of such names among the young pupils, since every repitition of them would have sounded like a challenge to the supremacy of Bel-Merodach and Nebo. It was a common thing to change names in heathen courts, as the name of Joseph had been changed by the Egyptains to Zaphnathpaaneah (Genesis 41:45), and the Assyrians changed the name of Psammetichus II into Nebo-serib-ani, “Nebo Save mo.” They therefore made the names of the boys into the names of the Babylonian deities. (F. W. Farrar.)
But Daniel purposed in his heart.
A Sermon to Young Men
The scene of this heroic resolution was Babylon. The circumstances add lustre to the moral grandeur of the brave purpose. To appreciate the splendid courage of this purpose, you must imagine yourself placed in Daniel’s position. A captive boy, selected by command of the King, for special supervision in mental, physical, and social discipline, he suddenly found himself in the line of such promotion as might well fire the ambition and dazzle the imagination of a less ardent nature. But an inconvenient difficulty looms up at the very threshold of this brilliant career. The thing we call conscience whispered, “You cannot, you must not!” and the hero within answered “I will not!” Can you find a grander, exhibition of moral courage in all history? Shall he do it? that is the question. “And he purposed in his heart that he would not.” They tell us that Babylon, with walls, palaces, temples, hanging gardens, wonderful commerce, mighty Euphrates, marvellous culture, and boundless wealth--that Babylon was great; they tell us that the genius of “the mighty king” was greater still; but I tell you that greater than Nebuchadnezzar, greater than Babylon, or aught that Babylon afforded, was that young, heroic nature, when, planted upon the eternal adamant of moral integrity, and breasting appalling odds, he calmly resolved, “I will not!” Such s purpose, under such circumstances, would deserve to be pronounced the rashness of a madman, were it not for one fact. A fact which, alas! does not always enter into our disposition of life’s great emergencies--a fact in comparison with which all other facts are trivial--the central sun in the system of facts! I mean that stupendous, supreme fact there is a God! Better be on God’s side than on the side of Babylon and the king. Believe me, it is the highest wisdom, the noblest policy. The sequel shows that young Daniel did the best thing for himself when he purposed in his heart that he would not. “And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.” “Natural law,” somebody whispers. Yes, but read further in the record: “God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” Daniel and the magicians! He was master of the situation, because the present lays hold upon the past. The life, whose foundation was laid in the heroic resolution of the boy, grew up into secret sympathy with God, and in the help of the Divine found the hidings of its power. I repeat, better be on God’s side! But God is immaterial, impalpable--who ever saw God?--and Babylon is so splendidly present to the senses! God is abstract, and Babylon so gloriously concrete. But the spiritual is greater than the material, and the abstract imparts beauty and value to the concrete. (H. W. Battle D.D.)
Dare to be a Daniel
Very much of our future life will depend upon our earliest days. I like a remark of Mr. Ruskin’s. He says, “People often say, ‘We excuse the thoughtlessness of youth,’” but he says “No it never ought to be excused,! had far rather hear of thoughtless old age, when a man has done his work but what excuse can be found for a thoughtless youth? The time for thought is at the beginning of life, and there is no period which so much demands, or so much necessitate, thoughtfulness as our early days.” I would that all young men would think so. If there is any time when the farmer should think, it is surely in the early stages of the ploughing and the sowing. If he does not think then, it will be of small avail for him to think afterwards. Daniel was a young man, and he did think. It was his glory that he so thought that he came to a purpose, and he purposed, not with a kind of superficial “I will,” but he “purposed in his heart,” and gave his whole self to a certain definite purpose which he deliberately formed. But, though they might change Daniel’s name, they could not change his nature, nor would he give up anything that he believed to be right. Captive as he was, he had a right royal soul; and he was as free in Babylon as he had been at Jerusalem, and he determined to keep himself so, for he “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.” Now, it was because Daniel, while yet a youth, a captive, a student, was so decided in what he did, that his afterlife became so bright. God help you, who are beginning life; for, if God begins with you, and you begin with God, your life will be one of happy usefulness, which will have a truly blessed end!
I. THERE ARE TEMPTATIONS TO BE RESISTED.
There never was a man yet who had faith, and who had not trials. Wherever there is faith in God, it will be tested at some time or other; it must be so. It cannot be that the house shall be builded, even on the rock, without the rains descending, and the floods coming, and the winds beating upon that house. Now, first, look at Daniel’s temptations.
II. THERE ARE RIGHT METHODS OF RESISTING TEMPTATION.
1. And the first is that the heart must be set. “Daniel purposed in his heart.” He looked the matter up and down, and he settled it in his heart. Before he asked Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego anything about it, he had made up his own mind. Oh, for a made-up mind! Oh, for the man who knows how to look at his compass, and to steer his vessel whither he ought to go! The grace of God is a great heart-settler.
2. The next thing is, that the life must be winning. Daniel was helped in carrying out his resolution by his own permortal character. God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. Whenever a man is brought into favour and tender love, and is a good man, there is something about him that has commended itself. There are some who have carried firmness into obstinacy, and determination into bigotry, which is a thing to be shunned. Yield everything that may be yielded; give up mere personal whims and oddities; but as for the things of God, stand as firm as a rock about them.
3. Then observe that the protest must be courteously borne. While Daniel was very decided, he was very courteous in his protests. Firmness of purpose should be adorned with gentleness of manner in carrying it out.
4. Next to that, self-denial must be sought. If you will be out and out for God, you must expect self-denial, and you will have to habituate yourself to it. Be ready for a bad name; be willing to be called a bigot; be prepared for loss of friendships.
5. And then the test must be boldly put. Daniel showed his faith when he said to Melzar, “Feed me and my three companions on this common fare; give us nothing else.” I think that a Christian man should be willing to be tried; he should be pleased to let his religion be put to the test.
III. THERE ARE CERTAIN POINTS WHICH WILL HAVE TO BE PROVED BY EXPERIENCE. I speak now to you Christian people who hold fast by the old doctrines of the gospel, and will not be, led astray by modern temptations. Now what have you to prove?
1. Well, I think that you have to prove that the old faith gives you a bright and cheerful spirit.
2. Another point that we shall have to prove, is that the old faith promotes holiness of life. There are some who say, “Those people cry down good works.” Do we? If you bring them as a price to purchase salvation, we do cry them down. God help us to prove that we are more truthful and more godly than those who have not like precious faith!
3. The next thing is that we must prove that the old faith produces much love of our fellow-men.
4. And then let us prove that the old faith enables us to have great patience in trial. He who believes the doctrines of grace is the man who can suffer.
5. What is wanted is that we who hold the old faith should be in a better state of spiritual health. May every grace be developed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Daniel and his Companions
Daniel, even though he was in Babylon during the captivity of his people, was not a part of them, but was a great and high officer in the government of the king of Babylon. In this respect he differed in position from Ezekiel, who was the resident prophet of Israel while in captivity, a captive with them. Ezekiel was much older than Daniel, and, humanly speaking, might have been jealous of Daniel’s position as a high and favourite official with the king, whose captives were the older prophet and all his people. Besides, he might have accused Daniel of fawning on the enemies of his people and being undue to them, in that he took place and emoluments from their enemies while his brethren were suffering a bondage little better than that of Egypt. Yet he never did so reproach Daniel. On the other hand, he twice distinguishes Daniel as one of the greatest of men, classifying him with Noah and Job. (Ezekiel 14:14; Ezekiel 14:20.) This should teach us a lesson to the effect that we cannot always judge of one man’s actions by that of another. Nor, on the contrary, with the examples of Joseph and Daniel, occupying similar positions in Egypt and Babylon, must we be hasty in judging the possible rightness of taking and continuing in the employment of the enemies of God. The question really is not in whose employ we are engaged, but whether in that employment we are keeping a conscience void of offence, and are using our place, while faithful to our employer, for the glory of God. This certainly did both Daniel and Joseph. There is a striking comparison between the history of Daniel and Joseph. Joseph was the first distinguished man of his house, and we may say that Daniel was the last man of great eminence. In their youth they were both captives, and both true to God and their consciences in circumstances that were very trying. Both obtained favour with their kings, and reached places of great honour and power in the kingdom whither in the providence of God they had been sent as prisoners. It is surprising to note how often young men have played great parts in the world’s history; and this is especially true of the history of God’s kingdom on the earth. Moses and Joshua were comparatively young men for the age in which they lived; David and Solomon were young men when they were called to assume the greatest responsibilities. John the Baptist and Jesus were young men when they began their ministry, Jesus himself being a mere child of twelve years when he first undertook his Father’s business. Saul of Tarsus was a young man when Jesus met, converted, and commissioned him to be the great apostle to the Gentries. Timothy was a mere lad when Paul chose him for his companion, and adopted him as his son. What encouragement is here for young men, and even lads, to enter at once on the work and into the personal service of God!
I. DANIEL UNDER TEMPTATION.--Whether it was a part of the deliberate policy of the king of Babylon to corrupt these young men by feeding them from his own table with the meat and drink which had been offered to idols, and so to wean them away from the religion of their fathers, or whether this circumstance was the providential occasion of developing the faith and character of Daniel and his friends is not a question of great moment. Daniel was, from the very beginning of his career, a true witness for the truth. His temptation was all the more severe from the following circumstances;
1. Because of his youth.--It would not have been so remarkable that he declined to compromise his conscience, had he been a full-grown man, with religious principles and character strong by reason of maturity and long habit of righteousness. Youth is, indeed, purer than manhood, but then, as a rule, it is weaker and more easily led by those under whose power and influence it was brought. Had Daniel yielded here to the first temptation, he would hardly have recovered his faith at a later time. If we win in the first fight with the tempter, we may assure ourselves of victory all through life.
2. Because he was away from home.--One of the worst situations for a young man to find himself in, is to be away from home and home influences, in a strange city, especially when surrounded by those who have no sympathy with the religious training and principles of his home life. In this situation Daniel was placed. What had become of his father and mother, his brethren and kindred, we are not told. Possibly they had been killed in the siege or carried away captive to some other province.
3. Because of his helplessness.--He was not only in a strange land and among strangers, but he was a captive, and wholly at the mercy of the king and his servants. He might have said to himself, and not without some show of reason: “I am not responsible for the things which I do under the command of the king, whose prisoner I am.” We have heard young men, who justified themselves for wrong-doing because they were only carrying out the orders of their employers.
4. Because of the subtlety of the temptation--It was a matter of great self-gratulation to Daniel that he has been selected to fill a high place in the service of the king, and that the king had complimented him by directing that he should be fed with meat and drink from his own table. This high distinction would be recognised both by the other prisoners and by the king’s officers themselves. To refuse this peculiar mark of the king’s favour would have been both ungracious and impertinent on Daniel’s part.
There is no surer approach to the citadel of man’s moral nature than by the gateway of vanity and with the instruments of flattery, especially of the agents be the rich and great. What we might refuse from our inferiors, or even our equals, is not so easily declined if it is offered by our betters.
5. Because of the peril of his position.--Sometimes we can brave the sneer of the ungodly and the arched eyebrows of the less conscientious, where we should not be willing to stand up under peril of life itself. Yet this was Daniel’s danger. The favour of God was more to him than life. We do not wonder after this, that, at a later period of his life, he calmly went on-praying with his face towards Jerusalem, even though the den of lions was to be his portion for so doing.
II. STANDING BY A PURPOSE TRUE.
1. He was true to a godly education.--Perhaps the low state of religion in his own land had served to increase in him the sense of responsibility for an absolutely true course in the matter now before him. No lad would have stood this test if he had not been thoroughly well taught; not in the external virtues of religion, but in its very essence and power. If we parents wish to be absolutely sure of the course our sons will take, when the time comes to send them forth into the world to fight life’s battle for themselves, let us be sure that they go out from us rooted and grounded in the truth, and established in the faith of God and his Christ.
2. He was true to his conscience.--It was not only loyalty to home-training, but loyalty to conscience, that stood Daniel in good stead in the hour of trial. In leaving home we leave home influences, but if we have a conscience that has been trained in the fear of God, we shall always take that with us. Home-training will keep us a little while, but a sensitive conscience is a never-failing guide. He is a happy boy or man, whether rich or poor, prince or peasant, who has a conscience like Daniel’s. It will stand by and strengthen him in many an hour of trial.
3. He was true to the word of God.--By taking heed to the word of God, a young man will not only cleanse himself from evil ways, but will be able to do something better: even to keep himself safe from being defiled.
4. He was true to his brethren.--Daniel seems to have been the spokesman for the other three young princes, as he was undoubtedly by nature, and perhaps by rank, their leader. Should he give way, his brethren would hardly stand, and so they would be defiled. If he stood fast, they, encouraged by his example, would stand by his side. Daniel was therefore jealous of his influence as of his own soul’s peace. He must be a true witness for the sake of others.
5. He was true to God.--A true Christian may always appeal to the results of a Christian walk for its justification. Daniel only asked a trial of ten days. He believed “that God would vindicate his course, and show to the eunuch that in every way it was better to serve God than worship or be compromised with the worship of idols, We may always be sure that God will in the end honour those who honour him.
III. DANIEL VINDICATED AND REWARDED.--God stood by Daniel, his young servant, in this matter, as he had stood by Joseph in Egypt, and even more promptly vindicated his faith. God’s favour was shown in three things.
1. In the favour be gave Daniel with the eunuch.--He had already brought him “into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.” God does not wait till the end of our faith to come to our help, but even if there be a purpose in our hearts to be true to him, he gives us preliminary vindication. The early Christians being true to God, won for themselves favour with the people.
2. By giving them greater physical beauty.--At the end of the ten days’ trial, “their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.” In the long run, the man who lives on simple fare will show more physical beauty that he who fares sumptuously every day on dainty food. Chrysostom says of these four young men who stood to their purpose, that “they had better health for their spare diet; and their good conscience and merry heart was a continual feast unto them. They had also God’s blessing on their coarser fare, which was the main matter that made the difference.”
3. By their superior intellectual ability.--At the end of the three years which had been assigned for their special education, they were brought before the king, and he found them “ten times better in all matters of wisdom and understanding than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.” There is hardly a doubt that, if the facts were known.and could be tabulated, it would appear that the intellectual life of Christian people is far in advance of those men of the world who reject God and his counsels, both as to the spiritual life and the general state of the body, promoted by a temperate use of the good things of life. Certainly a wide generalization shows marked superiority in favour of those nations commonly known as Christian, over those which are guided by the superstitions and excesses of heathenism. The general and well-known superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race is due most of all, and first of all, to the influence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God has trained that race for the civilization and the evangelization of the whole world. (G. F. Pentecost.)
A stand for temperance
We have here a picture of a youth of fourteen making a stand for temperance and piety against temptations and inducements which might well shake the purpose of strong men. The lad did not parley with his resolution, making it contingent upon the success or failure of a first trial. There was no contingency about it; he purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the King’s meat or drink. It might cost him, not only serious inconvenience and additional reproach, but even his life, He considered these possibilities, and resolved at all hazards to obey first his conscience and his God, and then to regard that only as his duty which happened to agree with this obedience But Daniel was not only a captive accessible to motives of fear, but he was a youth accessible to the invitations of sin. The obscurity that invests his childhood prevents us from learning how his first years were passed. Although it was at a time when the morals of the Jews were depressed to the brink of national apostasy, when Jerusalem was as ungodly and impure as Babylon herself, Daniel was probably educated with a careful discipline, and his heart had been the early possession of the Great Spirit, who enters the tiny soul of a child, and, as it were, makes Himself another child to accommodate His presence to the undeveloped faculties and free fancies of childhood. Yet he was not insensible to the temptations incident to boyish life. He was born a prince and had tasted the luxuries of rank before his captivity; and in the presence of the dainty viands of the king’s table, to school his inclinations into submission, to make the flesh bend to the authority of the spirit, discovered singular ripeness of virtue in one whose years had scarcely surpassed boyhood.
1. Daniel’s act was an indirect avowal of his Hebrew faith. That faith forbade him to eat the food of the Gentiles. But this law was not mainly on account of the food itself. If the bread and wine of Babylon had been as simple in their preparation as the temperate provisions of a pious Jewish home, the Jew might not teach them. It was idolatry that brought a taint upon Gentile food. The blessing of wicked deities, lying vanities, was invoked upon the grain and the grape which the bounty of God had ripened; and to partake of food so contaminated was to the Jew like eating and drinking a lie and a curse. In primitive times eating and drinking represented a man’s religion. He ate and drank to the praise of the deity whose providence was supposed to have furnished his table; and all who ate with him were partakers alike of his food and his faith. In refusing the king’s meat, Daniel proclaimed himself the follower of another religion. Nebuchadnezzar imagined that a slave had no mind of his own; that his will, his conscience, his person, belonging to his Master and Owner, he must follow whatever religion that Master chose to impose. The poor lad could not resist his exile; he had no power over his own person; but young as he was, no one could touch his will, and no one should force him to violate his conscience. Such is the inalienable prerogative of the mind even of a child. But this law of the Hebrews which forbade them the hospitality of other nations was not a matter of faith only, but of morality. Although many Gentiles were distinguished for the severity of their virtues, yet as nations they were profoundly corrupt. They conceived that the gods who gave them food were exalted by the licence of appetite. The worship of some of these idols consisted in gluttony and drunkenness, of others in the gratification of more shameful lusts. Idolatry is, in its effects, the elevation of the animal in man, and the depression of the intellectual. In avowing his faith to the God of Israel, Daniel upheld in his own conduct the morality of that faith. Not in abstinence only, but in all his conduct he was pure; and the effect of his behaviour upon the distinguished men who were placed over him was a beautiful illustration of our Lord’s lesson, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Ashpenaz was a man of high rank in Babylon; his position implied culture, wealth, and authority; his eye fell upon the young captive; his shrewd penetration discerned at once a mind and character of singular originality; and, judging by one expression in the history, he must have been charmed even to fascination by the endowments, the grace, and the beauty of Daniel’s spirit. Here was a godly youth in the presence of an eminent statesman--a man whose opportunities commanded a wide field in the study of character, who had been mixed up with the splendid licentiousness of a court, with the intrigues of a State, and with the subtle involutions of priestly sorcery, and this veteran of the world was awed by the purity and courage of a youth and a foreigner. The Scriptures attribute this impression to the grace of God: “God brought Daniel into tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.” The same is affirmed of the influence of Joseph over Potiphar and Pharaoh. “And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man, and his Master saw that the Lord was with him; and the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake;” and again, Pharaoh said unto his courtiers, “Can we find such an one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?” Both Joseph and Daniel were beautiful in person and character, and gifted in mind; but these in themselves do not necessarily conciliate and charm observers. I have known persons who possessed them and yet were unable to gain the love and confidence of others; not because they wanted piety and integrity, but for the lack of graciousness, courtesy, gentleness; in one word, sympathy with those with whom they had intercourse. It is not enough to be good in principle if we are harsh, uncouth, and unlovely in the expression of it, Some people seem proud of the tartness of their manners; they will never be proud of the number or quality of their friends. We must have our medium from God as well as our light; and the medium of a kindly and sympathetic manner is the best reflector for giving a mild and grateful lustre to the light of truth. “Even so lot your light shine before men.”
2. Daniel’s act was a practical affirmation of the benefits and blessings of Temperance. Some of Daniel’s fellow captives, students in the Eunuch's College, ate of the king’s meat and drank of the king’s wine. It was, and is still, the custom of Oriental courts to pamper young men of this class, to provide their mess with such food as is supposed likely to bring out the ruddiness and beauty of their complexions and to sharpen their minds. There are two things which all monarchs like in their immediate attendants--beauty and intelligence. The education intended to draw out the formeris curiously elaborate in Asiatic courts. You will see that this kind of preparation may make a court exquisite, but can never make a man. It is true that the understanding is not neglected: sumptuous dining is considered to be compatible with the most strenuous intellectual exertions. But in the end, when the boys become men and the motives of competition cease to be the spur of study, indolent and luxurious habits generally take possession of the character, and like the thorns of the parable, they strangle the natural growth of the man. But more than this: the youths trained for the service of Nebuchadnezzar were not intended to be mere court favourites, but wise men; in other words, Magi, a comprehensive appellation including statesmen, councillors, astrologers, and soothsayers: men appointed at the monarch’s call to interpret a dream, to construe an omen, to read a sign, to register events and observations, to negotiate treaties, to plan festivals, and to direct enchantments. Let me say that stimulants are the snare and not the friends of the intellect. Our greatest works were written by temperate men, or by men in their temperate days. Some of the brightest lights of genius and learning were quenched in intemperance that covered them like the shadows of death. I lift up before you, young people, the example of Daniel; for the hope of the country rests upon you. (E. E. Jenkins, M.A.)
The Young Hebrews an Example
What, then, did they do which you may imitate?
1. They scrupulously maintained the moral and religious principles that had been imparted to them in their earlier education. They made a supreme regard for the will of God their rule of conduct, even in little things. But when tried, they were found to be pure gold; and their triumph proves that a pious education is one of the greatest blessings that can be bestowed upon youth. If you, young men, have received such an education, be profoundly thankful for it. Nor were they over righteous in this firm but courteous refusal. Nor were they narrow and bigoted sectarians. They were liberal Christians, but not latitudinarians. The Bible and the very nature of the human mind command us to be liberal, but forbid us to be latitudinarian. True liberality of sentiment and largeness of soul are the attributes of strength and conviction of one’s own mind. But latitudinarianism gives up essential foundation principles, and says there is no difference between right and wrong--that it is equally a matter of indifference what a man believes, or whether he believes anything at all. Duty is not a thing of latitude and longitude. It is the same thing everywhere. Conscience and God are the same in Paris or Constantinople, as in your New England or Scottish homes. Polar snows or tropical flowers cannot change the eternal principles of rectitude. God’s laws, the will of the Supreme Creator, is the only standard of duty. It was not the mere concession of a prejudice, not the mere giving up of some little matters of denominational detail, but the surrender of principle, compromise of truth, apostacy from the true religion, that they were required to submit to. And the lesson taught us is of vast importance. It is that we must not sacrifice conscience, with its awful requirements, to any temporary or worldly convenience. It is better to die of starvation than gain a valuable living by the sacrifice of the soul. Without stern integrity in little things, there is a want of confidence which is fatal to success. A most pernicious delusion prevails with many good people. They are waiting until they can do some great thing, and think that if a great crisis were to come, they would then have nerve to meet it, and do something triumphant. They cannot find, at present, a place large enough for the discharge of their duties. Instead of quietly laying one brick upon the earth, they are constantly building castles in the air; instead of discharging the plain everyday duty which they owe to God and their fellow men, they pass life in looking for some grand occasion for the display of their virtues. The little things that are usually the turning-points of character, they have not apprehended. They have not learned that events which seem at first frivolous and unimportant, may become the “Thermopylae of a Christian’s conflict, the Marathon of a nation’s being, or the turning-point of everlasting life or of everlasting death.” The point with Daniel was to follow his conscience or his appetite; to cease to be an Israelite, or cease to be a favourite of the great King of Babylon. And his determination was soon made to make everything give way to his religion. He would not let his religion bow to the world, but made the world bow to his religion.
2. The next lesson which the Euphrates sends to the Mississippi, and reads to us from the early life of Babylon’s vizier or prime minister and his friends is, that a man is no loser for maintaining right principles. The examination of the four Hebrews presents a noble example of the success of prudence, temperance, and a steady regard to religion. These young men did not think, because they were well born and liberally educated, that they might therefore indulge their appetites without control. On the contrary, with heroic steadfastness they made the will of God, even in little things, their rule of conduct. And what was the result? Did Daniel lose any good thing by his firm adherence to principle? Not at all. The very reverse was the result. Daniel’s faithfulness to his conscience, his allegiance to his God, his courteous but firm refusal to do what was sinful, was turned to his advantage, even in this world. Them that honour God, He honours. The result of their faithfulness to God was their promotion in the palace, and the favour of the king. What, then, is the true principle of expediency for young men? We answer, True principle is true expediency. Duty is the way of peace and promotion. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all other things will be added unto you. It is reasonable for young men to ask God for help in mental as well as in spiritual efforts. He is the father of the spirit as well as the maker of the body. In the toil and business of life, and amid all its perplexing difficulties, cast yourself, therefore, upon the Lord’s protection, and look to Him for counsel and guidance. It is easy for Him to “illumine what in yon is dark.” It is an old saying, that to pray earnestly is to study well. (W. A. Scott, D.D.)
There are some names, let us thank God not a few, that the world will not willingly let die, and that live on for ever in the charmed memory of mankind--names that have been identified with some noble thought, with some lofty purpose, or with some great and glorious deed; names of men who have struck a blow for freedom or who have helped forward the great chariot of human progress, or of men who in their own person have stemmed the inrushing tide of falsehood and of error. The name of freedom, the struggle for liberty, stands in this land for ever identified with our great national heroes, the heroes of our history of independence; and the names of William Wallace and Robert Bruce live on. And with them, in the minds of the world, are associated such names as William Tell, of Switzerland, and George Washington, of America. Martin Luther and John Knox are names which stand for ever identified with glorious struggles for the right. And just one more illustration; wherever the thought of self-sacrificing labour and toil for the sake of ethers, for the sick and the dying and the wounded--wherever that idea is felt to be a power to quicken the pulses and stir the generous emotions of mankind, there the name of Florence Nightingale will be tenderly enshrined. Now I wish to speak for a little on one of those imperishable names, the name of one who is still remembered and still spoken of when children, older and younger, are inspired to deeds of noble daring.
I. The first thing I wish you to notice--is THE ASPECT IN WHICH DANIEL THINKS AND SPEAKS OF WRONG-DOING, OF WHAT TO HIM AND HIS CONSCIENCE WOULD BE SIN. He does not speak of it as disobedience to God, though he felt it to be that. He does not speak of it as disobedience to his parents, as breaking away from the traditions of his fathers and going over to the customs and religion of another country and people; but he speaks of it as defiling himself. He would not defile himself. And I would like to ask you this: do you realise that every wrong thought, every wrong feeling, every wrong word, every wrong deed is not only wrong because it displeases God, but it is a wrong against your own nature, it is inflicting a mischief upon yourself, upon your own being? A stain we plant there which no human alchemy can remove. I have seen in our police-courts, and I have seen on the streets of the city, the forms and features of men so bruised and blackened and bloated that their very personality seemed to be obscured. One almost imagines that their every feature tells a tale of sin and suffering, and the hardship which sin inevitably brings. Slowly, slowly through the long years have those features been changing from the sweet, pure, clean, healthy flesh of a little child; but the strong years have done it, the “strong years passed in the practice of sin, in the act and life and thought and feeling. And what is written on the outward features of men and women who have thus indulged in sin is written as indelibly, though you cannot see it, on the inner nature, the soul and spirit. The German poet Goethe sings of “spirit ears,” and he speaks of these ears hearing the thunder of the sunrise, as if the sun rose with a great crash, which the ears of the spirit could hear; but if we had spirit eyes which could see what is going on in the spirit world, and see our own veritable being as God sees it, then we would recognise how all those unhallowed indulgences in thought and feeling and desire, not to speak even of word and act, how all this illicit thought and feeling has written upon our inner nature its own dread and direful mark, and put a stain there which can only be washed out in the “Fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins,” and we thank God that “Sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” Sin indulged in, even though it be in secret, even though it be only in thought and feeling, sin thus works its inevitable and irretrievable work, and brings about that frightful change which produces such repulsiveness.
II. HOW WAS IT THAT DANIEL ACCOMPLISHED HIS SUCCESS, OVERCAME HIS TEMPTATION, mastered it and trampled it under foot? Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself, that he would not weave across his vision that web which would hide from himself the joy, the peace, the holiness, the triumph, and success which come from communion with the unseen, but really present Jehovah. Daniel purposed in his heart. The greatest danger to which, in my mind, the young men of to-day are exposed, is not that they deliberately walk into temptation or into sin; but because they do not deliberately determine not to do it. It is because they begin their life without any purpose at all, but drift, drift, drift without rudder or compass, without any strong, resolute determination which they have made as in the sight of God, and which they have resolved by God’s help to keep, that whatever others do, for them they will not defile themselves. There is no sadder sight to be seen than the number of young men and women who, without any intention or idea that they are going wrong, in their simplicity, which, however, is not guileless simplicity, for they might and ought to know better, but who in their criminal simplicity permit themselves to be ensnared and led into company where they know their ears and eyes and their whole nature will be assailed with that which will defile. It is too late to purpose in your heart not to do it after it is done. It is too late to make a good resolution not to fall after you have fallen, The time to purpose in one’s heart not to defile oneself is before the defilement has been produced; when you are sitting at your own fireside in your own room, or on your knees, there and then is the time. It is too late to deliberate when you are face to face with temptation: the excitement is too strong, the power of companionship is too great. One word more: there is no use making a resolution unless it is to be kept. The greatest loss that I can think of in this city, is not the less of money which men spend on that which is not bread, not the loss of labour spent on that which satisfieth not; it is not the loss of life, even, that might be saved if only men and women would act aright--the greatest loss in this city is the loss of mental and spiritual force which is allowed to degenerate into mere drivel, by yielding to the temptations which sap all the mental, intellectual and moral stamina out of the character of our youth. Oh, to see the bright young fellows, the pride of their father, the joy and hope of their mother, who go and throw away the talents God has given them, throw away the noble aspirations of youth, by entangling themselves in scenes and circumstances and aspirations which drag them down; and they become altogether incapable of realising their own aspirations, their own possibilities, because they have allowed themselves to be defiled. This resolution of which I speak must be followed out to be of any service. It is not in resolutions repeated, repeated only to be broken, that you build up a character of force, and strength and power; but it is in solemnly looking at the problems of life, solemnly looking at the circumstances and situations in which you are placed, solemnly confronting the possibilities and temptations that lie before you, and deliberately retaking up your mind, as in God’s sight, as to what your duty is, and then purposing, determining, resolving in your heart that you will not be defiled. You will find in that resolution a strength, a help in the hour of temptation. (Sir Samuel Chisholm.)
The Power of Purpose
It may help us to appreciate Daniel’s purpose and the power it exercised over him if we remember first that he was living in bad times. He and his fellow countrymen were in captivity; they were the slaves of a heathen king. Their country had been laid waste, their holy city and the sacred temple in it reduced to a heap of blackened ruins. I mention this because such experiences often have the effect of breaking down a man’s purpose and spirit. When blow after blow comes, when disappointment follows disappointment, when defeat succeeds defeat, hope is apt to be lost and purpose to give way. And, as a matter of fact, we know that captivity had this effect on many of the Jews; they lost their faith in Jehovah; they gave themselves up to sheer worldliness. But that was not the way with them all. Daniel was a brilliant exception. No longer able to worship Jehovah through the medium of the temple ordinances, nevertheless he did not abandon all worship as many of his countrymen did, but he rose instead to truer conceptions of what real worship meant. Though in Babylon he remained a good Jew, a diligent worshipper of the Lord God of his fathers, and observed all the forms he was able to observe in the circumstances. The bad times in which he lived only brought out more clearly the purpose in his heart not to forget his God. Evil days did not break his purpose; they only strengthened it. Another thing that may help us to appreciate his purpose is that he was living not only in bad times but in a bad place, Babylon was a city and centre of wickedness. It was the home of luxury and profligacy; it was the capital of one of those ancient empires that ate their hearts out by the wanton dissoluteness of their people. This, too, shows the power of Daniel’s purpose--that in the midst of evil he would not defile himself. It is easier for some than for others not to go astray. Some are better looked after than others; their lives are surrounded by good influences; they have every advantage on the side of good. But often bad surroundings ruin good men. What is the explanation? It is this: some are animated by a purpose in their hearts that they will not defile themselves, and some are not. It is not that these last are evilly inclined more than the others; it is not that they are worse or more tempted; but it is this--they have never put before themselves a solemn purpose; they have never thought out the question of what their aim and object in life should be; they have never made up their minds what thing it is in life which is worth living for and worth dying for; they have never said with Paul, “One thing I do.” There is another explanation which is sometimes given of how men go wrong, as we say, an explanation with which, I confess, I have little sympathy and which is, to my mind, as false as it is dangerous. It is said weakly that we are “the creatures of circumstance,” and that if a man’s surroundings bring him daily, hourly, into contact with evil, the man himself is not so much to blame as his circumstances. The strength of his passions overcomes his will and so frees him from moral responsibility, it is urged. That is an excuse which Robert Burns gave, you remember, when he wrote the lines addressed to God:
Thou knowest that Thou hast formed me
With passions wild and strong;
And list’ning to their witching voice
Has often led me wrong.
That still expresses the mind of many, and one hears it frequently just now, all sorts of excuses being pleaded for sin. The scientist has no doubt truth on his side, but he has not all the truth. Heredity is not fate. What we have received from our parents does not weave around us a web from which we can never escape, through which we can never break. If it be true that we belong to God as well as to them, the sins of our fathers are only ours when we make them our own by our own will. The mistake of Burns and all who, like him, listen to the “witching voice” is in listening. He should have put his fingers in his ears. Some of you young men here to-night are, perhaps, in places of employment or in circumstances otherwise far from favourable to your leading godly lives. You are brought into contact with roughness, with profanity, with those who make light of God’s name and Christ’s religion. And I grant you at once that it is not easy to keep straight and do the right thing and bear the right testimony always in the right way. It needs Daniel’s purpose in your heart; it needs a heart set on the doing of God’s will; it needs the new heart and the right spirit; it needs the power of the grace of God that cometh down from above. We have seen, then, that Daniel’s purpose asserted itself over the crushing effects of misfortune and calamity, and over the subtle ensnaring power of evil surroundings. Let us now see, thirdly, how--and this was the greatest test of it--how it made itself felt in the very smallest details of his life. Now most men would have yielded, as most men in similar circumstances do yield, to the influences thus brought to bear on these four youths; they would have been so enamoured of the king’s favour and the luxury of their new position that they would have been only too glad to have accepted it and thought themselves exceedingly well off. But now and again there would be found one of sterner stuff who would not be as mere wax in the conqueror’s hands. And such were found in Daniel and his three companions. “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.” Daniel had religious scruples about his eating and drinking. And the meaning for us of the stand he made is this--that religious principle should regulate the smallest details of our life. It is not narrowness; it is not faddism; it is not over scrupulousness; but it is fidelity to the highest duty, it is fidelity to God, when you set down your foot about a small matter, as it may seem to others, and say, No, I dare not do it, little as it is and pleasant as it might be, because thereby I should be mixed up in a practical denial of God. “So did not I because of the fear of God,” is a motto which will require from many of you here abstinence from many things which it might be much easier to accept. It is the worst kind of weakness to sink below the level of what we know we ought to be. It invariably brings that loss which is the worst of all losses, the loss of respect for self. President Garfield once said, “I do not think of what others may say or think about me; but there is one man’s opinion about me which I very much value, and that is the opinion of James Garfield. Others I need not think about; I can get away from them; but I have to be with him all the time. Ha is with me when I rise up and when I lie down, when 1 go out and when I come in. It makes a great difference to me whether he thinks well of me or not.” Some would have said Daniel should have been thankful for his mercies. But Daniel saw it in another light. He had to preserve his good opinion of himself, his self-respect, his fidelity to God, which he saw he would have destroyed had he used the food and wine. You see, then, what religious principle can do for a man. You see how it can preserve him, how it can make him bold as a lion, how it can steady his life and make it consistent all through, one great harmony. My brother, you are not right till you can reduce the whole of your life to this one principle of the fear of God, till you are able to bring every action to this great touchstone. Then your path becomes straight as an arrow, no longer wavering, crooked, trembling, zigzag, now this way now that, but straight. It is the man without purpose that goes on a different tack according as the wind blows from one quarter or another. He is a boat without a rudder, tossed about by the storm, buffeted, driven helplessly on to the rocks. He is a horseman without a bridle, carried by the animal in him whither it will. He is a wanderer over a tangled moorland, without a guide, where path crosses path and roads diverge in endless confusion, and yawning deep black ditches come at every step. One of the greatest discoveries of modern times is the reign of law. It has been found that in the world of Nature nothing happens by chance; everything obeys fixed laws, moves on under definite calculable arrangement. That is a great discovery. It enables us to reckon with Nature when we can place this thing and the next in their right places, and attribute each to its uniform cause. When everything is thus fixed by law it cannot be moved, nothing can go wrong, everything moves on towards its accomplishment, doing its work, filling its place, never losing its way. It is like a river bound for the ocean. That is a great discovery, and it is a parable of what every life should be. But what a contrast is presented when you think of the world of outside Nature and the world of human nature! On the one hand you have everything moving on, working in perfect harmony and in eloquent silence--never a jarring note heard, never a momentary pause in the ceaselessmovement: one great vast harmony in praise of the Creator. On the other hand, when you turn to human nature, what a contrast! What a jumbled, jarring, discordant, disjointed world God looks down upon in His human creatures! And yet we were made to be a harmony too, only giving back sweeter music to the Creator. My brother, if your life is to be a true harmony and no longer false, if it is to be conformed not to the law of sin and death but to the law of God, you must have such purpose in your heart as Daniel’s, and let it rule you. That is the greatest thing in the world--a heart that purposes always to serve God. That is the one thing needful. There is no other principle that takes account of all the facts. Some of them may be good enough for this world, but they are no use for that which is to come. The grand thing about Daniel’s principle is that it is profitable for the present and it is life eternal for the future. That it is profitable in the present is strikingly seen in the course of this history. Do not any of you be afraid of the consequences of being faithful to God. The last thing I shall ask you to notice in connection with this incident is the great influence which Daniel exerted. That is seen, first of all, in the influence which he exerted upon his superior officers. In accordance with the Old Testament way of putting things, that good influence is said to have been brought about in this way, that God gave Daniel great favour in the sight of the officers. That is only the Old Testament way of saying that Daniel’s consistent, godly, upright life proved a great power on those who were over him. But more than his influence on his officers was the influence on his companions. That is seen in the spell which his strong character cast over them so that they were ready to stand by him and to strengthen him. (D. Fairweather, M.A.)
The Judean Captives in the Court of the Babylonian King
We must now follow the fortunes of these noble youths, as in the retinue of the victorious monarch they are carried away captive to Babylon. Their young eyes look on new scenes. They pass through countries where the ruins of antiquity contrast strangely with present magnificence and splendour. They pass through Syria, the old hereditary enemy of Israel, but whose power is now broken as it had broken before the power of Israel. They pass through the fertile plains of the Euphrates, and doubtless, here and there, on their melancholy journey, they meet remnants of the lest tribes, scattered by former captivities. They pass on into the dread East, to the Jew almost a terra incognita, a land of which but little was known, save that out of it came forth the grim-visaged men of war whose coming brought terror and desolation to Judea. They pass on to Babylon, at that time the most splendid city of the world, with its palaces, and defences, and gardens, its luxuriance, and magnificence, and wealth. We may imagine these youths duly installed in the palace of the Chaldean priests, and engaged in that curriculum of study which was to result in making them wise and learned in all the arts and sciences then known and cultivated. How much to dazzle the imagination! What new philosophies! What wisdom! What new customs and habits of life! And we can well understand that they could not long remain in this altered condition of things before something would arise which would put their principles to the proof. Certainly we may expect that Babylonian customs will not long run smoothly with Jewish principles. He who has principles in this life has not long to wait before those principles will run counter to something, and put the man to the test, whether he will cleave to his principles or not.
I. THE FACTS GIVEN IN THE HISTORY.
II. THE TEMPTATION TO WHICH THEY WERE SUBJECTED. This temptation was manifold in its character.
1. There was the temptation of fear. We must suppose them courageous youths, indeed, if they were not accessible to the sentiment of fear. Their master was a tyrant and a despot, accustomed to have his slightest whim obeyed as law. He could ill brook conscientious scruples he could scarcely understand; and the slightest provocation would suffice to awaken in his bosom a wrath that knew no pity, and that delighted, when aroused, to trample upon human life. The prince of the eunuchs, although he was high in favour and authority, knew how to tremble before the wrath of his monarch, and expresses a just estimation of it when he answers Daniel, “Ye make me endanger my head to the king.”
2. There was the temptation of isolation. Hitherto they had been surrounded by restraints, which made it comparatively easy to be true to the law. Then all the external circumstances of their life fortified them in their religious observances. But now how changed is all this. Suddenly they find themselves standing alone. All the props upon which they had hitherto leaned are taken away. The assistances of virtue are removed. They have none to depend upon but themselves and their God. They have no trusted adviser, no learned and astute rabbi to whom they may apply for a solution of this ethical problem. They must take counsel of their own heart. “Everybody else does it,” is a formula of vindication sufficiently familiar.
3. There was the temptation of gratitude. It is true they were captives, but, barring this, a son could hardly have been more generously treated than were they. Food from the king’s table was a distinguished mark of honour. No doubt everything was done that could mitigate the evils of captivity. Future distinction was to be conferred upon them. Present advantages were liberally bestowed. No prince of the realm could have had better opportunities for improvement and prospective advancement. It is a property of noble minds to yield to the suggestions of gratitude. When the world makes onslaught on our virtue there is an instinct of opposition in us that arouses us to fight; but when the world comes coaxing, and overwhelming us with kindness, we are cheated into thinking it base ingratitude not to yield to its suggestions.
4. There was the temptation that comes from conscious inferiority. We have the force of this temptation exemplified in the conduct of Cranmer. When we behold that good and great man (as he truly was, notwithstanding his sad fall) hesitating to commit that act of recantation, which is so dark a stain upon his character, the poet makes him exclaim: “What am I, Cranmer, against whole ages?” He is plied with countless authorities; his tempters make it appear that all the world is against him. “Who am I, then, that I should oppose the world?” marks the submission of an independent soul. Better had he learned with Luther, “One with God is a majority.” This temptation was also doubtless felt by Daniel. The wisdom, vast learning, and intellectual greatness of the sages of Chaldea must have made a deep impression on his young mind, and we can readily imagine him, “Who am I, a beardless child, to oppose my convictions to the wisdom of all these?” And how often in life do we find young men forsaking their religion and giving themselves to scepticism, because an honoured professor in their college is an unbeliever, or because some man whom they highly esteem for learning, or wisdom, or intellect, flouts the Bible!
5. There was the temptation of self-interest. Holy easy is it to stifle conscience with the sophistries of Satan! Assuredly, then, we can measure the dynamic force of this temptation to which Daniel was subjected by our observation of the conduct of men.
III. THEIR INCORRUPTIBILITY. It is a grand sight to see a man cleaving to principle, abiding by what he believes right, even though he should stand alone, when influences seductive and influences coercive bear strongly upon him. Fear strives to overmaster him, but he scorns fear and answers: “I fear none but God.” Temptation then comes in new guise, puts on softer attire, poses in the character of virtue, and urges the claims of gratitude; but his just spirit detects the false under the true, and replies: “My God is first,” Then the cloak of modesty is borrowed, and self-depreciation is lauded up, and the man is asked if he thinks himself greater than the great, wiser than the wise, more learned than the sages; but his answer is prompt, “I am nothing: these principles are God’s, not mine.” Then temptation identifies itself with self, and pleads the man’s cause against himself, until the man begins to think he is arrayed not only against all others, but also against himself, his own being divided; but I say it is glorious when he can declare, “I sacrifice myself; dearer to me are the laws of God than my own worldly interests.” Such a spectacle of moral heroism does Daniel afford. Our admiration of his conduct is heightened by two considerations:
1. His youth. To find these qualities in a beardless boy is astonishing, and lends a heightened charm to the spectacle.
2. His moderation and temperate conduct. We hardly know which to admire most in his conduct, the fortiter in re, or the suaviter in modo. He “purposed in his heart,” but sought by winning persuasion to effect his purpose.
IV. SOME LESSONS. Among other things we may learn here:
1. The advantages of early training. We sometimes doubt its efficacy; but we see here that under God’s blessing a child may exhibit steadfast and notable piety.
2. The power of influence. Observe the effect of Daniel’s influence upon his three friends. It is a blessed thing when the influence of a youth among his comrades is thrown on the side of virtue.
3. That God blesses the faithful. (verse 17.) Fidelity to principle, or, what is the same thing, fidelity to the laws of God, may bring even temporal rewards.
4. The advantages of temperance. (verse 15.) Observe that the steward feared, lest a temperate diet would result in unhealthiness. How completely was he mistaken! Daniel and his friends thrive all the better for pulse and water. (The Southern Pulpit.)
A magnificent man was Daniel. Among all the Old-Testament saints he towers colossal. Many of the foremost of them were guilty of sins which the Bible holds up to severest reprobation, but no such stain is on Daniel’s escutcheon. No doubt he had his faults, for he was only human, but in so far as the record goes he stands forth as one of the most superb specimens of manhood that the world has ever seen. Some men escape reproach because of the obscurity that envelops their lives. Daniel walked in the fierce white light that beats popular impression that a crop of wild oats is a proper preparation for a crop of wheat, upon a throne. Others continue comparatively pure because so situated that they are never specially exposed to the fiery ordeal of temptation. Daniel, however, walked upon the high places of the earth where the going is always perilous, and spent his life in the encompassment of the soft seductions and perilous intrigues of an Oriental court. He was a man of broadest culture, versed in all the learning of his times, and there was no small learning in his times, and yet he never lost his head nor allowed himself to be lured away from the simple faith of his pious fathers. He lived a hundred years, during seventy of which he overtopped all the men of his time. Such a record as was made by this man is perhaps without a parallel in all the history of the human race. His is “one of the few, the immortal names, that were not born to die” And how came it to pass that he distanced all competitors and forged to the front, and in spite of all the machinations of men and devils stayed there so long, governing governors and swaying a royal sceptre over mighty empires? One word tells the story, and that one word is: Purpose. It distinguished him in early youth, for at the time to which my text refers he was still so young as to be called a child. I would discourage no greybeard who, having long played the fool, resolves to lead a nobler life, but the time to begin is at the beginning. The idea that one can afford to give to inanities and frivolities and vices all one’s earlier years before beginning to gird one’s loins for life’s proper work, is a mischievous delusion of the devil. Far be it from me to inveigh against such innocent diversions as furnish recreation for both mind and body. God hath given us all things richly to enjoy, and amusement has its place and use. But amusement etymologically means “turning away from the Muses,” who were supposed to preside over life’s noblest intellectual pursuits; but what becomes of the Muses when a man’s whole life is a turning away from them? Ay, and what becomes of the life itself? There may be generous aspirations, but they never eventuate in heroic action, for the lack of determined will and persistent purpose. Brains count for something, but most men fail, not for the want of brains, but for want of purpose. Opportunity counts for something, but it is the man with a purpose that sees and seizes the opportunity, and is the creator rather than the creation of his circumstances. Education counts for something, and any young man is a fool who in such an age as ours neglects to avail himself of the splendid equipment which may so easily be his. But education is not everything. How many college graduates are only genteel loafers--too genteel to soil their dainty hands with any sort of honest work. Patience, pluck, persistence, those are the things that win. A foolish thing it is for a man to curse his fate and blame his “unlucky stars,” or gnash his teeth and shake his fist behind the back or in the face of the hated plutocrat; to arraign the laws of the land, and, like Samson, in his blind fury, seek to tear down the pillars on which rests the whole fabric of society. Possibly there may be something the matter with society, but in all probability there is very much more the matter with him. Doubtless there are degenerates and incompetents who are lacking in ability to bring things to pass, but most men have facilities enough to win victories if only their faculties were brought into the field under the marshalship of a single, central, and imperial purpose. Hitherto I have spoken only of the material and intellectual achievements that relate to life upon this little planet. Yet this is not the whole of life, but only its beginning. How brief the glory of mere earthly triumphs! A mighty purpose nerved the arm and guided the destiny of the masterful man who wrote: “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Here’s the splendid mansion of a multi-millionaire. He was born in the manger poverty, but he purposed to be rich. He girded his loins and set his teeth, and dug and delved and denied himself, and sacrificed everything, including, it may be, honour and life’s sweetest charities. It was gold that he was after, and he got it--heaps of it--and he died with his hands full of it, but death broke his grip, and he left it to his hungry heirs. A great thing is it to have an aim in life, but “he aims too low who aims below the stars.” But what a thing it is to have an aim above the stars! Such was Daniel’s. His eye was fixed upon the highest goal of being, and so beginning with his earliest youth and persevering to his latest breath he “purposed that he would not defile himself.” And no man can be a Christian without entering into sympathy with that heroic spirit. For, mark you, Christianity is not something just let down from Heaven, like the sheet which Peter saw in a vision. It is not a something with which the inert soul is mysteriously dowered. I grant that the grace of salvation is the gift of God, but no man ever yet was saved against his will or without his will being roused to supreme activity. The crisis of destiny was reached and passed by the prodigal son when he said, “I will arise and go to my father.” If there is anything on earth that requires heroic purpose it is to humiliate oneself by the acknowledgment of wrong-doing. To bow the knee and humbly cry “Peccavi” is the hardest thing that ever mortal undertook, and it requires the courage of a Daniel to do it. And to right about face in all life’s plans and pleasures and pursuits is not by any means an easy task. To become a Christian means something more than the acceptance of salvation at the hand of mercy--that is a cheap sort of salvation, that costs nothing, and is actually worth no more than it costs. To be a real Christian means the loyal and loving surrender of one’s whole being for time and eternity into the hands of a gracious and Almighty Sovereign, not only for salvation, but for service. We have dwelt ordinarily quite too much upon the rest and too lithe on the yoke, and so we have belittled and belied religion and brought it into contempt by eliminating from it all that appeals to the heroic element in human nature. Let the truth be frankly and fearlessly told, and let all men know that while it is easy enough to be a mere professor of religion, yet to be a real Christian, to follow hard after the Captain of Salvation in the fight for the truth and the right, against the world, the flesh, and the devil, requires as sternly heroic a purpose as that which girded Paul and Daniel when they had to confront the lions. Think you that the lions are all dead, or that they have lost their teeth and claws? The devil’s minions are everywhere abroad, and he that would be a Christian must be willing to endure hardship as a good soldier, for from start to finish it is a fight with principalities and powers, and the rulers of this world’s darkness; and he who would wire the victory and be crowned with glory will need all that the grace of God can do for him and the girding of a high and holy religious purpose. Let all heroic souls who are willing to enlist upon such conditions fall into line beneath the banner of the cross. (P. S. Henson.)
Daniel in Babylon
The first chapter of Daniel is one of the very best sermons possible on the subject of temperance. It goes not merely to the question of the use of intoxicating drinks, but to the further question of unhealthy food. It covers not merely the matter of wine and beer and brandy, but also pastry and pound-cake and confections. In olden times victorious nations had three ways of dealing with those nations they had conquered. One was to carry the inhabitants out of the land, as the Jews were finally carried into Babylon. This was the severest mode, and was only adopted after repeated rebellions. Another was to take away all the leaders and skilled workmen, This crippled them in case they tried to throw off the yoke. This was also tried by Nebuchadnezzar in the second deportation, as will be seen in 2 Kings 10:16. The other or mildest form had first been tried by the Babylonian king. This consisted in levying tribute. Very often certain choice young persons were selected and taken back by the victorious general as specimens of the people he had overthrown. Daniel and his three companions, who are mentioned in this and the third chapter, were on this principle taken back to Babylon. People often foolishly say in contempt of education that God does not need man’s learning. But the intimation of the divine record confirms the famous reply, that “Even if God does not need man’s learning, still less does he need man’s ignorance.” When God was about to lead his enslaved people out of Egypt, by his providence he sent Moses into Pharaoh’s household to learn everything that Egypt knew. When the New-Testament Church was to be organized and spread all over the great empire, he sent Saul, a free-born Roman citizen, out of intelligent Tarsus up to Jerusalem, that at the feet of Gamaliel he might learn what he would need to know when he should be transformed into the apostle Paul. So here are these four taken to the Babylonian capital that they might have the best instruction the nation could afford. The Babylonian king compares wonderfully well with a vast number of modern parents and government officers. To him two things were needful to make up an acceptable civil officer--namely, a healthy body and an educated mind. He would furnish his own provisions and his own teachers, and then no boy could complain of bad food or poor opportunities. This was genuine civil-service reform. Was the ambition of these boys stirred by the chance thus given them? Where are the boys of fifteen whose hopes would not quicken them to do their very best in these circumstances? It must have been with some such thoughts as these that Daniel and his boyish companions first confronted the question of eating the king’s meat and drinking the king’s wine. The average boy would have gone ahead and never cared. The average man or woman would have said, “What difference does it make?” The average politician would have said, “It will never do to offend the king’s officer.” But thoughtlessness is a sin. Boys and girls, as well as young gentlemen and ladies, are bound to think. As we shall see, success came of thinking. When a boy first tries to shoot birds on the wing he usually fires too quickly. He must learn to stop an instant and steady himself before he fires. So it is in all life, It may be but a moment for thought, but that moment of self-possessing, reassuring thought may be of infinite value. As for these four young men, they foresaw what was coming and made up their minds about it. Our hero seems to have been a born leader, and he led here. With him it was not an open question. He “purposed in his heart”--not with the stubbornness of self-will, but with the resolution of deep conviction. His three companions stood by him. Whether with God or not, certain it is that with man politeness pays. It gave this open-hearted boy the “favour and tender love” of Melzar, his present master. That same trait of character, coupled with his integrity and ability, held for him the confidence of King Nebuchadnezzar in after years when God made Daniel his mouthpiece to reprove the king’s iniquities and pride. Iniquity and insolence may seem to prosper for a time, and the lions’ den open for Daniel’s feet; but at last the hungry lions make a meal of the good man’s foes. When Daniel made up his mind not to defile himself with the king’s meat, it was purely a question of principle. He did net then know that his course was wise. It seemed utterly foolish. King Nebuchadnezzar and Melzar both believed that the popular opinion of the day was all right in saying that wine and fat meat were necessary for a clear complexion and a quick brain. The same false notion is widely held now about lager beer and tonics. Is it true? Ask the health records. You will find cholera, yellow fever, diphtheria and the rest give explicit answer that they can much more easily carry off the tipplers and topers than those who have not burnt out their constitutions with these slow fires. The poor envy the rich the food on their table, and the rich envy the poor the food that is digested. Boys think it is big to smoke cigarettes, but the doctors say it stunts their growth and poisons their blood. You may not wish to obey Nature’s hearth laws, but you cannot defy them and escape. The health and brain-power of the Jews would teach the Gentiles a lesson if the Gentiles were not so heedless. Many will doubt this statement and stubbornly stick to Melzar’s notion, that if they restrict themselves to Daniel’s diet they will soon become worse-looking than others which are “of their set.” Well, why not take Daniel’s way of settling it? Just try it. But be sure and have Melzar’s honesty, and when the experiment proves you are mistaken give it up. I have a most profound respect for honest old Melzar. It is net an easy thing to give up to a boy when the boy is right and you are wrong. It was specially risky with Melzar, for if he blundered his head was the forfeit. No pride of his own opinion controlled him. We must not forget, however, in our enthusiasm over Daniel’s triumph in physical beauty and his splendid victory in intellectual learning, that he knew nothing of all this when he made his decision. With our knowledge of the outcome any of us could have the courage to insist on vegetables instead of the king’s idol-polluted meat and wine. We must remember, however, that with this youth, of twelve to twenty at the outside, it was wholly a matter of duty. As no shame or pain is so deep as a mother’s humiliation over wayward, wicked children, so no joy is sweeter than that which mothers feel when their children, on their own responsibility and out of their own force of character, choose the right and do it. Boys and girls, suppose your mothers knew you as well as you know yourselves, would they weep for joy, or shame? At last the day of decision came. It always does--a day of final judicial inspection, when the uses to which opportunities have been put are revealed, and the estimate is to be made up of all past conduct. Daniel was to stand before the king, and be not only inspected but examined by the king. These Hebrew young men, of now sixteen or twenty, mere found ten times better than their best. Here was the foreshadowing of what Daniel was hereafter to do. They had boasted of their soothsaying insight into dreams until “Chaldean” had become synonymous with “wise man.” When, then, the king, as is related in the next chapter and ninth verse, put to them a crucial test of their powers by which he could certainly know the value of their interpretation, they were all at fault. Their gods were proven utterly ignorant. Daniel’s humility is as beautiful as his faith and greatness. (G. P. Hays, D.D.)
Daniel an Example to Young Men
I. DANIEL’S PRINCIPLE. “I am a child of God, and as such I belong to God in my entire being.” (2 Timothy 2:21.) Such was Daniel’s principle--it was faith in the testimony of God; the certainty of being one of His children; and it was thereby he triumphed. And it is here, at the very commencement, that the religion of Daniel, of a soul sealed by the Holy Spirit, differs essentially from that of those fearful and double-minded disciples who, believing only part of the testimony of God, dare scarcely hope for salvation, and place the certainty of it only after a long course of labours and of sacrifices. How am I to believe, cries out such a disciple, that I am already in grace and that God has made me His child! Let me be purer, more cut off from the world, and then shall I be able to presume that I belong to Him, and believe in His grace. But that disciple, so far as he shall continue to hold to that course of human righteousness, will never be anything more than a slave of the law. Will you render to God those filial acts of obedience of which you speak if you are not first sealed with the Spirit of adoption which produces them? Must not the sap of the tree be celestial before the fruits of Heaven can be gathered on it? “So also,” St. John says, “you will never render to God what love alone can render Him, so long as fear and its torments are found in you.” (1 John 4:18.) Raise them, to employ that figure still, raise the pyramid of your obedience on the broad and solid base of your adoption of Jesus. Such was the assurance of Daniel such was the principle of his obedience. Happy and holy liberty of grace, glorious privilege with which the Spirit of adoption enriches the believer, through communion with his Saviour! (Psalms 119:32.) He will be called, perhaps, presumptuous; it will be said that he is wanting in sobriety, prudence, and the humble trust which every sinner ought to have, and he will be told again and again that he exposes himself to serious falls. Daniel and the other children of God will answer together and without fear: “Ye err, not knowing what the grace of God is.” (1 Corinthians 6:20.)
II. DANIEL’S COURAGE. There was fidelity, and there was the courage which it demanded of him. For let us not think that it was very easy for Daniel and his companions to make up their minds to what they resolved on. It may have been a comparatively trifling matter to renounce exquisite dishes and to choose the most simple ones; but it was not a trifling matter to them to free themselves from the order of a jealous king, whose slaves they were, seeing that by this course they endangered their lives. Of this they were not ignorant, for the chief of the eunuchs had made them aware of it (1:10). What the tower was to cost was therefore well calculated by them before they commenced to build; and they did not put their hands to the plough till they had well seen and well measured the length of the furrows in the field. (Luke 14:28; Luke 9:62.) How many times must they have spoken among themselves of their duty and of its consequences? How many times did not the excuses and the pretexts of the flesh, the weaknesses of their heart, the promises and the threatenings of the world, and the love of life come, either to obscure their minds or shake their constancy? How many times were they not wont mutually to exhort one another to be faithful. No, it was not inconsiderately that Daniel advanced to the combat, and it was no longer in his own strength. It was in his heart that he resolved on it, it was from the Word and Spirit of the Lord that he drew his courage and his perseverance. “My son, give me thy heart,” says eternal wisdom to him whom it teaches. (Proverbs 23:26.) “Thou shalt serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” the Lord repeats to His children. (Deuteronomy 10:12.) (Psalms 119:69.) (Deuteronomy 5:29.) (Psalms 86:11.) Weigh then all your anchors, O disciples who wish to set sail! Detach your hearts from the impure shores of earth, and, if it is necessary, pluck them away, and that without delay and without pity; if it is true, at least, that you have resolved to surrender yourselves to the heavenly breezes, to the always equable and always favourable breath of the Holy Spirit. What do you fear? Is it not the wind of the grace of God which will never separate you from this world except to bring you near Heaven? Daniel resolved in his heart not to defile himself, and Daniel succeeded therein, because, having first given his heart to his God, it was also from his God that he drew his strength and his courage. With what? you perhaps ask. What are those dishes and that forbidden wine to us; or when indeed are we seen to take them? Ah, shall I answer you; it is not that the table of the prince of this world is unknown or poorly furnished! It is erected, it is uncovered before the eyes of the world and of all peoples, for all desires and for all lusts and hungerings, even the most irregular: meat and beverages are lavished there, to draw to it, to nourish and satiate at it, all passions and all inclinations. It is there that sensuality, voluptuousness, and luxury; it is there that drunkenness, gluttony, and dissoluteness; it is there that cupidity, avarice, and egotism; it is there that ambition, ostentation, pride, and arrogance; it is there that vanity, with its falsehoods, its ruses, and its hypocrisy; it is there, in a word, that the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are invited, in the name of pleasure and of glory, be gratify all their appetites, all their inclinations, all their folly!
III. ISSUE OF DANIEL’S FIDELITY. It did not result in shame, but in the favour and good pleasure of God--in the most confirmed prosperity. Oh! what perfect peace, what profound rest, what sweet and serene assurance, is shed abroad in the soul of the faithful, since he honours his God, by trusting in Him! There is the goodwill of the Lord to calm every trouble, to drive away and scatter every disquietude. There is the testimony and the seal of Thy Spirit, O mighty Saviour! who says to Thy child that Thou art with him and that Thou dost guard him! Such were the sentiments and such was the joy of Daniel and his brethren. They saw all their prayers heard, all their desires accomplished; but, above all, they saw the name of their God honoured and magnified in presence of His enemies. What, indeed, did these servants of the Most High seek? Certainly, it was not to gain their cause before unbelievers. What value could they have set on the esteem or admiration of those who did not fear the Lord! Neither was it of being virtuous before the world, and hence taking so much the more delight in themselves. Never did that impure thought enter hearts which the Holy Spirit ruled. But what concerned them was that their God, that good Father, was feared, was obeyed, was loved; it was that the homage of their faith should be ascribed to Him without reserve; it was that in the light of His truth, their filial love should render to Him the reverence due to His majesty, and the sacrifice of their entire being. Such an offering was pleasing to the Lord. “Go then;” shall I say to you, “in the name of our Lord, go and do as Daniel did.” Like him, you are hers below in a noviciate, in a time of probation, preparing to appear before the King of Zion. Let your principle also be faith, let your strength also be the Word and the Spirit of your God, let your expectation also be the deliverance of the Lord! Let your hand, therefore, go forth and overturn, as Daniel’s did, the cup which sin presents. No delay, friends of the Saviour! No concealed compounding with evil, no treachery, no duplicity of heart towards Him who loved you perfectly, who is perfectly holy, and who will have no offering but that which the freest will presents Him. Is not the thought of what He has done here below for your soul, and of all that He will yet do in eternity, enough to bind your whole heart and all your desires in obedience to Him? Will greater benefits be needed to gain for Him your affections, to make Him deserving of all your gratitude, and thereby of all your self-devotion? Had Daniel a God more beneficent, or a Saviour more worthy of being loved, than He whom you adore? I know well that, in the judgment of the flesh, these vegetables, with which Daniel was content, are a mean and contemptible food. What dishes were such herbs! What foolish abstinence was such a sobriety! What health, what strength can he pretend to have who condemns himself to them? So will the “pulse” of the Gospel ever be despised and dishonoured--that nourishment which grows in the garden of the Lord, and which His Spirit presents by His Word to the happy children of His house. But the result, O mocking world! If you do not know, I am going to tell you, and it will be by facts. See these faithful Hebrew youths, stronger and fresher than all the others. See also, now, those sincere Christians, those disciples whom the Lord Jesus calls “His friends” (John 15:14), because they do everything which He commandsthem, because they touch no dishes of the world, because they are content with the “pulse” of wisdom and of holiness, and judge of their state. Do they appear to you feeble, sad, unhappy? or rather, do they not in some sort publish by their peace, their joy, their habitual sweetness; by the equality of their character, the purity of their manners, and the sweetness of their deportment; by their sustained piety; by their charity unfeigned; by their firm and glorious hope; and their patience and their humility, that their souls are full of life, and that their vigour is certainly that which comes from God; whilst those of their brethren who eat at the table of the world, know neither the vigour of faith, nor the health of peace, nor the serenity of hope? It will not be long that you will have to renounce the dishes of the world and its beverages. Think, oh! think seriously, my brethren; think with affection, what will be those years of renunciation of the world, and of attachment to what the Holy Spirit points out and commands you, when you shall have no more time, no more years, nor days--when you shall have ended this short voyage, and eternity shall have conmenced to your soul? Yes, think of that, and see if it is not just to God, and good to yourselves, in every way, even for this world but especially for eternity, that, having to go before your Saviour and King, you should, while you are still here below, purpose in your heart not to defile yourselves with the meats nor with the wine of this world, and, like Daniel, honour your Lord, by being subject to him! (C. Malan.)
Daniel and his Companions
The scene is the city of Babylon, the most magnificent of all the cities of antiquity. “Far as the horizon itself extended the circuit of the great capital of the then known world. It stretched out over an area of two hundred square reties, and the whole territory was enclosed within vast walls, one hundred feet higher than Bunker Hill Monument, and along their summit ran a vast terrace which admitted of the turning of chariots with four horses, and which may, therefore, well have been more than eighty feet broad.” As one approached the city from a distance, these walls extended along the horizon like lines of towering hills. The space within the walls was divided off by streets or roads running at right angles. “Forests, parks, gardens were intermingled with the houses so as to present the appearance of the suburbs of a great metropolis rather than the metropolis itself.” The great palace of the kings was itself a city within a city--seven miles round, compared to which the Temple of Solomon was insignificant. The houses of the city were made of pale brown brick, and were set in gardens of luxuriant trees and flowering shrubs. A carpet of variegated and brilliant flowers covered the unoccupied spaces between the streets, producing an enchanting spectacle. Elegance and luxury characterized the habits of the people. Gorgeous splendour of dress and dwelling and equipage met the eye at every turn. Gold and silver and ivory adorned the houses, and everything was on a scale of Oriental magnificence. The people were given to a voluptuous life, and worldliness in its most attractive forms abounded on every side. Into these unusual surroundings four young lads from Judea were carried captive, and confined within the palace of the king. The contrast to their former manner of life was most marked, and it is easy to see that in mingling in the worldliness they have arrived at a most critical point in their lives. Their manner of meeting that test is very suggestive, and contains a striking lesson for the youth of modern times.
I. Daniel and his three friends illustrate the POWER OF PRINCIPLE. It would be safe to prophesy concerning these four lads that when they entered that heathen city they would soon fall into the ways of the people and yield to the circumstances, and become like their captors. For it was a kind of life that appealed to sensibilities of youth. Physical enjoyments of every kind presented themselves before these inexperienced young men. Moral restraints were absent. Public sentiment was against all such restraints, and they could indulge in whatever they desired without fear of offending social customs. We are agreeably disappointed, therefore, when Daniel and his friends take a decided stand on a matter of conscience. They refused to eat the meat and wine set before them by the eunuch having them in charge. They know that meat and wine were used in idol worship, and they had been brought to abhor idolatry. They knew also that the food of the king’s table was not the most wholesome. In view of these two facts they agreed to refuse the king’s food. It was a daring thing for them to make their stand against the rules of a king’s palace, but principle was at stake, and they dared all for principle. Many may think it was a small matter upon which to raise an issue, but a great principle often lies concealed within a trifle. It is a comparatively insignificant thing for any one of us to stamp a piece of silver with the die of the United States, but it is an set involving the whole question of treason to one’s government, and treason is no trifle. Daniel knew that if he quieted his conscience on this small matter he would yield all the way through. Principles are to be declared at once. It is sometimes half the battle. The young man just beginning his mercantile career had best let his scruples be known at once to his fellow clerks, and it will save him many temptations. They will not be likely to want him to become a companion in evil. The commentator tells us that Daniel was only fourteen years old when he was carried away to Babylon. If this is so, it only proves conscientiousness is not a matter of years. Parents may trust their children amid the most perilous influences, provided they have been thoroughly trained and are acquainted with moral distinctions. We can give our children no more valuable gift than correct principles. Money, education, social standing, are nothing in comparison with them.
II. We remark next this experience of Daniel is A PLEA FOR SIMPLICITY OF LIFE. Daniel was satisfied to eat the plain food to which he bad been accustomed at home. Rich and delicate viands were partaken of by all within the royal palace; he was content with a few plain vegetables. He was thus a constant rebuke to the gluttons and epicures who made a god of their food, for he proved that health and physical comfort did not depend on the variety and costliness of that which was eaten. We cannot estimate the value of his example in that luxurious, extravagant court. How it must have opened the eyes of the young courtiers whose lives were given over to the gratification of bodily desires! Daniel speaks no less forcibly to the young people of to-day, for they are in danger of spending too much thought and money on artificial wants. Too large a part of the earnings of our young men and women is spent upon non-essentials. Neither utility nor comfort demands them. It requires grit to live in an unostentatious manner, to cut down expenses, to cast aside the yoke of unnecessary wants; but it is a great relief when once the freedom has been gained.
III. This narrative also shows THAT YOUNG MEN CAN SERVE THEIR GOD BY SERVING THE STATE. Daniel consecrated his skill and ability to the securing of good laws and to the guidance of their administration. The making and administering of law is noble work, and when so much depends on legislation as in our country there is need that young men consecrate their powers to this important service. Politics must be rescued from the unworthy and self-seeking, and lifted to the high place where they belong. All of God’s early lawmakers and rulers were able and good men,--Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Daniel,--men of breadth of view, integrity, and faith. The idea that the conduct of government can best be served by selfish and cunning men is totally false. Men are beginning to realise the wide opportunity for serving God afforded by a political calling.
IV. This lesson also suggests the PRESERVING POWER OF RELIGION. Daniel carried his religion into all the departments of his life. He glorified God in his daily life and commended his religion to the heathen king by manliness and fidelity. He was a faithful servant of the king because of his religious belief. His religion gave him self-control and practical wisdom. Young men should not hesitate to subject their whole plan of life to God’s scrutiny--to ask His blessing on their business, their professional duty, and their social obligations. The professional, commercial, artistic, literary world needs men who know how to pray in connection with their work. May Daniel teach us how to do it! (E. S. Tead.)
Daniel in Babylon
A nation’s most splendid characters appear in its darkest hours. This is especially true of the chosen people with whom God made a covenant, and it made it certain that he would never leave them wholly in the power of their enemies. Hence we see, all along the Old Testament history, great deliverers raised up when all seemed lost. They purified religion. They broke the oppressor’s yoke. They told of the coming Saviour. A wonderful group of great men was seen during the very night of the nation’s history when for seventy years it was in captivity among a heathen people. During most of this time Jerusalem was a heap of ruins, and there was no altar of sacrifice. One of the greatest characters of human history arose like a star at this time in Daniel. Among the first captives Nebuchadnezzar carried over to Babylon, there was a company of royal children who were exceptionally attractive, educated and fit for public service. The conqueror determined to use their abilities for his own profit. We should remember that Daniel began life with high natural qualifications for his great work, and that he was attractive and beautiful, and capable to wield great affairs. So God uses natural abilities for his service. Great goodness requires great ability. At this time Daniel was about fourteen years old. He and the company with him had rich food and wine furnished them from the royal tables. How wonderful that a boy of that age, when one is usually so heedless and self-indulgent, should put himself upon a course of simple diet and abstinence from wine! Observe it was not a question with the boy Daniel whether meat itself was suitable human food, but whether meat defiled in heathenish modes of preparation was fit for a servant of God. It was a religious as well as a sanitary measure which he undertook when he respectfully requested his master to allow him a plain vegetable diet. It was an act of faith. But, besides this, he rejected wine, which was not forbidden by the law. Priests at certain times, and those under Nazarite vows, drank no wine; but the mere drinking of wine in itself was not looked upon in the law with favour or disfavour. It did not ceremonially defile one to drink, as it did to eat meat that had been killed in the heathen way, and served up with offerings to the false gods. The wine was unnecessary and tempting. Both were rejected by one who had in him the stirrings of the prophetic instinct, and who felt called of God to a spiritual service. Now, the greatness of Daniel, shown at this early date, was the cause of his vows of abstinence. These vows were not the cause of his greatness. Others, and tens of thousands of our youth, grow up strangers to wine and to “king’s meat,” without becoming famous leaders of God’s people. High spiritual aims, communion with God, capacity to understand mysteries and discern the signs of the times, seem naturally to call for a plain and severe sort of living. We think of the Nazarites, like Samuel, who never touched wine. Elijah lived roughly. John the Baptist had locusts and wild honey for his food when he prepared the way of the Lord; and, while Jesus came eating and drinking, we must remember that his ineffable purity left him free to use what we easily abuse. If the pure in heart see God, surely the pure in body are fitted to be the organs of the Spirit, are free to obey his voice, and more quick to hear what he says. We should remember, too, that this course was adopted on religious grounds. We must also believe that it was maintained through a long life by religious faith. It was Christian temperance. Of course, it was all very singular in a king’s palace. The higher one goes in the social world the more rigid the rules of etiquette and fashion are; and in the palaces of kings one might say they amount to a law that cannot be broken with safety. It snowed a great soul in Daniel to dare resist the mighty current around him, and live simply. Many a weak young man falls into intemperance, taking his first glass at a woman’s hands, because he is afraid to show ignorance of social customs, or a scrupulousness that attracts notice. The regimen was used for three years with great success. During this time the boys were learning the Chaldean language, quite unlike their own Hebrew, so that they could speak with the king and the court. They also studied whatever of science there was to be learned, as Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. We read that God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom. What the four youths gained at their books was so clarified by prayer, by dependence on God, by pure actions, and by plain living, that they rapidly advanced. God helped them. Over the gate of one of the colleges at Oxford is the motto, “The Lord is my Light.” Luther said, “To pray well is to study well.” The mind that is unclogged by rich food and wine is strong to grapple with hard problems. The Great Light sends down kind and quickening rays. When the three years were passed, all the selected youths went up to the king for examination. He talked with each one of them, with the result that Daniel, and his three friends who had joined him in his vows, were selected to stand before the throne and give advice upon all matters of wisdom and understanding. It was essential to the great part he was to play as prime minister and God’s representative that he should meet the astrologers on their own ground, and surpass them all, just as Moses had done in the Court of Pharaoh. This greatness of soul, shown by the abstinence of the boy Daniel, was attested and exhibited through a long and illustrious career. Some lessons may be emphasized in the study of this very early part of Daniel’s life in Babylon.
1. Saints may be found in kings’ houses. If we had been looking through the world in ancient days to find men of faith and prayer, we should never have dreamed of finding any such in the luxurious pagan palace of the Pharaoh at Memphis. Yet Joseph was there, praying and working for his God, surrounded by the pride of life, but untouched by it. So one would have passed by the court of Babylon as the last place where true piety could be nurtured, and yet there were men of God in highest station. The monarchs they served worshipped idols. There was feasting and revelry. There were sights from which the angels turned away. And yet in the heart of it all there was faith in God, humble living in His sight, and abstinence from wine and strong drink. So, I imagine, if we should search to-day for the brightest examples of piety, we should feel that it was quite in vain to look in the houses of the millionaires of our land, or of the titled rich of other lands, or in the courts of kings. God has His hidden ones, and often they are hidden in the blaze of the world’s prosperity.
2. Godliness is profitable for all things. It carries power with it which nothing else can give. Men instinctively reverence the self-denying spirit which young Daniel and his companions showed at court. Those who live altogether under the powers of this world feel reverence for those under the powers of the world to come. Those who command themselves, command others.
3. But we see, above all other truths, how God exalts his servants. We may well draw useful lessons in temperance, uprightness, courtesy, purity, and studiousness from the boyhood of Daniel. But we see the mighty hand of God in guiding the king to place him among the chosen youths, in permitting him to live unlike the rest, in giving him favour with his master and skill in his studies, in causing him to be selected for wisdom and exalted to the chief place in the gates. It is all of God. Even the noble purpose not to be defiled by the king’s meat found its place in the boy’s heart through grace from on high, and it was kept alive there by the same power. And, therefore, we may well take up Daniel’s own words, and say, “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: and he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: he revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.” (Sermons by Monday Club.)
(with Chap. 6. Verse 16):--From the historical portion of the book which goes under the name of Daniel, I choose the first and the last scenes, desiring to call your attention to the close connection which subsists between them. In the first of these scenes we see the holy character of the prophet presumed, and in the second we observe it bearing its ripe fruit. It is not always, you know, that the early years of a man’s life give promise of what the latter ones are. Daniel’s career was consistent throughout. We trace in the commencement of it the principles which actuated and supported him to the end. He had religious scruples with reference to the provision of the king’s meat and wine. But all objections might have been escaped, and the food innocently partaken of. He was not bound to inquire what the prescribed diet was, and how treated before it was placed on the table. Daniel, however, not only acted on the law of God, but he loved it, and because he loved it he was resolved to be on the safe side, and was desirous rather to leave a margin beyond the legal restriction than risk the violation of it. Be it observed, in forming a judgment of his conduct, that his main scruple in all probability turned upon a point of conscience. St. Paul was required to settle the question for the primitive Christians. He says the conscientious scruples of weak Christians, while they existed, were bound to be respected; but at the same time he admits that the scruples were weak. “An idol is nothing in the world;” it has no real existence, and that therefore none of God’s good creatures can take any defilement from meat being offered to an idol. That sufficiently proves that in the question itself there was no absolute right or wrong. I need scarcely say that the light of the New Testament dispensation had not then shone, and Daniel had not seen at that early period any relaxation of the Jewish ceremonial law. Such is the first record of the life of Daniel. If it stood alone, if we knew no more of it than this, though it might lead us to greatly respect him as a conscientious man, I don’t know that that would necessarily prove him to be a saint of God, or even amount to a high principle. Scrupulosity as to little points in externals is, strange to say, very often found in some character who practically sets God at defiance and the moral law, The Pharisees “strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel,” paying tithe of mint and anise and cummin with great exactitude, but omitting the weightier matters of the law--judgment, mercy, and faith. But Daniel’s scrupulosity was of a totally different order from theirs, and sprang from motives to which they were strangers, which may be gathered from the last recorded passage of his history. This passage contains the well-known account of his being thrown into the lions’ den and miraculously preserved there. The crime which was punished with this savage barbarity was offering prayer three times a day in defiance of the law which the first princes had induced Darius to make. Now, we see Daniel, who had begun by making a brave stand on a religious scruple, ending by making a still more brave stand on one of the “weightier matters of the law”--a question of principle if ever there was one. Command the servant of God to live without prayer for thirty days! You might as reasonably command the body to live without air as a devout soul without prayer. Communion with God is the element in which the soul of a righteous man “lives and moves and has its being.” As the life of the body consists of respiration and aspiration in repeated acts, taking in air and throwing it out, so the life of the soul consists in repairing unto God by the thought of His presence, and in going out towards Him in the fervent desire of prayer. This is the essential teaching of religion. Come what might of his disobedience to the ungodly statute, Daniel must make his protest, even though the dread lions must be faced. Now, when we read of the sufferings to which the martyrs were subjected we are apt to ask ourselves whether we should have endured under them, whether we should have resisted, as they did, unto blood, striving against sin. Perhaps some light of a practical and edifying character may be thrown on the question by observing in what the course which ends with martyrdom began. That was consistent conscientiousness. Daniel, who set at defiance the ungodly statute, is the same Daniel who, in his early youth, preferred death to risk the violation of the ceremonial law of God. The stuff of which martyrs are made is consistent adherence to principle, even when principle involves personal risk, pain, inconvenience, or martyrdom. Let it be observed, it is quite possible for a man who is steadfast in his attendance to duty to take a mistaken view of what his duty is. Show me the young person who observes the restrictions of God’s law conscientiously, and I will show you one who gives promise of that faith which endures unto death. From the principle upon how we should act under circumstances of risk, or ridicule, or inconvenience, we may form some judgment as to whether we should be found steadfast in the martyr’s hour if God should call us to it. Only be thou faithful in that which is least, and then thou shalt be faithful also in much; yea, thou shalt be faithful unto death, and Christ shall give thee the crown of life. (Dean Goulbourn.)
The Power of a Temperate Life
Among the ancients much was made of temperance as a virtue. Moderation or self-control in all things was insisted upon to an extent hardly understood in the present day. No one reading the Ethics of Aristotle, for instance, can fail to be struck with the thoroughness of the educational methods therein enjoined and set forth. It was thought, above all things, necessary for true manhood that a person should have acquired the habit of self-mastery in such a way that he should enjoy the good things of life without becoming their slave. Their acquaintance with human nature taught Greeks and Romans the value of this practice. Young people were trained to avoid excesses of any kind, bodily or mental. No doubt much of this was due to the idea of the State. Everything was sacrificed to the good of the community, as, for example, in Sparta, where the laws made little of the suffering of the individual, and sought, above all things, the glory of the State. When Christianity came into the world the same thought received a new emphasis. Not merely a moral or material, but a spiritual value was put upon it. The spiritual man was recognised as one who, while regarding the body as the temple of the Holy Ghost, retained full control of his physical powers, believing that the desires of the flesh, left to themselves, were dangerous. Excesses of every kind were forbidden on the ground that spiritual life did not consist in the gratification of the senses, but in their moderate and careful use. A new ideal replaced that of Greek or Roman citizenship, namely, that man was meant to be a citizen of a heavenly rather than an earthly kingdom. The virtue of temperance was seen to be a necessity for its development, but in a grander and nobler sense than had been foreseen by Aristotle and Lycurgus. Before long asceticism came in with its dangerous and exaggerated emphasis of the duty of “keeping under the body, and bringing it into subjection.” Much harm was wrought by such devotees as St. Simeon Stylites, who sank far below the idea of the old pagan world in advocating self-torture in the place of self-control. In modern times Christianity has righted itself. We are all familiar nowadays with exhortations to manly Christianity and the worth of clean, wholesome, natural living, for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. We cannot too earnestly insist upon the value of temperance in all departments of human life. To be a Christian is to be master of oneself, to keep a rein upon the passions, to be able to move securely in the midst of exercises and enjoyments, over-indulgence in which would prove fatal both to nobleness and godliness. We use the word temperance in a somewhat restricted sense because of one of the greatest of our national sins--drunkenness; but I feel keenly that there are other kinds of intemperance than over-indulgence in alcoholic liquors. Over-eating is as much a sin against God as overdrinking. It is abuse of the creatures and abuse of the body we seek to pamper. In the search for exhilaration and in the abounding delight of vigorous life many promising, careers are ruined by the loss of self-control. And then let us be aware that only he who has learned this lesson is fitted to guide or rescue others. There is no man but has his battle with temptation, yet, if he prevails, his experience and his strength come to the help of others. The power of a temperate life is a grand thing, not for its own sake simply, but for the sake of others. (R. J. Campbell, M.A.)
Daniel in Babylon
Judah had fallen utterly before the power of Babylon. The holy city was burnt, its walls broken down, the Temple destroyed, and its sacred vessels devoted to the service of the heathen gods. Those that escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon. Amongst these was Daniel, evidently of princely birth and noble appearance. He, a youth probably of some seventeen years, together with three of his companions, was reserved for the highest service of the State. Far happier were they than most of their countrymen. The king had seen his children slain, and then, his eyes put out, he was led, blinded and bereaved, in chains to Babylon. Most of the captives would be made slaves. The historians tell us that every Babylonian brick in the British Museum represents the anguish of some slave. It is needful for us to remember that this was at best the fate that awaited Daniel and his companions if they offended those who were set over them or if they refused in any way to fulfil the purposes of the king. To him and his companions are given new names indicating their consecration to the gods of Babylon. To the Hebrew a name was much more than a convenient distinction. It was sacred; there was in it a Divine meaning. And he was to be trained in all the learning and science of the Chaldeans. This training was not only of the mind, but of the body too, and secured for these students the luxury of daily supplies from the king’s own table. Let us stay, to look at the captive, to look at the circumstances, and to look at the authority that was over him. His action in the matter could be so easily misunderstood, was indeed so difficult to explain. Object to food that came from the king’s own table! There is nothing that we are more touchy about than a complaint of the food that we provide for others, especially if we think it good enough for ourselves. Who is this youth, who cannot conscientiously taste of the food that is good enough for Nebuchadnezzar himself? Very well, take him where most of his countrymen are. Let him share their fare for awhile. They are not troubled with costly meats and dainty drinks. See if that will suit him. And if Daniel complained that his objection was a religious one, that made the matter worse. What, refuse, reject, despise the meat that is sanctified to the gods of Babylon! Where, indeed, was the God of Israel now? The Temple burned, the golden vessels adorning the service of the gods that made Nineveh great! This were an insult past forgiveness. Such an offence were enough to provoke the wrath of these outraged deities. Let the young man pay the penalty that the gods themselves might well exact. Such were the perils that threatened him. And there was Nebuchadnezzar, proud conqueror of the nations. All the forces of that vast nation waited to fulfil his bidding, whose word was law. Daniel, a lad of seventeen, 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. All within him, his devotion to irk God, the influence of his house, the hopes and memories of his nation, became a great resolution and refusal. He could not, would not, dared not--cost what it may. Daniel purposed in his heart. How grand a thing is that majesty of the will, that knitting of the man as master of his fate more than circumstances! You have seen the driftwood flung along the coast, hither and thither,--swept by the changeful tides, chased by the waves. But fronting the great seas has stood the rock, firm whilst thundering billows break on it in thunder and dashed their spray to the heavens. So the man who is rooted and grounded in right, as if he were become part of the solid earth, one with the round world itself. The man who stands for goodness stands in God. He who sets himself for the right has God at his back. Let the world laugh, or sneer, or smile, right is might. The purpose of the heart is the beginning of life. There is the helm; nay, it is the hand of the helm. Fools wish; men will. Wishing never got a man out of a difficulty, but a right will would have kept him out. And do not think of this will as a matter of nature only. Do not begin to be cast down because that is just what you lack. Do not turn away saying, “Alas! I am foolish, fickle, cowardly; this is no example for me.” Honestly ask yourself, What is the good of preaching, of the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, what is the good of God Himself, unless somehow or other there can come into us a right will? Is not this the promise ever set before us--a new heart? And what is a new heart but a new will, a new purpose? Take hold of these words: It is God that worketh in us to will and to do. Think of some old warrior who takes the lad and puts upon those slender fingers his own sinewy hands. And thus they bend the bow together, and thus they hold the feathered arrow on the string: And the man with keen sight and unerring aim lets fly the string, whilst the lad with parted lips watches it strike the centre of the target. So is it that there comes upon us the might of God with purpose resolute, and strength unfailing, to make us more than conquerors, strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. We are apt to think about the will of God as something outside us to which we must be conformed. God’s will is apt to be only that which He has spoken in His word. But the will of God is that which Upholds the universe. God’s will is God’s might. It is a long way from this youth in Babylon to the Apostle Paul, but this makes them one. He declares himself an apostle by the will of God. He had opened his heart to the mighty force, had let himself go under its constraint. I can do all things through Him which strengtheneth me. Daniel himself gives us the secret of his power. The people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits. (Daniel 11:32.) Turn to the story again for another lesson. “Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.” His way was greatly smoothed for him because his ways were so winsome. He was so likeable, so loveable. A man who calls himself a Christian has no business to be us prickly as a hedgehog or as ugly to touch as a stinging nettle. A man may be resolute without being as stubborn as a mule or an ass. The ugliest thing in the world is an ugly religion--that kind of assumption of superiority, that suspects everything, that carries its head as if sniffing heresy, that looks its condemnation at everybody and everything. We are to please men with edification. Strength is much, but it is not all. God’s graces go in pairs, and strength is to be wedded to beauty. Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Do not forget that the Bible teaches us to pray that God would make us beautiful. “Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.” Because Daniel could not go all the way that those about him wanted him to he would go all the more gladly where he could. They may not have liked his religion, but they could not help liking him. It is a poor religion that acts like a thunderstorm, and turns the milk of human kindness sour wherever it goes. As true as steel, yet out of steel sun do not fashion only swords, but things as delicate as the hair-spring of a watch. Be gentle, be courteous, be ready to help, be quick to do anybody anywhere a good turn, and make that as much part of your religion as it is to be honest. Then turn for a moment from Daniel to think of his companions, I do not mean in the least to reflect upon these brave youths when I say that it is certainly possible that we might never have heard of them if it had not been for Daniel His bold stand made it easy for them to follow where he led. We are responsible for our influence, and that we can never measure, never know. If you will be true to your God and be true to your better self there are many about you who will take a stand because you do. And note the prudence of his proceeding. He requested the prince that he and his companions might have simple fare, just pulse to eat and water to drink--porridge you may call it if you will. It was a courteous request and courteously received. But the prince of the eunuchs feared to grant it. “What will the king say when he sees your faces so much more woe-begone than those about you?” “Well,” said Daniel, “let us put the matter to the test. For ten days let us have this simple fare, and you shall see for yourself as to our looks and see if we are sadder than those about us.” So it was settled. And at the end of the time they were found fairer and fatter than those about them. One is reminded of what Dr. Johnson said in Scotland. Said Boswell, “Men here eat what we give horses in England.” “Yes,” replied Johnson, “and where will you find such men or such horses?” “Nature,” says old Matthew Henry, “is content with little, grace with less, but sin with nothing.” Nobody will believe in a religion that makes people sadder than those who are without it. The sunshine of God’s favour must shine forth from the face if men would bless the world. A cheery face preaches a sermon seven days long, and nobody tires of it. As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom. So let us listen to the words of the grand old Book that here find a living picture: “My son, forget not my law, but let thine heart keep my commandments. For length of days and long life and peace shell they add to thee. So shalt thou find good understanding and favour in the sight of God and man.” (M. G. Pearse.)
Readings in Daniel
At the first epoch of the captivity of Judah, when Jehoiakim was King in Jerusalem, a goodly number of the scions, or younger branches, of the royal family, and of the Jewish nobility, were carried away by Nebuchadnezzar. Of the handsomest and cleverest of these, a selection was made by the conqueror’s orders to serve in his palace as chamberlains or attendants. Thus was fulfilled the word of the Lord, spoken by Isaiah fully a hundred years previously to Hezekiah, that the descendants of his own body should be led away captive, and become eunuchs in the palace of the King of Babylon (2 Kings 20:18). Of the noble captives thus chosen to serve as attendants upon Nebuchadnezzar, four are specially named--Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Daniel was perhaps the handsomest, and certainly he had the greatest natural talents of the whole, besides being their leader in all that was amiable and pious. The first manifestation of their earnest desire to obey the laws of Jehovah was in regard to the food appointed for them. Rather would they have poorer food by far, if thus they kept the commandments of their Creator, than indulge in dainties without having the blessing of heaven. Not only on the bodily condition of the young men did the blessing of heaven descend, but Jehovah smiled upon their mental powers, and endowed them with knowledge and ability beyond all their contemporaries. No doubt the simplicity of their style of living would help rather than hinder their studies. Plain diet and abstinence from wine would leave their perceptive faculties unclouded. They would know nothing of the miseries of indigestion, or of the lassitude that follows indulgence in intoxicating beverages. For more than seventy years afterwards Daniel lived in Chaldea, an honoured servant of Jehovah. Let us consider some practical lessons deducible from the brief portion already surveyed.
I. “MAN’S GOINGS ARE OF THE LORD;” AND HIS OVER-RULING IS ALWAYS GOOD. Was it so in the case of Daniel and his three friends of royal and noble blood? To be dragged far away from their dear native land, and held captive amidst idolaters, surely such an experience could not be good? Without doubt it was for the glory of God, and the eternal benefit of these pious young men, that their lot was cast in Babylon. The lifework of a flower is to blossom and shed its perfume, wherever its Maker may plant it, whether in a lovely garden or in a desolate wilderness. Its sweetness is never wasted, though no eye but that of its Creator look upon it. And so with the children of heaven. At home or abroad, in congenial company or amid the prejudiced and the scoffing, in crowded city or in solitude, their eyes are turned to their Father’s face, and they muss ever be about their Father’s business. Was the Divine over-ruling good for that poor black boy whom the Lord permitted to be snatched from his wild but free home on the Gold Coast of Africa, and sold as a slave in Jamaica? Oh! the bitter tears he shed for many days, the curses he poured upon the head of his purchaser, and invoked on the cruel task-master that drove him daily to work on the sugar plantation! By-and-bye, however, he found his way to a chapel where negroes worshipped. There he heard of One who, though God over all, was, nevertheless, in human form, scourged am a slave, and crucified as a malefactor, that He might make our peace with offended Deity. The love that sent the Saviour to ransom lost sinners, the love that led the Redeemer to endure the wrath due to our transgressions, filled the poor black boy’s heart. Peace that passeth understanding, from that hour, kept his mind night and day, and he “felt like singing all the time.” It was easy for him then to work, for he had a rest remaining for him above; and even in the midst of his toils he was as happy as man can be on earth. So far from fretting thereafter against the Providence that had permitted his being sold into slavery, he thanked God for it every day of his life; and continually did he pray that his father and mother, too, might be brought as slaves to Jamaica, there to learn about the love of Jesus. Let us delight ourselves in the Lord and in His will. Let us sweetly submit ourselves to His disposal, and seek only how to walk worthy of Him in the path he chooses for us.
II. WE SHOULD DARE TO BE SINGULAR WHEN GOD CALLS US TO BE SO. For quiet and comfort most people have occasionally to conform to customs that do not meet their own taste. Singularity is often the characteristic of a weak or erratic mind, and sometimes the result of mere self-conceit. Where no moral principle is involved, and where deviation from the fashion would only occasion gossip about us, it is generally best in some measure to follow the crowd. But when the following of the customs of our place and time leads to questionable doings, or to positive transgressions of God’s laws, there comes into operation our Master’s general order, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Yes! it is a cross we are called to carry, but we bear it in worthy company. Balaam prophesied of the children of Israel that they should dwell as a people alone, and should not be reckoned among the nations. To promote this separation from the idolaters who surrounded them was one special object of the ceremonial law. Mingling with the heathen, they learned only evil. “Israel shall dwell in safety alone,” said Moses, in his farewell words to the much-loved tribes that sprang from Jacob. Daniel and his friends, even when placed by Providence in the very midst of idolaters, forgot not where their safety lay. They therefore stood aloof from everything which was in opposition to God’s law. Happy the man who faithfully follows their example! (2 Corinthians 6:17-18).
III. MAN LIVETH NOT BY BREAD ALONE, BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDETH OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD. It is not the abundance of our dainties that sustains life, but God’s blessing. If we would but taste and see that God is good, if we would but accept His love freely offered in Jesus, and let Him make us altogether His own, ah! then, plain food and humble circumstances would render us happier far than the rich and great who know Him not. On ourselves, and on all we have, His blessing would evermore abide; and “life in His favour lies.” (Original Secession Magazine.)
Happiness Despite Circumstances
By way of pre-eminence modern science emphasises two laws--the law of heredity, and the law of environment. With these laws as with keys, our scholars unlock the mysteries of vegetable and animal life, and also the life of man. This first law, heredity, deals with the fixed elements in the soul’s career. It unveils the man’s birth-gifts, and shows us from what sources these gifts of mind and body came. But this ancestral element is fixed and unchanging. No man, by tugging at his heartstrings, can change the sanguine temperament of birth to the phlegmatic or the melancholic. The beginning of happiness and usefulness is an instant and absolute acceptance of the task and temperament that God and our fathers have appointed. But when heredity has given us the fixed element in character, and the “source” from which the life moves forth, then comes in the second great law of environment that deals with shifting and variable influences and makes life flexible, makes the future uncertain, and clothes the to-morrows with wonder and mystery. This, therefore, is the problem of the great biographer. Given the youth clothed with certain ancestral qualities of strength and manliness, then, through environment, wealth or poverty, ambition, jealousy, hatred, passion, self-sacrifice are introduced. When the old birth-gifts and the new forces of environment unite, unexpected qualities and unlooked-for crises appear. And it is this unknown element that lends fascination to the great hours of life. For be it confessed that, if the acorn must remain an acorn to the end, its environment will modify the oak that springs therefrom. Planted upon a southern exposure, in deep, rich soil, it develops a giant structure, fitted for mast of ship or beam of factory. Falling in scant and rocky soil, and on northern slope, the acorn will develop but a poor and stunted life, fit for fagots and the winter’s fire. And if circumstances cannot change the original birth-gift, they can develop the native capacity into full manhood and usefulness, or they can repress these qualities and make life stunted and misshapen. Having suffered much from many influences and many half-truths, our generation has suffered grievously from the overemphasis of environment. Multitudes are the slaves of their surroundings and the victims of events. Carrying within themselves the powers that, if asserted, would make them the sons of happiness and strength, they go forward with bowed heads, sad, weary and dispirited. But if we are to understand the danger of an over-emphasis of circumstances, we must first consider its real scope and law. This we can do best of all by tracing its workings in the realms of vegetable and animal life. Ours is a world in which the rose is influenced by sunshine or shade, and in which the lark is influenced by the cage or by freedom; in which the sweet shrub is influenced by the early spring and the late frost. Carry the brilliant peacock to the dull, foggy climate of Norway, and the gay plumage within a few years is dulled into drab or a dirty grey. And if environment controls the colours of animals, sometimes it modifies, and even destroys the senses of sight and hearing. The blind fish that live in the underground rivers of the Mammoth Cave represent an optic nerve that has become a mass of ruins through disuse. We need not be surprised, therefore, that this law of environment is intellectual law and spiritual law. This law of environment as to evil appears in the proverb, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” It appears also in the proverb regarding Christ, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” It reappears in modern science, insisting that man is the sum total of his circumstances. It explains the pessimism and the sadness and gloom in our garrets and palaces. If, now, we search out the secret of the influence of circumstances, we shall find it in the simple statement that the law of environment is the law of food, succour and nutrition. The root, for example, is related to its environment in the soil. The blossom is related to its environment in the sunshine and light and heat. The leaf drinks in the light and heat, and absorbs the rich gases from the air. But if the blossom unfolds in the vicinity of a cotton factory, the leaves soon fall, choked to death by the foul gases. And if the root extends to the stream into which the same poisoned waters flow, then soon the tree and its trunk die also. And the question whether the tree is to come to full bloom and power depends upon the great facts of light and heat, and summer and winter that make up that total called the environment of the tree. Not otherwise is it with man. He is profoundly influenced by his circumstances and the atmosphere in which he lives, and breathes, and works. Only the tree has one root towards the soil and others towards the air, the man has many nerves that relate him to his environment. Physically his body is small. But assemble the foods, and the various forms of water that he drinks, the air that he breathes, throughout a single year, and how enormous the bulk that makes up his environment. He hungers for food. Cut that nerve of relation, and he dies for want of succour. Feverish, he thirsts for drink. Cut the nerve that runs toward the fountain, and he perishes for lack of water. The intellect is a nerve toward the kingdom of truth. The imagination is a nerve toward the kingdom of beauty, the face, the flower, the picture. Affection is a nerve toward the kingdom of love, in friendship, and the fireside joys. The conscience is a nerve toward the God of righteousness, as are faith, and hope, and love. Physically, man must draw his succour from an environment called the granary and the storehouse and the fountain. Spiritually, he draws his life from an invisible environment, named God. Cut these nerves of relation, and death ensues. Feed and strengthen these nerves until all the Divine tide comes in, and man has life more abundantly. Upon the basis of the great scientific law, therefore, Christ said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” And this spiritual law of environment appears when men exclaim, “In God we live and move, and have all our being.” Having emphasised the truth as to the influence of circumstances and environment, consider the untruth involved therein. Misunderstanding, we have coined a proverb, “Among Romans do as Romans do.” If this proverb asks a youth to be divinely good if he is with the angels, it bids him become a demon if his companions happen to be devils. Over-emphasising the influence of circumstances, some youth from the country will come into the city this coming autumn, with his stainless purity and beauty. Chancing upon evil companions, he will be confused by their profanity, he will blush at their salacity. But, accustoming himself to his circumstances, he will at last pride himself in that he can listen to a vulgar story without a blush, and roll off an oath without a single thought of revulsion. Yet it is given to the soul to rise above these untoward events, for happiness is not in circumstances, but in the will, and victory is not in events without, but in the trustful soul within. History holds a thousand examples of this great law of victory over circumstances. For forty years, until life had passed its maturity, Moses lived in the king’s palace, and was the child of wealth and opportunity of leisure. Then the sceptre of power dropped from his hand, and in old age he dwelt apart in a desert and tended sheep. Never were circumstances so cruel, and yet, dwelling in the desert, Moses matured his great laws and plans of reform, and we know that his life in the palace was the era when his soul was poverty stricken, and that life never became deep, rich, and victorious until he wore a coat of skins and slept in a desert. And there is no temptation so fiery, and no testing so severe but that the soul can rise superior to these circumstances that try man’s souls. In the palace Potiphar’s wife tempted Joseph, and promised the youth that he might succeed to the great man’s name and position, but Joseph came out of the fierce flame with no smell of fire upon his garments. Women, too, have defied circumstances. The soldiers’ camp was once notorious for the grog shop, for gambling and licentiousness, and yet even there Florence Nightingale and Augusta Stanley moved in and out, lifting soldiers up from baseness to sobriety and integrity; cleansing the filth from others without staining their garments of spotless purity. Does not the sunbeam cleanse the soil and yet remain itself unstained? Our age has failed to realise the importance of the will. God has made the soul king over its own territory. And circumstances cannot rob the righteous man of his strength, nor spoil him of his happiness and his victory. Moreover, man can rise above circumstances that involve temptation, and maintain spotless purity amidst conditions vicious and surcharged with evil, for the sanctuary of the soul is sacred. It is a castle that has one key, and that is controlled by the owner. Evil can stand in the street, under the soul’s windows. Evil can display bribes, offer gifts, hold out a cup brimming with sorcery and sing the siren’s song. But sin, with its cloven foot, can never cross the threshold until the will draws back the bolts and bars. Sin has no hypnotic power. And the soul stands above evil as the hero stands looking down upon the serpent, knowing that even the heel can crush the serpent’s head. Away with the excuse that the soul is the victim of circumstances. It is given to the disciple of Christ to walk through the fire of temptation, and feel no harm. It is possible, also, to maintain happiness, midst trouble, disquietude, and defeat itself. For happiness is not in events on the outside. It is given to all to say with Paul, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” For know, all ye young hearts, that environment is not in dwellings or palace. It is in the heavens above you. The apple tree is rooted in the soil, yet this orb of luscious fruit is not of the earth. Ninety per cent of the crisp, dripping juices were absorbed from the glowing sunbeams, from the forces of the great upper world, for the branches, stretching toward the sky, are the true roots. And man’s body is a root that runs toward the house and street in which he lives, but the great invisible world above is the true world, toward which faith and hope, and prayer, and love, and aspiration, are branches dissolving invisible food, and there is man’s true environment. There is your true life. The imagination can create its own environment. Only let the chambers of imagery he filled with lustrous scenes and noble imaginations. Doubtless the teachers of life are trouble and temptation, as well as joy and success. But happiness and victory are the ends thereof. It is possible to live victorious over all life’s troubles. God wishes his sons and daughters to go singing through the years. Even in the tornado, it is said, there is a central spot where there is perfect quiet, and the particles of air are undisturbed. And he who trusts Christ his Saviour, and lives close to God’s heart, has a chamber of peace in the very thick of life’s storm. Be original in yourself, and overcome the circumstances that would degrade you. (N. D. Hillis, D.D.)
The Triumphant Life
I. THE ROOT OF THE TRIUMPHANT LIFE IS HOLY PURPOSE. “But Daniel purposed in his heart,” etc. Those ancient monarchs were wise winners and compactors of kingdoms after their sort. When they conquered some foreign country they even violently welded it into homogeneity with the kingdom over which they already ruled. They did this by deporting the inhabitants of the conquered country to their original kingdom, and by importing into the conquered country great masses of their own already loyal subjects. Also, from the families of the best blood and largest influence of the conquered country they selected certain young men, carried them to their own court, subjected them under their own eye to special courses of education, showered upon them royal favours, fed them with such viands as graced even the royal table, attached them to themselves in the strongest way, and when their course of education was completed, weighted them with high official duty. Thus these rulers sought to rub out the lines of cleavage of race and of religion which otherwise had split their peoples. Thus Daniel, a young Hebrew of probably about seventeen years, had been treated--carried from captured Jerusalem to triumphant Babylon (Daniel 1:3-7); and there was appointed Daniel and his captive companions a daily provision of the king’s meat and of the wine which he drank.
1. This was an utmost honour. To eat with one or to eat what a lifted one partook of meant much in that Oriental society. In no way could one more thoroughly express his gracious favour to another than by sending him a portion of that which he himself was eating; and to do it daily was the constant expression of continued favour.
2. There were dietary reasons also underneath the royal grant. The king wanted them fed with the best that they might become the best. But for the Hebrew youth Daniel there was special trouble about the king’s meat and the king’s wine.
I. It was food selected without reference to the precise Mosaic ritual concerning meats clean and unclean. Because meats which the Divine legislation declared unclean were to be found even upon a king’s table, they were not beyond the jurisdiction of a Divine law for a Hebrew.
II. It was customary among the pagans when they ate to throw a small part of the viands and wine upon the hearth as an offering to the gods, thus consecrating the whole to them. To partake of such food would be to a Hebrew the sanctioning of idolatry. And that word “purposed” is, in the original, significant. It means purposed in the sense of set, placed, as when you put down a thing, and leave it there and have done with it. There was no debating about Daniel’s purpose. Think how many specious persuasions might set themselves at uncompacting his purpose.
1. He was a young man. His refusal might easily be charged to youthful rashness. How preposterous the thought that he, a boy, should fling himself against the mighty King of Babylon!
2. He was away from home.
3. He was in very peculiar circumstances--a captive, and of the king a special protege.
4. Such refusal would be dreadfully inconvenient. Every day the king’s viands were coming--every day to have to refuse!
5. It would damage his prospects--here was the only line of advancement possible for him.
6. It was plainly dangerous.
7. In itself it was only a little matter, etc. But notwithstanding Daniel “purposed in his heart,” etc.; and the subsequent life of Daniel was according to the hand of this purpose he then laid upon his life’s helm. He would not transgress. He would not do wrong. You cannot got the bloom of a genuinely triumphant life out of any other root.
II. Consider, as we gaze upon this Bible specimen of a triumphant life, THAT A GENUINELY HOLY PURPOSE PROMPTS ALWAYS TO ACTION CONFORMABLE WITH ITSELF, AND SO THE LIFE IS MADE TRIUMPHANT. Turn again to our Scripture, “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself,” etc., therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself; and when the prince of the eunuchs feared and objected, he proposed a way in which the defiling might be missed. And such action, conformable with purpose, makes purpose purpose, and rescues it from being but a poor and sickly sentiment. Ah! the Apostle James was right, conduct is the test of faith (James 2:14-23); and just here is a frequent trouble: what we call our religious purpose is too much merely religious sentiment. It lacks the verve and vigour and granitic quality of a genuine purpose, because we do not act out that “therefore;” because purposing does not bloom into doing. When we are called to any special sacrifice that we may not defile ourselves with the king’s meat, we have only a lavender sentiment with which to meet the sacrifice. But not thus can we live the really triumphant life. Holy purpose and holy action--these are always its essential elements. (Wayland Hoyt, D.D.)
The Heroic Prince
The captive princes were honourably treated, as became nobles and princes. They were more than hostages. Daniel and his three companions were designated for a public career. For three years they were to be taught the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. They were provided with the best food for mind and body. But whatever Daniel had left behind him in Jerusalem, he had not left his religion. On religious grounds he shrank from the food and wine daily set before him. This was a crisis in Daniel’s early life. The battlefield was a small one, but it was not little to him. He had much to tempt him to forgetfulness of God. He lived in an idolatrous atmosphere. This matter of his daily food was not a small matter. He must stand to conscience. He had courage, and he needed it; for his resolution involved risk. Doubtless he had the ambition as well as the great faculty of his race. He could make his way in this foreign court. He could outstrip many, perhaps all, competitors. The greatest heroisms are wrought in silence. The stand for principle may be taken on some small-seeming matter. But if there be principle in it, it is not a small matter. In doing the thing that is right, we must expect and be willing to run risks. There can be no true courage without it. Daniel saw that no way could risk be avoided. Daniel’s courage was influential. The resolution personal to himself became the resolution of others. He kindled his three friends” to courage. Every man has some influence in this world. The hero multiplies heroes; the one heroic act is the parent of many heroisms. That recorded example has quickened many in all ages to an imitation of his fearless conscientiousness. His courage was victorious. He was settled in his mind. Daniel gained his point, but mark his tact. He prudently asked for liberty of conscience. He made no parade of his conscientiousness. His heart is fixed. This is the spirit in which to do the right. Rudeness is no part of religion. Daniel, by his early stand for conscience, was committed to a life of piety. (G. T. Coster.)
The food provided probably contained articles interdicted by the Divine law. Portions of it were polluted with blood--forbidden to every Jew. And both meat and wine were probably offered as a libation to other gods. A great principle was therefore at stake. Daniel knew the worth of what some people call “a mere abstraction,” “an idea.” Is it objected that this was a small matter? Perhaps it was, but the battle of great principles is often fought on some small field, while the clang of swords and the trump of victory resound against the vault of Heaven itself. We are sent into this world not to evade contempt, not to “get on” (as the phrase goes), not even to avoid calamity, not even to “account life dear” unto ourselves; but to finish our Divinely marked course, the particular “ministry we have received,” to “testify the gospel of the grace of God.” We have no hesitation in quoting such expressions as these when speaking of Daniel; for that he had a course to run, a service to humanity and God to perform, a testimony to bear, is at once evident the moment we think of his history, and his singularly elevated position as an evangelical prophet, a harbinger to prepare the Saviour’s way. And so, whatever might betide, come what may, alone, as it would seem, without concert at this stage with his three associates, “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat.” That resolution was one of God’s moral inspirations. There was an ardour about it that fired the souls of the other three. It was the germ of great results, the parent of other heroisms, the one event that gave form and colour to all their lives. In executing the resolve, gentleness was wedded to fortitude. The conduct of Daniel is a good illustration of the motto, “fortiter in re, suaviter in modo,” strong as to the matter, gentle as to the manner. He was too wise openly to resist the ordinances of the king. (H. T. Robjohns, B.A.)
Daniel’s Firmness and Prudence
Daniel’s example teaches that we should carry the principles of religion with us into all situations, and through all the varying circumstances of life. There are some persons who will suit themselves to all society and all places; appear to be pious in one company and profane in another; attend the worship of God at home and neglect it when abroad, or just conform to the custom of the place where they may be. Not so was it with Daniel. Not so will it be with any of the consistent servants of God. It is this uniformity and consistency of conduct that is the glory of the true servants of God, which brings honour to the Divine name, and shows the power of real religion. “The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Another interesting trait of character presented to us here is that while Daniel had formed this settled purpose in his heart, he adopted the most prudent measures to accomplish the object he had in view. He was a youth, but he had already learned “to be sober-minded,” to act with humility, caution, and prudence. (Thomas Coleman.)
The distinctive thing about Daniel was his conscience, along with that sense of Divine authority with which, to Daniel, his conscience stood vested. The conscience is a solemn thing; it is the power with which we appreciate the right in its Divine imperialism. All the possibilities of the completest theism are involved in it. For Daniel to feel that to do this was right and that to do that was wrong was for him to feel that the Divine voice was speaking to him in terms of command or of prohibition. In that way behaviour became to him a kind of worship, and was the continuous expression of a religious loyalty. Conscience is an old-fashioned affair, but nothing has yet been discovered that will quite take the place of it. Doing right is itself religion when the right is done with a distinct appreciation of the infinitude of the obligation that we are under to do right. That is a point to be guarded jealously. It is religion’s starting-point--conscience is, The right, when felt as such, with all its unspeakable sanctions, all its transparent validity, all its unargued authority, all its long and mystic reach into the realms of things unseen, is a point at which thought takes easy hold upon that which is eternal, and at which it rises up in quick response of reverent worship toward the Holy One in all the divineness of His imperialism. It is a long reach toward God merely to feel the sanctity of the claim which the right makes upon us, so that when alternative courses open themselves before us, however we may feel ourselves enticed toward that which is evil, we experience a counter-drawing that is too mystic to be explained, and that bears down upon us with too authoritative a compulsion to be lightly ignored. It is through the sensitive conscience considered as the soul’s open eye that we first come into range with Divine things. Here, then, our first and most painstaking work must be done. The conscience is religion’s front door; and yet it is not such a door that having passed through it you can close it behind you. We better say, then, that conscience is religion’s bottom masonry upon which the whole superstructure has to be posited, such superstructure towering up in its permanence only so long as the substructure abides in its deep solidity. A man cannot become religiously expanded beyond the point where he continues to be ethically sound. Conscience conditions every step of our Christian expansion. You cannot plant religion on the top of moral mud any more than you can put up a fifteen-story apartment house on the top of the Jersey meadows. The stability of a house depends as much on the solidity of its foundation when it has stood for a thousand years as it does the first year it is erected. You admire the glisten of the diamond, but you cannot coax diamond-glisten out of polished putty, with whatever appliances of attrition it may be treated withal. The first thing to do is to do right; that is more than all creeds and more than all worship; for to a man in his wrong-doing it makes no earthly difference what he does believe, and as for worship, there is no such thing as worshipping God with one set of faculties at the same moment that we are disobeying Him with another set.
Daniel faced the situation, saw his duty, and did it. Having seen it, and seen it distinctly, he did not obfuscate the situation by mixing in a mass of foreign ingredients that had no concern with the immediate case. He might have said that whatever might have been his duty if he had remained in Jerusalem ceased to be such on moving into a country where other customs obtained; and that a man, out of regard to the feelings of others, ought to consult to a considerable degree the habits and usages that are in vogue in his present environment. There is no known method by which we can trim our behaviour to others’ ideas, and still keep a live conscience. On that day of his temptation, what be knew to be right stood out before him with lines as distinct as though they had been the lineaments of a personal face, and lineaments, too, so full of majesty and kingliness that they were apprehended by him as being the features of the face of God. So, instead of losing God by fooling with his duty, God became nearer to him, and duty a more impressive and superb reality by its discharge. The first thing to say about this is that a man is not safe except when the contrast between right and wrong is as sharp to his conscience as the contrast between black and white is sharp to his eye. That is not at all saying that there will not be questions of right and wrong that will be difficult of decision. It is merely saying that our only security lies in having so energetic a moral sense that right, when once we have decided where it lies, is felt by us to be tremendously right, and wrong felt by us to be devilishly wrong. No sliding scale between them; no fading off of the one into the other. Adam could not have transgressed so long as the tones of Divine command were distinctly ringing in his ears. That was the very genius of diabolic ingenuity. Adam’s attention was diverted, his attention was twisted from the single point at issue, and distinct considerations of personal gratification thrust before his regard instead. And sin begins to-day exactly as it began then. It begins by dragging into the decision of moral questions something beside moral considerations. Now that is the point where Daniel beat Adam. If, instead of pinning his eye to the moral element of the case, he had commenced to take into the account the advantages personal to himself that would have been certain to issue if he had become partaker of the king’s meat and wine, it would morally have been the instant death of him. Perdition comes in instalments, and the first instalment is just as much perdition as the last one is; and the first instalment comes when a man or a child fronts a question of right or wrong, and instead of facing it and answering it on its own basis, wriggles off on to a side issue, and refers it to the arbitrament of considerations that have nothing to do with the case. Now that is the way that a considerable number of current Christians are settling current questions. If a man attends the theatre, having settled the question for himself on grounds that are distinctly and unmixedly moral, then it is no man’s business but his own. But I know that there are a great many people who attend who have not settled the question for themselves, and who go there borne upon the current of contemporary usage. For them there is no moral ground involved; they have slipped in under the seal of example. In a word, although it is a conscience question, their own conscience has not faced it and answered it. They have not--if they have decided in the manner just described--they have not ruled out side issues and collateral considerations, and met the one only point, viz., Is it right? If there is anything that is calculated to stir moral indignation to its very bottom it is to see men and women, grown up, with intelligence, congenitally endowed with a conscience, professedly concerned for the weal of their times, and yet allowing practical questions that are crammed full of moral elements to be decided by considerations of usage or convenience or emolument that have no slightest relevancy to the distinct moral issue. A pretty kind of Daniel those people would have made! Now that is what is the matter with us. People are not planting their own feet down on distinct solid moral ground of their own. A man cannot extemporise heroism. Daniel could not have stood up in the face of the whole Babylonian empire and have dared the empire to do its worst upon him had he not had in him the stuff that goes to compose daring. To do right meant to him so infinitely and so divinely much that the pains of it and the dangers of it signified too pitifully little for his arithmetic to be able to take hold of and numerate. I know that people are lacking in moral vigour to-day because I know that they are lacking in courage. People are afraid. There is a cowardice that is despicable. The crowd rules. There are men and women that are more afraid of the despotism of public opinion than Daniel was afraid of King Nebuchadnezzar and all his hired butchers. Men do not dare to speak out. Hesitant virtue, cowardly integrity, is iniquity’s auxiliary. You can depend upon it that vice will keep in good spirits till you brand it, but if you go into the branding business you do it at your peril: well, what of it? And let me say only once more that this same moral fibre is not only the material of heroism, but it is also, of course, the material of indignation. Indignation is one of the moral trachea, and is the spark that solid virtue has elicited from it when struck by villainy. A man’s power of indignation is measured exactly by the vigour and intensity of his power of moral appreciation. To be patient is sometimes the most eloquent symptom possible of ethical insipidity. Moreover, meagreness of moral vigour is what accounts for indignation’s fitfulness. A man’s conscience needs to have a pretty good constitution in order to be able to keep indignation in stock--in order, that is, to be steadily in condition to resent vicious encroachments. There occur what are popularly known as “spasms of virtue.” The phrase expresses it well. The case is to be diagnosed in this way; it is virtue, but so sparingly accumulated and loosely fibred as hardly to be more than aflame before it is consumed--a sort of sky-rocket affair that makes momentary diversion, and that only renders subsequent darkness but the more palpable and ponderable. The greatest thing a man can do is to do right, for while that is not the completion of the entire edifice, it is the plumb-line, dropped from Heaven, along which every stone requires to be laid that aspires to be a permanent element in the edifice. (C. H. Parkhurst.)
Decision and Consistency
In the case of Daniel early piety, prepared for ripe excellence in old age. Daniel lived to be eighty; was prime minister of Babylon; and died full of honours.
I. HIS EARLY DECISION. He purposed (resolved) not to defile himself with the king’s meat. He put a restraint on his self-indulgence. It was the evident intention of Babylonians to wean Daniel and his companions from their patriotic and religious principles. The new names given to them suggest this. Great advantages attend early decision. It is half the battle. It was not his learning that gave Daniel this wisdom or decision. It was God’s grace.
II. ABIDING CONSISTENCY OF LIFE. This sprang from the early decision. What firmness, fidelity, and piety! Note the testimony of his enemies. Incorruptible in duty, blameless in life. This is the way to honour religion.
III. HELPS TOWARDS THIS CONSISTENCY. The source of it was Divine. There is no other safe or abiding course. But gracious helps are provided.
1. The Word of God. Daniel a student of it (Daniel 9:12). We need a chart for life’s voyage, a lamp for life’s path.
2. Prayer. Daniel eminent for this. He prayed alone (Daniel 9:3). He prayed with his companions (Daniel 2:17-18). It was his custom, and was not given up, nor concealed, when a decree issued against it. How can We hope to walk wisely or safely without asking Divine help and guidance?
3. Godly companionship. The four children of the captivity were helps to one another. (W. Pakenham Walsh, D.D.)
Small Circumstances the Battlefield of Great Principles
The narrow mountain pass often becomes the scene of the deadliest struggles, because, though worthless in itself, that barren spot is the bulwark of the country. (T. White.)
The Influences Daniel Exhibited
The whole tendency of the Chaldean education must have been to alienate the young captives from their own people and religion. The intellectual training which they received from the Chaldean sages was of necessity in the highest degree perilous to a continued belief in the God of their fathers. A harsher treatment might have driven their thoughts homeward, and made them cling with secret tenacity to their ancestral faith. But the captives’ lot was made soft and pleasant to them; they experienced nothing save kindness at the court of Nebuchadnezzar. At an early and susceptible age, they found themselves removed from all the influences of pure religion, and surrounded by those of idolatry. It was not only that the superstitions of Babylon were interwoven with the secular instruction they received, though in that there was danger enough. But there was a danger beyond this. The wisdom of the Chaldees was the most varied and profound possessed by any nation then existing. Day by day new vistas of knowledge were opened before the Hebrew neophytes, who, it must be remembered, were all youths of singular mental capacity--had been chosen on that very account. Everyone knows what is the effect of an elaborate secular training dissociated from religion. The young Hebrews might well have been carried away by the pride of intellect, and have lost their grasp on the old faith, even though they did not embrace the superstitious of their masters. It happened thus, as may be inferred from the narrative, with the majority of those who had been taken as hostages from Judea. The influences brought to bear on them produced their natural result. Only one possessing more than ordinary strength of character could have withstood the tendency of such an education, and continued at that heathen court Jewish in thought, sympathy, and religion. Daniel continued, despite all temptation, what he had ever been--pious, consistent, and pure; and from his example his kinsmen gained the firmness of purpose to do as he did, and to face all risks in his companionship. (P. H. Hunter.)
Adhere to the Right You Know
Such scruples as those of Daniel and his friends may seem trivial when viewed in the light of Christianity. It may be thought a small matter, after all, on which those Hebrew youths felt so keenly and insisted so earnestly--whether or not they should share in a repast of which a portion had been laid on the altar of Bel or Nebo. But nothing can be deemed a trifle where principle is at stake. What makes the conduct of Daniel and his comrades so admirable is that, clearly perceiving what was right, they tenaciously clung to the doing of it. And that determination of theirs to abstain from the royal food meant more than lay on the surface. It meant a testimony to the one true and living God, in the midst of a society given over to the worship of dead and false gods. It meant the rigorous observance of the Mosaic law at a time when the Jewish system appeared to be falling into fragments. It meant the steadfast clinging to the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, even when it seemed as though he had abandoned their descendants. So this action of the Jewish boy, trifling in itself, was really great in its motive and spirit. It has to be remembered also that Daniel’s adherence to principle was maintained in face of two special difficulties, which seldom fail to confront men when seeking to do right. One difficulty sprang from his own inclinations. He did not choose the pulse because he liked it; no doubt it would have been more agreeable to him to share in those royal luxuries which were his for the taking. Temperance is easy when the means of indulgence are out of reach, but not so easy when they lie within sweep of the hand. It might have seemed legitimate enough to soften the rigour of captivity by sensuous pleasure. Daniel and his friends did not think so; they thought only of their duty to God. Another difficulty which Daniel had to face was the force of opinion around him. He stood practically alone in his conviction that to partake of this heathen food was to dishonour God. The Chaldeans could not enter into the motives of such a refusal; to them the ways of the Jews must have seemed as inexplicable as those of the Christians seemed to Roman governors in the first and second centuries. It was an exclusively Jewish conception, that of a holy and righteous God, requiring in those who served Him holiness and righteousness of life--a consecration of self which must appear even in food and dress. But heathen religious were quite different from this, and the royal chamberlain, though willing to humour his favourite, made no pretence to understand him. Of the fellow-captives of Daniel only three were found like-minded. It is not every man who will “dare to be in the right with two or three.” It is to the credit of these young Hebrews that they chose the better part, and braved the common voice, resisting the power which lies in those words, “Everybody does it,” because to yield would have been dishonouring to God. (P. H. Hunter.)
The Persistence of Early Religion
Babylon began too late with these youths. Their names were changed, but their principles did not yield to the enchantment. Early instructions are not so easily obliterated. The impressions of childhood are always the most lasting. They engrave themselves upon the whole formation of the man; they constitute the mould of one’s being. They may be weakened and overlaid, but not extinguished. They are like words spoken in a whispering gallery, which may not be heard near where they are uttered, but are produced in far distant years and go echoing along the remotest paths of life. A child’s heart is plastic, and the form to which it is once set is the hardest thing in the world to change. These youths had been brought up in the knowledge and worship of the true God, and had been taught His Word and law; and their early teaching abode with them, and remained proof against all the subtle seductions and expedients of a heathen court. They quietly took the new names assigned them, for they could not help themselves. Those names were indeed lies as applied to them, but they were obliged to submit, as the good and pious of every age have had to bear the ill names which the world has put upon then. These Hebrew youths took the base cognomens dictated by their heathen conquerors, but under those offensive names still lurked the holy teachings of their childhood. Tyrants might change their names, but their hearts remained loyal to the God of their fathers. It was not long before a test occurred to prove how firmly rooted in their hearts were the sacred teachings which had been early imprinted upon these youths. (Joseph A. Seiss, D.D.)
As a rule, the undefiled man is the best looking man. It is redness of eyes, not dearness of complexion, which marks the lover of wine. The bloat of the beer-drinker gives the lie to every boast of the healthfulness of his favourite beverage. He who takes defiling food and drinks as a cure for his ailments, will have an increase of ailments for which to take the defiling portions. He who will keep himself pure will find himself in best bodily condition through his purity. The truth of this fact has been tested over and ever again in army life, and in life at sea, in expeditions to the frigid and the torrid zones, and in every grade of society from the palace to the hovel. (Sunday School Times.)
Weighty Beacons for Abstinence
Daniel’s piety appeareth in this, that he maketh conscience of smaller evils also, such as most men in his case would never have boggled at. He would not “defile himself with the the portion of the king’s meat.” He scrupled the eating of it; and why?
1. Because it was often such as was forbidden by the law of God (Leviticus 11:1-47.; Deuteronomy 14:1-29.).
2. Because it was so used as would defile him and his fellows against the word of God; for the heathens, to the shame of many Christians, had their grace after meat, as it were, consecrating their dishes to their Idols before they tasted of them (Daniel 5:4; 1 Corinthians 8:10).
3. They could not do it without offence to their weaker brethren, with whom (they chose rather to sympathise in their adversity than to live in excess and fulness (Amos 6:6).
4. They well perceived that the king’s love and provisions were not single and sincere, but that he meant his own profit, to assure himself the better of the land of Judah, and that they might forget their religion. Lastly, they knew that intemperance was the mother of many mischiefs, as in Abram, Esau the rich glutton, etc. (J. Trapp.)
An Abstemious Prince
It is said that when the German Crown Prince went to Bonn University he invoked the displeasure of his colleagues because he would not participate in their drinking habits. The Crown Prince saw his father, the Kaiser, on the subject, and, as a result, the Emperor made it known that in his opinion the students were seriously injuring their health by excessive beer drinking; and he denounced the practice in unmistakable terms. In his temperance the Prince was using his influence aright, and he displayed a spirit akin to that of the apostle, who declared if meat should make his brother to offend he would eat no flesh. (Christian Herald.)
Youthful Temperance Secures Against Old Age Remorse
Once, when Socrates was asked what was the virtue of a young man, he said, “To avoid excess in everything.” If this virtue were more common, how much happier the world would be. Before he died Lord Northington, Chancellor in George III’s reign, paid the penalty which port wine extracts from its fervent worshippers, and he suffered the acutest pangs of gout. It is recorded that as he limped from the Woolsack to the Bar of the House of Lords, he once muttered to a young peer who watched his distress with evident sympathy, “Ah, my young friend, if I had known that these legs would one day carry a Chancellor, I would have taken better care of them when I was at your age.” He knew from bitter experience the pains and penalties of an ill-spent youth.
Divine Help in Character Making
(Daniel 1:17):--Schools may make learned men, God alone can make wise men. And the character of such men as Daniel and his companions, who are at once distinguished for learning, wisdom, and uncompromising fidelity to religion, is, in a peculiar manner, the work of God’s hands. Persons of such a character have been rare in the earth, and when raised up in an age of degeneracy, it is always for important purposes, which neither they, nor those who have the charge of their education, could have divined. In the training of these young men, Nebuchadnezzar had one design, and God had another. (T. White.)
Two arguments may be drawn from this passage, to commend the cultivation of religious character, to those who are engaged in the business of secular education.
1. They will find, as Daniel did, that religion is an aid to study. When she takes up her habitation in the heart, she will keep the soul calm, the reason clear, the feelings fresh, the taste pure, and secure the Divine blessing on diligence. The objects which religion presents to the mind are the most sublime that can be contemplated, and nourish the heart equally with the understanding.
2. The excellent character of these youths was the direct mean of their success in life. (T. White.)
Intellectual Power Aided by Plain Living
We have the high thinking that follows “plain living.” No doubt the frugal fare helped to keep the brains clear and the minds ready for work. The same Spartan discipline leads to the same results in many a Scottish University and American farmhouse, where some lad is half starving himself and enthusiastically grappling with study. Where do the great scholars and thinkers come from? From “huts where poor men lie,” from humble homes where profusion was unknown and poverty often looked in at the window. Pulse and water are helps, not hindrances, to intellectual clearness and progress in knowledge. When the examination day came, the youths who had had “a good time” with “the king’s meat,” and, no doubt, had often laughed at the strait-laced four, were at the bottom of the lists, if they passed at all, and the four were at the top, as such people generally are. (A. Maclaren.)
I. YOUTHFUL PIETY POSSESSED. The piety of the Hebrew youths, the fact that their minds had been brought under the government of vital personal godliness, is distinctly implied and assumed. On this the whole of their history is specifically founded. In what manner it was that they had received the inestimable boon we are not informed. Belonging as they did to the royal house of Judah, or to noble families of that tribe, they probably had enjoyed early advantages, in connection with some instructor who had remained faithful to the Most High in that age of infatuated apostasy; and it may be that the disastrous event of the captivity, which had drawn them from their native scenes to a far distant and a far different land, had operated powerfully and grievously upon them. Some cases indeed may exist in which the germs of pious thought and emotion were implanted at a period so early and in a mode so gentle that the incipient processes of the work have been very indistinct. But then, again, there are other cases, and these perhaps numerous ones, in which the instrumentality, or a large proportion of it, is clear, is defined, is not destined to be forgotten. But then the instrumentality is not so important as the fact. What privileges, and at the same time what responsibilities are yours! My young friends, whose estimate of piety has perhaps been imperfect, and whose habits, it may be, have been utterly and entirely estranged from it, let me remind you solemnly that without delay such piety is indeed requisite, absolutely requisite for you all. Whatever else you may be without, you must not be destitute of religion. All possible inducements, arising from all possible sources, implore you to become what others are, and in entire and cordial dedication to give yourselves unto God.
II. From the notice of youthful piety possessed, we observe again that WE HAVE YOUTHFUL PIETY TRIED. The religion of Daniel and his companions was submitted to a very powerful and decisive test. You observe that their conspicuousness in personal beauty and intellectual accomplishments obviously exposed them to a powerful and a perilous snare. Moreover, their names, which were appellations memorialising the true God, were to be exchanged for others, being the memorials of the idol divinities of Babylon. To Daniel, signifying “God is my judge,” was assigned the name of Belshazzar, meaning probably “the keeper of the treasures of Bel.” To Hananiah, signifying “the grace of the Lord,” was assigned the name of Shadrach, meaning probably “the inspiration of the sun.” To Mishael, signifying “he that is the powerful God,” was assigned the name of Meshach, probably meaning “devoted to Shah,” the Oriental Venus. And to Azariah, signifying “the Lord is a help,” was assigned ‘the name of Abed-nego, meaning probably “the servant of the shining fire.” Thus it was that all remembrance of their allegiance to the true God was to be obliterated; and they were to be drawn into that great vortex of abomination which had well-nigh absorbed the world. But amidst these artful and cruel appliances, appealing alike to their vanity, to their sensuality, to their interests and to their fears, the piety of the heart stood firm; it steadfastly resisted, and it triumphantly overcame. You must understand their abstinence from the more dainty food not only as an act of self-control in regard to appetite, and as a patriotic recognition of the affliction of Israel, they refusing to live in indulgence while their brethren in captivity lived in privation and dishonour, but as a solemn testimony against idolatry and against all compromise with it, and as a solemn testimony on behalf of the true Jehovah, to whom they were dedicated, and by whom they resolved unalterably to abide. Now, youthful piety is never without its difficulties; and many instances occur to us in which it has been; as in the case before us, severely and acutely tried. We may think of Joseph in the house of Potiphar, and of Moses in the court of Pharoah, and of Samuel with the sons of Eli, and of Obadiah in the palace of Ahab, and of Hezekiah under the tutelage of Ahaz. And, my young friends, to whom God has given the inestimable boon of piety, you probably have already discovered the fact indicated in your own history, or you will discover it soon. You may be tried by your own indwelling passions, which, although subjugated by the grace which is in you, have not yet done striving for the mystery: vanity, self-conceit, cupidity, anger, envy, deceit, levity, animal passion and lust. You, may be tried by the hostility of others, on whom by kindred or by civil position you are dependent--parents, guardians, masters, who hate your religion, and who hate what they conceive to be the results of it; attempting, therefore, in the ungenerous malice of domestic and social persecution, to rend you from your faith and your hope. You may be tried by the fascinations of worldly amusement and pleasure: the feast, the dance, the song. You may be tried by opportunities of secular exaltation and honour--of rising high in the ranks of life, of attaining power, and of associating on well-nigh equal terms with the magnates of the land. You may be tried by strange and terrible combinations of evil influence, formed and applied by the great adversary of souls, rushing in upon you mysteriously, impetuously, and suddenly, with an agency almost overwhelming, that must utterly amaze and confound you. Oh! accept the warning, and vigilantly and prayerfully prepare. Let us observe, in the next place, that the trial of useful piety of which we now speak is pertained and arranged by God in wisdom and in kindness. It might seem to some a harsh and an inopportune dispensation; and questioning might be indulged, whether it would not be fair better to wait and postpone the ordeal until he who has to endure it has become more matured in character and more ample in red sources. The test never can be applied to one who has what the Scriptures emphatically term “the root of the matter in him,” without the test being found adapted to produce, and actually producing upon character results of the most salutary and beneficial order. It is the discipline which fits the Christian labourer for the field, the Christian pilgrim for the journey, the Christian mariner for the ocean, the Christian combatant for the battle. It leads to acquaintance with self and all other beings; it augments hatred of sin, it exercises patience, it strengthens faith, it quickens action, it encourages prayer, it promotes dependence and reliance upon God. “Endure hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.” “Fight the good fight of faith,” whereunto you were called; and “lay hold upon eternal life”; and then but a little while, and He to whom you have been loyal will crown you with the laurels of the conqueror.
III. Having illustrated youthful piety possessed, and youthful piety tried, we have to observe YOUTHFUL PIETY HONOURED. You have heard how the experiment proposed by Daniel in respect to the food for the prescribed period was blessed by God. You are informed, further, how Daniel and his companions improved under the mental tuition which was administered, though still retaining their religion, and so indicating to us the fact that the pursuit of learning and science may be continued in perfect subservience to the honour of religion, and positively for the advancement of its empire. Additional instances of the honour which is attached to true piety have been preserved to us in the sacred records. The cases which we have cited as instances of trial we can also cite, and we aught to cite, as instances of honour. Remember the case of Joseph in the house of Potiphar, resisting the temptation in the spirit of inquiry, “How shall I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” Then imprisoned by the revengeful lie of the tempter, but emerging at length from his ignominy and his peril, and set on high to be ruler over the land of Egypt. Remember the case of Moses. We can add to these multitudes of cases more from the annals of the Christian church, and we have memorials around us to this day, all proving that through piety is the pathway to honour. “Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee.” With regard to the honour which arises from youthful piety, were we to classify it we might commend to you such arrangements as these. There is honour from the world. It is a mistake to conclude, as it has been hastily concluded, that genuine and decided piety is the parent of privation and disgrace in the world. Humility, amiableness, diligence, integrity, purity, benevolence--these are to men, under God, elements which; employed in the common affairs of life, constitute them the architects of their own fortunes. And then again, there is honour from good men. Those who are devoted to the high service of God in the Gospel of His Son are welcomed cordially and gratefully by the churches of the living Jehovah. There is honour, too, from God, in accordance with His ancient promise, “Them that honour Me I will honour.” The honour that arises from the world and the honour that arises from good men He ultimately communicates, and then He imparts further and most delightful communications of His love.
IV. But then we have also to contemplate YOUTHFUL PIETY USEFUL. The decision of the Hebrew brethren, besides being associated with their own personal exaltation, was associated with many and momentous results of benefit and advantage to others. We do not dwell upon what must have been the influence of their example in the sphere in which they moved, but pass to the express and positive records. The immediate recorded result of their decision was an impression made upon the mind of the potentate they served with regard to the claims of the living and true God. We wish the young to remember this one simple fact, that the piety of four young men produced an immense effect upon the interests and destinies of the world. Now, we refer again to the instances of piety which have been selected from the sacred volume as instances of usefulness. They are all, as you must perceive, eminently so. We then proceed to affirm as a fact that in the annals of the church youthful piety has generally been by far the most useful. Then we may proceed further to state that God has given youthful piety for the express purpose of being useful. Those who possess it possess it not as a privilege merely, but as a responsibility--not as a blessing merely, but as an obligation. They possess it, that they may work for Him whom they are called upon to serve, in the advancement of His kingdom, and in the salvation of the souls of their fellow men. They are placed under the government of principles, the legitimate operation of which invokes them constantly to earnest and zealous effort, and which they must carry out into every department of influence, in order that the law of their stewardship may be fulfilled. The opportunities for usefulness on the part of the young are manifestly great. And then, again, the prospects of usefulness are animating. No labour can be in vain; all work forms a part of one grand system, impelling to a grand consummation, when the cause of God and truth shall extend its dominion over the world. (James Parsons.)
The Character of Daniel
I. And what first presents itself to us is that HE WAS A MAN OF AN ABSTEMIOUS LIFE, AND OF THE GREATEST TEMPERANCE. He knew that delicious entertainments, however pleasant to the senses, often tend to hurt the stomach and impair the constitution. When this is the case, why should the poor ever envy the rich, or wish to change conditions? Is not health the first of temporal blessings, and what we had better enjoy, than all the fine things at the tables of the great? Besides, luxury tends not only to enfeeble the body but to enervate the mind. The more we indulge our sensual appetites we weaken our intellectual powers. By pampering our taste it acquires new strength and is apt to engage the whole soul. With what relish does an epicure talk of a fine dish, or of rich wine, and with what pleasure does he partake of them! He enjoys them more than the most rational, intellectual entertainment whatever. It deserves our remark that some of the greatest prophets mentioned in Scripture were remarkable for their humble and plain manner of life. It is recorded of John the Baptist, than whom none greater was born of a woman, “that his daily food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). And it appears from the Gospel that our Lord and his disciples lived on the simplest food. Barley loaves and small fishes were their common entertainment. And why did the blessed Jesus prefer this manner of life when all the creatures were at his command? Why, but to teach us temperance and sobriety, and to set our affections upon things more substantial and valuable. Let us, therefore, be improving our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and in getting them enriched with Divine grace. The greater proficiency we make in the knowledge of Christ the more indifferent we will become about sensual enjoyments.
II. In the second place, concerning the prophet Daniel, THAT HE WAS RENOWNED FOR KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM ABOVE ALL THE WISE MEN OF BABYLON. To have his mind enlightened in the knowledge of God, and his memory stored with Divine truth, were the great objects which engaged his attention, Whilst others were amusing themselves with empty speculations, and employed about trifles, he was contemplating Divine things, and was chiefly conversant with the living oracles of the living God. Was it the wisdom which is from above with which he was chiefly conversant? Do we not approve his taste, and admire his choice? Human science is at best extremely imperfect, and may be called a mixture of error and of folly; but the knowledge of God and His blessed Son is truth itself, and the fruit of it eternal life.
III. Let me remark, in the third place, concerning Daniel, that HE WAS THE ROOTED ENEMY OF IDOLATRY, AND A SINCERE WORSHIPPER OF THE ONE TRUE AND LIVING GOD. Though he lived in the midst of the heathen, he kept himself pure from their abominations and despised their idols. Let our closets bear witness for us how regular we are in our devotions! God forbid that they should appear against us in judgment!
IV. I would remark, in the fourth place, concerning Daniel, that HE WAS A FAITHFUL SERVANT TO HIS PRINCE. Would to God that all in such elevated stations were men of similar worth!
V. I remark, in the fifth place, concerning Daniel, THAT HE DARED TO DECLARE THE TRUTH TO THOSE PRINCES TO WHOM HE DELIVERED IT, HOWEVER MORTIFYING AND DISAGREEABLE TO THEM. Nebuchadnezzar had incurred the displeasure of the Almighty by his pride and arrogance, and it was revealed to him in a dream that he should be deprived of his kingdom, divested of his reason, and reduced to the humbling situation of eating grass and straw like an ox. The king, anxious to know the meaning of the vision, sent for Daniel to explain it, when the prophet told him the awful judgments which awaited him, and pressed upon him the duties of repentance and charity. It argued not a little fortitude to inform an arbitrary prince of the mean and despicable situation to which he was to be reduced, and to be put upon a level with the brutes. But Daniel dreaded not the king’s resentment, because he trusted in God. Truth was too important to be concealed, even from a despotic monarch. We, too, are sometimes obliged to preach disagreeable truths; but fidelity to our great Master, and to the souls of men, requires it. We must declare the whole counsel of God, in whatever manner it may be taken.
VI. I remark, in the first place, concerning Daniel, THAT PROVIDENCE INTERPOSED IN A VERY REMARKABLE MANNER WHEN HIS LIFE WAS IN IMMINENT DANGER.
1. From this subject I observe that those who fear God will be taken notice of and respected in the world.
2. I observe that by faithfully serving God we shall most effectually recommend Him to others. (D. Johnston, D.D.)
The Personality of Daniel
1. So the first characteristic of Daniel was his fidelity to religious convictions. Piety, moral integrity, and the favour of God, he preferred to the pleasures and prizes of life.
2. Another trait of Daniel’s was judgment, so extraordinary as to make his name proverbial for that quality. His tact, his diplomatic skill, is admirable. Never once does he forget himself. No matter what dilemmas surround him, he is always the judicious, the well-balanced, the equipoised man.
3. But the most pleasing aspect of the personality of Daniel was his humility. (J. B. Remensnyder.)
His conduct through life was all in beautiful accordance with his first recorded action. Afar his example, let us cultivate constancy, as well as decision of religious character. Dot not our religion be like a torrent filled by the falling of a water-spout, or by the bursting of a thunder-cloud, whose waters for a time overflow, and carry all before them, but anon its channel is dry, and the only memorial of its former fulness is the sediment it has left behind. Let our religion be like a pure stream, fed from some living fountain, whose waters flow daily to the sea, yet flow each succeeding day in undiminished fulness. (J. White.)
Daniel’s Continuance a Remarkable Testimony to His Worth
Dr. Pusey remarks: “Simple words, but what a volume of tried faithfulness is unrolled by them!” Amid all the intrigues indigenous at all times in dynasties of Oriental despotism, amid all the envy towards a foreign captive in high office as a king’s councillor, amid all the trouble incidental to the insanity of the King and the murder of two of his successors, in that whole critical period for his people, Daniel continued. (F. W. Farrar, D.D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Daniel 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26