Daniel 4:27
Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.
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(27) Break off.—The metaphor is taken from a refractory beast casting off the yoke. (Comp. Genesis 27:40, where it is foretold that Esau’s posterity shall “break off” the yoke of Jacob.) In Chaldee the word is used for the most part in the sense of putting on one side. Daniel therefore counsels the king to rebel against his sins, such as pride, harshness, and cruelty towards his captives, and to put all these sins aside. And how can he do this in a better manner than by practising the contrary virtues?

Righteousness.—In all wars of conquest many acts of injustice are perpetrated. The king is warned here to show justice or to act justly for the future. Similar counsel is given, though in different language (Micah 6:8). The idea of “alms” and “redeeming” is not conveyed by the Chaldee words, so that the translation “redeem thy sins by alms” is incorrect and unwarrantable.

If it may bei.e., if Nebuchadnezzar will repent, his prosperity and peace will be prolonged.

Daniel 4:27. Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee — These words Daniel adds out of love to the king, if perhaps his complying with the advice given might turn away this dreadful stroke from him, or at least might give the king some hopes of a mitigation of the calamity. And break off thy sins by righteousness — Cease to do evil, and learn to do well. Change thy principles and practices; do justly and love mercy; and instead of oppressing the poor, have compassion upon them, and be kind and bountiful to them. Give this evidence of thy true repentance and reformation. Though the word פרק, here used, properly signifies to break off, as it is here translated, yet many of the versions render it, to redeem, and read the clause, Redeem thy sins by righteousness, that is, as they explain it, by almsgiving; and thus the passage is alleged as favouring the doctrine of expiatory merit, and purchase of absolutions and pardons; but, it must be observed, sins are not said to be redeemed in Scripture, but persons; and the plain sense of the words is as it is given in our translation. If it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity — Daniel was not certain of pardon for him, nor did he altogether despair of it. With what wisdom and tenderness does he speak, and yet with what plainness!

4:19-27 Daniel was struck with amazement and terror at so heavy a judgment coming upon so great a prince, and gives advice with tenderness and respect. It is necessary, in repentance, that we not only cease to do evil, but learn to do good. Though it might not wholly prevent the judgment, yet the trouble may be longer before it comes, or shorter when it does come. And everlasting misery will be escaped by all who repent and turn to God.Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee - Daniel was permitted to see not only the fact that this calamity impended over the king, but the cause of it, and as that cause was his proud and sinful heart, he supposed that the judgment might be averted if the king would reform his life. If the "cause" were removed, he inferred, not unreasonably, that there was a hope that the calamity might be avoided. We cannot but admire here the boldness and fidelity of Daniel, who not only gave a fair interpretation of the dream, in the case submitted to him, but who went beyond that in a faithful representation to the most mighty monarch of the age, that this was in consequence of his wicked life.

And break off thy sins by righteousness - By acts of righteousness or justice; by abandoning a wicked course of life. It is fairly to be inferred from this that the life of the monarch had been wicked - a fact which is confirmed everywhere in his history. He had, indeed, some good qualities as a man, but he was proud; he was ambitious; he was arbitrary in his government; he was passionate and revengeful; and he was, doubtless, addicted to such pleasures of life as were commonly found among those of his station. He had a certain kind of respect for religion, whatever was the object of worship, but this was not inconsistent with a wicked life. The word translated "break off" (פרק peraq) is rendered in the Vulgate redime, "redeem," and so in the Greek of Theodotion, λύτρωσαι lutrōsai, and in the Codex Chisianus. From this use of the word in some of the versions, and from the fact that the word rendered "righteousness" is often employed in the later Hebrew to denote almsgiving (compare the margin in Matthew 6:1, and the Greek text in Tittmann and Hahn where the word δικαιοσύνην dikaiosunēn is used to denote "alms"), the passage here has been adduced in favor of the doctrine of expiatory merits, and the purchase of absolution by almsgiving - a favorite doctrine in the Roman Catholic communion.

But the ordinary and common meaning of the word is not to redeem, but to break, to break off, to abandon. It is the word from which our English word "break" is derived - Germ., "brechen." Compare Genesis 27:40, "that thou shalt break his yoke;" Exodus 32:2, "Break off the golden ear-rings;" Exodus 32:3, "And all the people brake off the golden ear-rings;" Exodus 32:24, "Whosoever hath any gold let them break it off;" 1 Kings 19:11, "A great and strong wind rent the mountains;" Zechariah 11:16, "And tear their claws in pieces;" Ezekiel 19:12, "her strong rods were broken." The word is rendered in our common version, "redeem" once Psalm 136:24, "And hath redeemed us from our enemies." It is translated "rending" in Psalm 7:2, and "deliver" in Lamentations 5:8. It does not elsewhere occur in the Scriptures. The fair meaning of the word is, as in our version, to break off, and the idea of redeeming the soul by acts of charity or almsgiving is not in the passage, and cannot be derived from it. This passage, therefore, cannot be adduced to defend the doctrine that the soul may be redeemed, or that sins may be expiated by acts of charity and almsgiving. It means that the king was to break off his sins by acts of righteousness; or, in other words, he was to show by a righteous life that he had abandoned his evil course. The exhortation is, that he would practice those great duties of justice and charity toward mankind in which he had been so deficient, if, perhaps, God might show mercy, and avert the impending calamity.

And thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor - The peculiar "iniquity" of Nebuchadnezzar may have consisted in his oppressing the poor of his realm in the exorbitant exactions imposed on them in carrying on his public works, and building and beautifying his capital. Life, under an Oriental despot, is regarded as of little value. Sixty thousand men were employed by Mohammed Ali in digging the canal from Cairo to Alexandria, in which work almost no tools were furnished them but their hands. A large portion of them died, and were buried by their fellow-laborers in the earth excavated in digging the canal. Who can estimate the number of men that were recklessly employed under the arbitrary monarch of Egypt on the useless work of building the pyramids? Those structures, doubtless, cost million of lives, and there is no improbability in supposing that Nebuchadnezzar had employed hundreds of thousands of persons without any adequate compensation, and in a hard and oppressive service, in rearing the walls and the palaces of Babylon, and in excavating the canals to water the city and the adjacent country.

No counsel, therefore, could be more appropriate than that he should relieve the poor from those burdens, and do justice to them. There is no intimation that he was to attempt to purchase release from the judgments of God by such acts; but the meaning is, that if he would cease from his acts of oppression, it might be hoped that God would avert the threatened calamity. The duty here enjoined of showing mercy to the poor, is one that is everywhere commanded in the Scriptures, Psalm 41:1; Matthew 19:21; Galatians 2:10, "et saepe." Its influence in obtaining the Divine favor, or in averting calamity, is also stated. Compare Psalm 41:1, "Blessed is he that considereth the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble." It is a sentiment which occurs frequently in the books of the Apocrypha, and in these books there can be found the progress of the opinion to the point which it reached in the later periods of the Jewish history, and which it has obtained in the Roman Catholic communion, that almsgiving or charity to the poor would be an expiation for sin, and would commend men to God as a ground of righteousness; or, in other words, the progress of the doctrine toward what teaches that works of supererogation may be performed.

Thus in the book of Tob. 4:8-10, "If thou hast abundance, give alms accordingly; if thou have little, be not afraid to give according to that little: for thou layest up a good treasure for thyself against the day of necessity. Because that alms do deliver from death, and suffereth not to come into darkness." Tob. 12:9, 10, "For alms doth deliver from death, and shall purge away all sin. Those that exercise righteousness and alms shall be filled with life; but they that sin are enemies to their own life." Tob. 14:10, 11, "Manasses gave alms, and escaped the snares of death which they had set for him; but Aman fell into the snare and perished. Wherefore now, my son, consider what alms doeth, and how righteousness doth deliver." Ecclesiasticus 29:12, 13, "Shut up alms in thy storehouses; it shall deliver thee from all affliction. It shall fight for thee against thine enemies better than a mighty shield and a strong spear."

Ecclesiasticus 40:24, "Brethren and help are against time of trouble; but alms shall deliver more than them both." In these passages there is evidence of the progress of the sentiment toward the doctrine of supererogation; but there is none whatever that Daniel attributed any such efficacy to alms, or that he meant to teach anything more than the common doctrine of religion, that when a man breaks off from his sins it may be hoped that the judgments which impended over him may be averted, and that doing good will meet the smiles and approbation of God. Compare in reference to this sentiment the case of the Ninevites, when the threatening against them was averted by their repentance and humiliation, Jonah 3:10; the case of Hezekiah, when his predicted death was averted by his tears and prayers, Isaiah 38:1-5; and Jeremiah 18:7-8, where this principle of the Divine government is fully asserted.

If it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility - Margin, "or, a healing of thine error. "The Greek of Theodotion here is, "Perhaps God will be long-suffering toward thy offences." The Greek of the Codex Chisianus is, "And thou mayest remain a long time (πολύημερος γένῃ poluēmeros genē) upon the throne of thy kingdom." The Vulgate, "Perhaps he will pardon thy faults." The Syriac, "Until he may remove from thee thy follies." The original word rendered "lengthening" (ארכא 'arkâ') means, properly, as translated here, a prolongation; a drawing out; a lengthening; and the word is here correctly rendered. It has not the meaning assigned to it in the margin of healing. It would apply properly to a prolongation of anything - as of life, peace, health, prosperity. The word rendered "tranquility" (שׁלוה shelêvâh) means, properly, security, safety, quiet; and the reference here is to his calm possession of the throne; to his quietness in his palace, and peace in his kingdom. There is nothing in the text to justify the version in the margin.

27. break off—as a galling yoke (Ge 27:40); sin is a heavy load (Mt 11:28). The Septuagint and Vulgate translate not so well, "redeem," which is made an argument for Rome's doctrine of the expiation of sins by meritorious works. Even translate it so, it can only mean; Repent and show the reality of thy repentance by works of justice and charity (compare Lu 11:41); so God will remit thy punishment. The trouble will be longer before it comes, or shorter when it does come. Compare the cases of Hezekiah, Isa 38:1-5; Nineveh, Jon 3:5-10; Jer 18:7, 8. The change is not in God, but in the sinner who repents. As the king who had provoked God's judgments by sin, so he might avert it by a return to righteousness (compare Ps 41:1, 2; Ac 8:22). Probably, like most Oriental despots, Nebuchadnezzar had oppressed the poor by forcing them to labor in his great public works without adequate remuneration.

if … lengthening of … tranquillity—if haply thy present prosperity shall be prolonged.

Let my counsel be acceptable unto thee: these words Daniel adds out of his good will to the king, if perhaps it might turn away this dreadful stroke from him, and give the king some hopes of mitigation at least, as it was with Nineveh and others.

Break off: the word is well translated break off, for so it properly signifies, and not redeem, as the papists would wrest it, to establish their works of satisfaction and merit; and is no more than this, cease to do evil and learn to do well, change thy course, instead of oppressing the poor show them mercy.

If it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity: Daniel was not certain of pardon for him, nor did he altogether despair of it, as Peter dealt with Simon Magus, Acts 8:22 Joel 2:14,

Who knoweth if he will return and repent? Jonah 3:9 Zephaniah 2:1-3. Though Daniel save not this counsel to elude or nullify the decree of God, which was immutable, yet it might turn to the king’s good many ways, if he followed this counsel.

1. Hereby this judgment was shorter in the time, and easier in the rigour.

2. That he might acknowledge God to be gracious to him in this chastisement. And,

3. That he might become by his reformation more capable of pardon, and prepared for it.

Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to thee,.... Since this is the true interpretation of the dream, and such evils are like to befall thee according to it, permit me, though thou art a king, and I am thy minister or servant, to give thee some advice; and let it be taken in good part, as done with a good design, and a hearty concern for thy welfare:

and break off thy sins by righteousness; this advice carries in it a tacit charge of sins, and a reproof for them; which shows the faithfulness of Daniel: these sins probably, besides pride, intemperance, luxury, and uncleanness, were tyranny, rapine, violence, and oppression of his subjects, to which righteousness is opposed; and by which, that is, by a course and series of righteous living, by administering public justice, and giving to everyone their due, he is advised to break off his sinful course of life; to break off the yoke of his sins upon his neck; to cease from doing evil, and to learn to do well:

and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; to his poor subjects, and especially to the poor captives the Jews, Daniel might chiefly bear upon his mind, whom the king had ill used, shown no compassion to, and had greatly distressed; but is now counselled to relieve their wants, and give generously to them out of the vast treasures he was master of:

if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity; peace or prosperity; perhaps by such a conduct there may be a reprieve for a while, the evil portended and threatened by this dream may be deferred for a time; and though the decree of the most High cannot be altered, yet the execution of it may be protracted, and prosperity be lengthened out. Daniel could not assure the king of this; but as there was a possibility, and even a probability of it, as in the case of Nineveh, and others, whose ruin was threatened, and yet upon repentance was prolonged; it was highly advisable to try the experiment, and make use of such a conduct, in hope of it; and the rather, since the humiliation of princes, and their reformation, though but external, is observed by the Lord, as in the case of Ahab. Aben Ezra, Jacchiades, and Ben Melech, render it, "if it may be an healing of thine error"; that is, the pardon of thy sins, that they may be forgiven thee; see Acts 8:22.

Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and {o} break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a {p} lengthening of thy tranquillity.

(o) Cease from provoking God to anger any longer by your sins, that he may reduce the severity of his punishment, if you show by your upright life that you have true faith and repentance.

(p) Allow the errors of your former life to be made up for.

27. Daniel closes with a piece of practical advice addressed to the king.

break off] R.V. marg. ‘Or, redeem’; LXX., Theod., λύτρωσαι. The word (p‘raḳ,) meaning properly to tear away, is common in Aram. (both Targums and Syriac) in the derived sense of tearing away from servitude, death, or danger, i.e. of redeeming (e.g. Leviticus 25:25, 2 Samuel 4:9); and occurs twice in that sense in Heb. (Lamentations 5:8, Psalm 136:24); but though sins might of course be ‘atoned for,’ or ‘expiated,’ it is doubtful whether they could be spoken of as ‘redeemed’: and hence no doubt the word is used here in its more original sense of break off (cf. in Heb. Genesis 27:40 of a yoke, Exodus 32:23-24), i.e. make a complete end of, cast absolutely away.

by righteousness] i.e. by righteous conduct: cf. Proverbs 5:2, ‘righteousness delivereth from death’; Proverbs 16:6, ‘by kindness and truth iniquity is cancelled.’ ‘Righteousness’ (צדקה) acquired, however, in late (post-Bibl.) Hebrew, as also in Aramaic (Targums, Talmud, Syriac), the special sense of alms or almsgiving: for instance Abhoth, Daniel 4:13 (Taylor 19), ‘those who give ẓedâḳâh (i.e. alms)’; Jerus. Taanith, ii. 65 b, ‘three things neutralize an evil fate, prayer, righteousness (almsgiving), and repentance.’ Cf. Matthew 6:1, where ‘righteousness’ (R.V.) is the true reading, and ‘alms’ (A.V.) the (correct) explanation, which has found its way into the textus receptus. In accordance with this usage, LXX. and Theod. (ἐλεημοσύναις), Pesh., Vulg., express the same sense here; but, in view of the context, the limitation of ‘righteousness’ to such a special virtue cannot be said to be probable[245]. On the contrary, ‘righteousness’ in its widest sense, especially towards subjects and dependents, is in the O.T. one of the primary virtues of a ruler (2 Samuel 8:15; Jeremiah 22:15, &c.), which Nebuchadnezzar, as the ideal despot, is naturally pictured as deficient in.

[245] LXX also render ṣedäḳâh by ‘alms’ in Deuteronomy 6:25; Deuteronomy 24:13; Psalm 24:5; Psalm 33:5; Psalm 103:6; Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 28:17; Isaiah 59:16; Daniel 9:16; and ‘alms delivereth from death’ in Tob 4:10; Tob 12:9, seems based upon Proverbs 10:2, similarly interpreted.

by shewing mercy to the poor] cf. Proverbs 14:21, where the same two words occur in their Hebrew form.

if haply there may be lengthening (Daniel 7:12 Aram.) of thy prosperity] the last word being the subst. corresponding to the adj. rendered at case or prosperous in Daniel 4:4. A.V. marg., and R.V. marg., ‘an healing of thy error’ (so Ewald), implies changes of punctuation in the two substantives: ’arûkhâh, ‘healing,’ Isaiah 58:8 al. (lit. fresh flesh over a wound), for ’arkhâh, and shâlûthâkh, ‘thy error’ (Daniel 3:29, Daniel 6:4) for shelçwethâkh. Theod. (ἴσως ἔσται μακρόθυμος τοῖς παραπτώμασίν σου ὁ θεός), Vulg., Pesh., also, presuppose the same reading of the last word (though their renderings of the first word are inadmissible).

Verse 27. - Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity. The Septuagint Version differs in this case somewhat considerably. It connects itself with the preceding verse, "Entreat him on account of thy sins, and to purify' all thine unrighteousness in almsgiving, in order that he may give thee humility, and many days on the throne of thy kingdom, and that thou be not destroyed." This version is paraphrastic and inferior as a whole to the text of the Massoretes, but at the same time, there must have been a different text to make such a rendering possible. Theodotion is more in accordance with the Massoretic text, but also has resemblances to the Septuagint here, "Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to thee, and atone for thy sins by almsgiving, and for thine unrighteousness by mercies to the poor (πενήτων), perchance (ἵσως) God will be long-suffering to thy transgression." The last clause may be due to reading 'elaha' (אלחא) for 'archu (ארכא), in which case the last clause would read, "God may be for thy tranquillity." In this case Theodotion's rendering is a natural paraphrase. The Peshitta is in agreement with the received text, save that malka, "king," is left out, possibly from its resemblance to milki, "my counsel." The Vulgate rendering is, "Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be pleasing unto thee, redeem thy sins by almsgiving, and thine iniquities by mercies to the poor; perchance he will forgive (ignoscat) thy sins." This follows Theodotion so far in the last clause, but not wholly, It is to be noticed that all the versions translate צִדְקָה (tzid'qah) "almsgiving" - a late meaning, and one not present in the Massoretic here. It can only be forced upon,this passage by giving פְרַק (peraq) a meaning it never has, as Professor Bevan and Keil show it to mean "to break," and as breaking a yoke meant "setting free," it thus meant redeeming a person; but in the sense of paying a ransom for sins, it never is used, even in the Targums. There is, therefore, a wide difference between the moral standpoint of the writer of Daniel and that of his translators - so wide that the writer of Daniel does not see the possibility of his words being twisted to this meaning. In Ecclesiasticus almsgiving is made equivalent to righteousness. The writer of Daniel is on a different moral plane from Ben Sira. But more, Daniel must have been translated into Greek before Ecclesiasticus, as the whole canon was translated when the grandson of Ben Sira had come down to Egypt, and this at the latest was B.C. 135; on the critical hypothesis, not a score of years separate the text of Daniel from the translation. The courteous beginning of Daniel's speech is to be observed; he is anxious to win the king to repentance. Compare the stern, unrelenting demeanour of Elijah to Ahab, and of Elisha to Jehoram. If we compare this with the way the Jews of Talmudic times regard the memory of Titus, the Roman captor of Jerusalem, we see we are in a totally different atmosphere from that in which the Jewish folsarius of any period of Jewish history could have lived. A grand impulsive character like Nebuchadnezzar could not but at once allure and awe the young Jew, but a zealous Jew would have regarded it as derogatory to imagine this of a prophet of the Lord, and so we see the Septuagint translator drops the courteous words with which Daniel introduces his advice. Daniel looked upon the fact that the warning had been given as an evidence that there might be a place for repentance. Daniel 4:27Daniel adds to his interpretation of the dream the warning to the king to break off his sins by righteousness and mercy, so that his tranquillity may be lengthened. Daniel knew nothing of a heathen Fatum, but he knew that the judgments of God were directed against men according to their conduct, and that punishment threatened could only be averted by repentance; cf. Jeremiah 18:7.; Jonah 3:5.; Isaiah 38:1. This way of turning aside the threatened judgment stood open also for Nebuchadnezzar, particularly as the time of the fulfilment of the dream was not fixed, and thus a space was left for repentance. The counsel of Daniel is interpreted by Berth., Hitz., and others, after Theodotion, the Vulgate, and many Church Fathers and Rabbis, as teaching the doctrine of holiness by works held by the later Jews, for they translate it: redeem thy sins by well-doing (Hitz.: buy freedom from thy sins by alms), and thy transgressions by showing mercy to the poor.

(Note: Theodot. translates: καὶ τὰς ἁμαρτίας σου ἐν ἐλεημοσύναις λύτρωσαι καὶ τὰς ἀδικίας σου ἐν οἰκτιρμοῖς πενήτων. The Vulg.: et peccata tua eleemosynis redime et iniquitates tuas misericordiis pauperum. Accordingly, the Catholic Church regards this passage as a locus classicus for the doctrine of the merit of works, against which the Apologia Conf. August. first set forth the right exposition.)

But this translation of the first passage is verbally false; for פּרק does not mean to redeem, to ransom, and צדקה does not mean alms or charity. פּרק means to break off, to break in pieces, hence to separate, to disjoin, to put at a distance; see under Genesis 21:40. And though in the Targg. פרק is used for גּאל, פּדה, to loosen, to unbind, of redeeming, ransoming of the first-born, an inheritance or any other valuable possession, yet this use of the word by no means accords with sins as the object, because sins are not goods which one redeems or ransoms so as to retain them for his own use. חטי פּרק can only mean to throw away sins, to set one's self free from sins. צדקה nowhere in the O.T. means well-doing or alms. This meaning the self-righteous Rabbis first gave to the word in their writings. Daniel recommends the king to practise righteousness as the chief virtue of a ruler in contrast to the unrighteousness of the despots, as Hgstb., Hv., Hofm., and Klief. have justly observed. To this also the second member of the verse corresponds. As the king should practise righteousness toward all his subjects, so should he exercise mercy toward the oppressed, the miserable, the poor. Both of these virtues are frequently named together, e.g., Isaiah 11:4; Psalm 72:4; Isaiah 41:2, as virtues of the Messiah. חטייך is the plur. of חטי, as the parallel עויּתך shows, and the Keri only the later abbreviation or defective suffix-formation, as Daniel 2:4; Daniel 5:10.

The last clause of this verse is altogether misunderstood by Theodotion, who translates it ἴσως ἔσται μακρόθυμος τοῖς παραπτώμασιν σου ὁ Θεός, and by the Vulgate, where it is rendered by forsitan ignoscet delictis tuis, and by many older interpreters, where they expound ארכּא in the sense of ארך אפּים, patience, and derive שׁלותך from שׁלה, to fail, to go astray (cf. Daniel 3:29). ארכּא means continuance, or length of time, as Daniel 7:12; שׁלוא, rest, safety, as the Hebr. שׁלוה, here the peaceful prosperity of life; and הן, neither ecce nor forsitan, si forte, but simply if, as always in the book of Daniel.

Daniel places before the king, as the condition of the continuance of prosperity of life, and thereby implicite of the averting of the threatened punishment, reformation of life, the giving up of injustice and cruelty towards the poor, and the practice of righteousness and mercy.

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