Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Daniel 12:1). Two remarks here seem necessary on the part of the writer of this set of homilies.
1. That, deeply interesting as may be the eleventh chapter considered as prophecy, and so demanding minute historical exposition, there does not seem to be much admitting of strictly homiletical treatment. The impression of others may be different; but that is our view; and we act upon it by advancing to the twelfth chapter.
2. That the homilies immediately following are founded upon the view expressed by Keil, that the closing verses of the eleventh chapter refer to "the end of the present world-period," not to Antiochus Epiphanes, but to the final enemy of the people of God, the antichrist; and further, that the first three verses of the twelfth chapter treat of "the final deliverance of Israel from the last tribulation." In other words, that the prophecies of Daniel close by projecting themselves on into the closing scenes of the history of our world. The first verse declares that the close, of earth's history shall be a time of unparalleled trouble; that the activity of Michael, the guardian angel of Israel, shall then be prominent; that there shall be deliverance for all the true Israel of God, viz. of those whose names are written in "the book. Of that book we treat; but seeking light upon it from the later revelations of God. By the book" we understand the register of the redeemed of the Lord - the heavenly Church book - the roll of the one universal Church.
I. THE BOOK. The language is symbolic. There is in heaven something which may well be represented by a book. Books play no mean part in Scripture symbolism. To understand the passages we must remember that ancient books were, for the most part, written on parchment, rolled on cylinders, and usually the writing was on one side only. In Revelation 5:1 the book is the crowded roll of the providential counsels. A book sealed is one whose contents are secret. To eat a book is spiritually to assimilate its contents (Revelation 10:9, 10; Jeremiah 15:16). A book "folded up stands for law repealed, or teaching of no further use. To receive a book is to enter on new dignity (Revelation 5:7). Christ enters on the functions of mediatorial providential King.
II. THE TITLE. The book of life" (Revelation 21:27).
1. What it is not. Not what is called "the volume of the Divine decrees." Revelation 3:5 settles that.
2. What it is. One of the two to be produced at the last judgment (see Revelation 20:11-13). Look at them separately.
(1) The books of the deeds of men. The judgment of the great day will be "according to the deeds," etc. (2 Corinthians 5:10). But how does this comport with the evangelical doctrine that believers are saved and unbelievers lost (John 3:14-19)?
(a) As to the unbeliever. His deeds are the evidence of unbelief.
(b) The believer.
(α) Deeds, again, are evidence of faith.
(β) Deeds determine place in glory.
(2) The book of life. A book of names only, of the living - spiritually; i.e. of the saved. Alford says, "Those books and the book of life bear independent witness to the fact of men being or not being among the saved; the one by inference from the works recorded, the other by inscription or non-inscription in the list."
3. The origin of the figure. Whence? Various answers, but all suggestive. The carefully kept list of priests? of citizens? of wrestlers in the great Greek agony? the monster roll of soldiers in the Roman army? Believers ought to be all there - priests, etc. Think, then: In the book every believer's name, not in the world's order, but in the order of coming into the Church universal. It is the family register of our Father in heaven. What if we could read it? The names clearly written! No mistake! What disclosures l Names there; names not there! No impeachment of the record. No doubtful name. Are our names there?
III. THE OWNER. "The Lamb's book of life." Why?
1. The book is the register of his property. His "own. Blood-bought. His ransomed, servants, subjects, soldiers, friends, younger brethren.
2. He enters the names. How do we know? None beside has the ability or qualification. The writer must be everywhere, see all, know all. What wise discrimination needed too! tender sympathy! instant delicate recognition of the trust of a soul going out to him!
3. As Guardian, he keeps the book. The book, ever open, lies in the shadow of the protection of Christ's throne (John 10:28).
IV. THE NAMES.
1. The names ever there. Of those who go out no more for ever."
V. Tile BLANK SPACES. There are places for coming names. Millions of names have been filled in; and "yet there is room." The blank space for your name waits your decision. ,Some names never will be there. (John 5:40.) What then? Revelation 20:15: figurative language? Yes. But figure must be less ever than the reality. - R.
I. UNSEEN AND UNOSTENTATIOUS SERVICE IS OFTEN THE MOST EFFECTIVE. It is not probable that Gabriel appeared in visible form in the Persian court. His presence was unknown; his influence on men unobserved. He was content to exert his power over the feelings, dispositions, motives, of men; in this way he could best direct the affairs of nations, and serve the cause of righteousness. We may be content to retire into obscurity; be unseen and unknown, so long as we use talent and influence on the side of God and truth. The forces of life are unseen; they are made; visible only in their effects.
II. WHEN THE SEASON IS OPPORTUNE, THE TRUTH SHALL BE REVEALED. "Now (said Gabriel to Daniel) will I show thee the truth." It is evident that the unsinning angels are not in possession o[all knowledge. They are ever learning. They "learn from the Church the manifold wisdom of God." Into many things" the angels desire to look." In the ratio of their knowledge is the service they render. Now Gabriel is at the Babylonian court, strengthening the purpose of Darius, and now he is at the river Hiddekel, revealing to Daniel the events of the future. For a season it is better for us to remain in ignorance. There are other possessions to be gained beside knowledge. When we have reduced to practice all we know, then we may expect further revelation. A spirit of generous benevolence towards men fills the angels. They delight to relieve our anxieties and to increase our knowledge. We may conclude that they would gladly proclaim the tidings of the gospel to the nations, if God had seen it to be good.
III. MATERIAL RICHES ARE NOT ESSENTIALLY BLESSINGS. The Mugs of Persia, seized with an ambition to subdue the world, extorted from their subjects the largest measure of taxation, and hoarded their revenues year by year, only to carry sword and fire into the continent of Europe. To expend riches in invading other kingdoms, in devastating lands and cities, is a criminal waste of God's treasure. Not for such purposes did God create gold and silver, brass and iron. Fallen man perverts and degrades many of God's possessions. Mental and material gifts are but talents entrusted to our keeping, and a day of reckoning comes on apace, when, as stewards, we must render an account to our Lord. A sad and woeful day will that be to kings and statesmen who have squandered a nation's wealth in war and bloodshed. In the case of Xerxes, great riches were a snare - a trap which involved him and his empire in ruin. Had he been a poor monarch, or only moderately rich, he and his people might have dwelt in safety; his name might have escaped reproach. His wealth fed the appetite of ambition. His ponderous army was a source of weakness. His ostentatious display invited the invasion of the Greeks. Riches are not real strength.
IV. EMPIRE, BUILT ON DESPOTIC POWER, IS EPHEMERAL. A king, however mighty, becomes utter weakness in the presence of disease, age, or death. Either of these forces is mightier than he. God permits, for hidden reasons, unscrupulous men to rise to the very summit of imperial power; but he does not guarantee their continuance; and if he does not uphold their power, it soon wanes and disappears. Nor can man secure that his authority and rank shall descend to his posterity, through the channels of ordinary law and custom. God is above all law, and often disappoints our fondest expectations. Despotic power is not a human virtue. It is a quality of doubtful character, and usually becomes dangerous to the public weal. Rapid as is the rise of some men to fame and power, their fall is usually more rapid still. At the moment of their greatest glory they are on the brink of ruin. When richest ripeness is on the fruit, rottenness is not far distant. Alexander's victorious march was unprecedented; he speedily reached the highest pinnacle of empire; yet the king of terrors struck him down at a blow, and sudden collapse of his vast empire followed. As he had not honoured God, neither did God honour him. Had Alexander been pious and devout, how great a blessing might his power have been to the world! How efficient and useful he might have been in advancing the principles of truth and godliness! But his vast kingdom, not being founded in righteousness, was soon plucked up by the roots. - D.
I. GOD GOVERNS OUR WORLD BY IMPERFECT HUMAN AGENCIES. If men express their astonishment at this, our reply is that it is the best on the whole, and if he did not use imperfect instruments, he must not employ men at all. This allowance of evil men to be monarchs brings to light the evil that is in men; tends to impress the world with the unprofitableness of sin; and prepares the way for the advent of the real King of men. It is best, on the whole, that men should live in communities and nations; best, on the whole, that some should be rulers and some should be subjects; best that God's hand should not appear in the selection of earthly rulers. "His way is in the sea."
II. WAR IS THE MOST PROMINENT FEATURE OF SECULAR HISTORY. Read what chapters in secular history we choose, we find the uniform tale to be ambition, war, disaster, suffering. Man, when left alone by God, becomes his own deadly enemy, and the enemy of the human race. No greater proof can we have of the turpitude and malignancy of sin, than that furnished by the course of human history. Where-ever scope and opportunity have been afforded for the exercise of human inclination, the outcome has been strife and mutual destruction. To rule the world has been the arrogant desire of many, and heedless have they been of the miseries of the human race, so long as one vain man may ride upon the wave of fortune. As a rule, kings have been the curse of our globe. If successful in war, the appetite is whetted for further enterprise; if defeated, the spirit of revenge leaps up, at the first opportunity, to regain its loss.
III. IMPERIAL AMBITION CRUSHES OUT THE BEST AFFECTIONS OF THE HUMAN SOUL. The noblest affection that has survived man's fall is the parental - the love of a father for his children. Yet even this has been persistently trampled on - often trampled out - by the diabolic lust of power. The King of Egypt gives his daughter in marriage to his hereditary foe, not because there was any tie of mutual affection, but solely to promote his ambitious policy. This was nothing less than the sacrifice of his own child to an evil spirit - to the baser lusts of his own depraved nature. On the altar of vain-glory, kings are wont to sacrifice natural affection, domestic peace, the Divine institution of marriage, connubial bliss, the welfare of children, yea, the lives of their own flesh and blood. No blacker biographies can be written than those of successful kings. One bad man has been an active spring of mischief for centuries after his decease. One unworthy king has been a fount of misery and wretchedness for a myriad families of men. If every private individual needs the restraining grace of God, tenfold more does a king.
IV. ISRAEL IS THE CENTRAL OBJECT OF GOD'S REGARD. It is a very unusual thing for God to make known to men what is about to transpire in the world. As a rule, this course would be full of hazard. It would tend to remove human responsibility. By such a plan, God might defeat his own ends. But God designed to show special favour unto Daniel. He generously conceded, in answer to prayer, what otherwise he would have withheld. Daniel was concerned about Israel's welfare. God was concerned about it also. One mind prevailed with God and with his servant; hence it was in accordance with God's plan to make known, in such a case, his will. The revelation which was vouchsafed respected Israel; for Israel's home lay midway between these kings of Egypt and Syria. Daniel was moved, not by a spirit of curiosity to learn what should happen elsewhere, but by a pure regard for his country's weal. As a fact, well-certified in later history, this prophecy, being shown to Alexander the Great at Jerusalem, secured his favour and protection. In every age, Israel - the true Israel - is God's especial care. He that "toucheth Israel, toucheth the apple of his eye." The arms of Jehovah encircle the righteous. Saith he, "i will never leave thee; I will never forsake thee."
V. SACRED PROPHECY AND SECULAR HISTORY CONFIRM EACH OTHER. All that is true in history, though written by the pen of sceptical men, is from God. He is the sole Author of truth. Hence we may not despise human learning, nor throw contempt upon honest researches into past history. Whatever in the world is true will prove, in the end, a confirmation of the ancient oracles. It is impossible that God can, in any way, contradict himself. If, for a moment, there should seem any discrepancy, we may rest in the tranquil assurance that further light will resolve all difficulty, and that apparent discord will only lead to richer harmony. Every item of prophecy in this chapter has found exact fulfilment. If, in some respects, the predictions of the angel seem obscure, they were as clear as it was proper to make them. The measure of obscurity is an additional proof of Divine wisdom; and, read in the light of later events, every unprejudiced mind feels that such pre-announcements of national events could proceed from none other than the living God. If we are forced to believe that a faithful record of history has proceeded from the hands of an intelligent man, we are also compelled to conclude that accurate predictions of distinct events can only result from supernatural agency - a revelation made from heaven. - D.
mere force to prevent it. It is evident that God rules among men by moral agencies. This is one circumstance among the "all things" that "work together for the good" of God's elect.
I. BAD MEN ARE PERMITTED BY GOD TO CLIMB INTO IMPERIAL THRONES. There is a sense in which it is true that "God setteth up one, and putteth down another" Yet it is not true that God acts apart from men, nor is he responsible for any unrighteous act. Without his permission it could not be; but if power should interfere to prevent wrong-doing, this would be to make virtuous by compulsion - this would be to destroy virtue's essential nature. The people of Israel, in Samuel's day, clamoured for a king. God did not approve; yet, in anger, he permitted them to have a king. Nor would it have then availed for God to have furnished Israel with a king" after his own heart." The people would not at that time have tolerated such a prince. Very clear is it that God sets no high value on the highest earthly distinctions. The wealth and dignities and sceptres of earth are not deemed worthy to be rewards for his friends. Riches and sovereignties often fall to the lot of the vilest of mankind - clear proof this how God values such possessions. "That which is highly esteemed anong men is often an abomination in the sight of God." The wise men in God's kingdom will not envy any of fortune's favourites.
II. THE BOLD ARTS OF FRAUD AND DECEIT OFTEN FIND A PASSING SUCCESS. From the hour when Antiochus was liberated from Rome, until the hour of his death, he was studying the shrewdest arts of duplicity and treachery. If men wish to make a lie succeed, they must make it big enough and utter it boldly, and it will travel far and wide. So too any act of wickedness will best succeed if it is carried out with brazen effrontery. No consideration of truth, or duty, or feeling, or self-consistency, was allowed by Antiochus to stand in the way of vile success. To be rightly or wrongly a monarch over a large area - this was his one ambition, and to this evil deity everything was sacrificed. If lying, or reserve, or deceit, or tergiversation, would serve his turn, all were resorted to. No covenant, or treaty, or promise, issuing from him, was worth a groat. He was more a demon than a man; for all manly qualities had been parted with. To the eye of his courtiers and generals it would seem as if this course of life secured success; yet it was a very doubtful success and very ephemeral. Granted that it continued, more or less, through his lifetime; this was merely a period of eleven years. To estimate justly the success of a man's life, we must measure it, not by years, but by centuries - not by the fleeting hour's of time, but by its continuance through eternity. Posterity has long since reversed the judgment of this Syrian king's contemporaries. Scorn and detestation are his inheritance.
III. SUCCESSFUL WICKEDNESS ATTRACTS BAD MEN TO ITS SIDE. The majority of men are more fitted to follow than to lead. If only a bold and self-assertive leader appear, crowds of weaker men will attach themselves to his person; and if only something can be gained, be it earthly spoil or glory, the appetite of avarice will be sharply whetted. The public and faithful testimony of a good man will strengthen the confidence of feebler saints, and make the pulse of piety beat stronger. This has an effect in drawing righteous spirits more closely together, and, as a consequence, increasing their severance from the wicked. So it is also a fact that the public success of a bad man (especially if he be an opponent and persecutor of the Church) will serve to detach hypocrites and self-deceivers from the cause of truth and righteousness. The successful violence and blatant profanity of Antiochus separated the impious Jews from the pious. Then it was discovered that many who observed the sacred rites of Judaism were atheists at heart, and were more eager to share in the spoils of sacrilege than to defend their temple and their God. In days of prosperity and peace, multitudes are content with a superficial faith. But persecution is a sterling test, and well brings out the genuine and the spurious in character.
IV. SUCCESSFUL WICKEDNESS SERVES TO FORTIFY THE COURAGE AND FAITH OF THE RIGHTEOUS. The tyrannic violence of Antiochus drove good men nearer to God; it led them to examine the foundations of their hope; it brought them to the fount of Divine strength; it disposed them to inflame each other's zeal. Though the pious in Jerusalem were a little band, they resisted with heroic fortitude the profane invader; and if they were not at once successful, their devotion to the Jewish cause soon developed sufficient martial skill to defeat and drive out the foe. Out of evil came good. Had it not beer for the violence and sacrilege of Antiochus, the Jews would have borne the yoke of the Syrian monarchs. But now a Jewish hero - Judas Maccabaeus - is brought to the front, who resolves on the bold enterprise of Jewish independence. If vice can he bold and fearless, much more ought virtue to be.
V. ATHEISM AND SUPERSTITION GO HAND-IN-HAND. It is instructive to observe how the mind of this usurping king vacillates on the matter of religion. He who sought to dethrone the true God from his seat in Jerusalem, and to overturn his altars, sought also to enthrone the mythical idol Jupiter, and to erect an altar for this imaginary deity. Man must worship somewhat. His religious faculty cries out for some exercise. If the true God be rejected, some counterfeit god must be invented. Well did the leaders of the French Revolution affirm, "If there be no God, we must make one" But, in truth, Antiochus believed in nothing save himself. The world existed for him. Armies existed for him. Men's lives, or family happiness, or national weal, or religion's temples, were counted as nothing, if seemingly opposed to his advantage. He was simply a monster of egotistic selfishness. He might have said truly, "Syria? it is I! The world? 'tis only for me!" If it seems to serve a passing caprice, a temple is erected for some Roman deity. If money is wanted for war, he will strip every temple of its treasures. The only deity his soul worshipped was force - vulgar power.
VI. WICKEDNESS AND TYRANNY HAVE AT LENGTH TO YIELD TO A DIVINE RULE. Even good men are sometimes impatient to see the progress and the success of villainy. In their anguish they often cry out, "How long? O Lord, how long?" But God does not move, in his administration of the world, with premature haste. "The time is appointed' when iniquity shall cease to be successful, and when complete retribution shall overtake the unrighteous man. A royal tyrant may as well knock his head against a granite wall - and better - than to work against God, or to fling himself on the bosses of the Almighty's shield. In the midst of apparent success, such a man feels ofttimes that fate (as he calls it) is against him. Strangely are his ends defeated, as were Napoleon's by a snowstorm. The mightiest warrior is working, with his blustering noise, within a very tiny circle; and all imperial and martial events are embraced within the supreme purpose and administration of God. Let appearances be as they may, "God has prepared his throne in the heavens;" "His kingdom ruleth over all." At last, reward and retribution shall be distributed by royal and impartial hands. Every one shall "receive the due reward of his deeds." God's end may be far off, humanly speaking, yet it shall "surely come." Though it tarry, childlike faith will wait for it. - D.