Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. GOD'S GOOD GIFTS ARE DESPISED BY THE CARNAL AMBITION OF MEN. Lands, cities, palaces, extensive provinces, all fail to satisfy the man in whose breast vulgar ambition dwells. The possessor of the great kingdom of Persia did not conduct himself as a man, but as a silly ram. He was supreme master of these things; but since he did not extract advantage or enjoyment from them, he could not be said to possess them. His one thought was how to acquire more. Instead of cherishing a grateful disposition that God had given him so much, and afforded him such fine opportunities for useful service, his dominant passion was to dispossess others of their dominion. Nor did the fact afflict his soul, that in the career of violence, much innocent blood would be shed, men would be diverted from occupations of husbandry, and misery would be widely sown. The palace in which vain Ambition hatches her plots is no better than a pest-house. And the monarch who is prodigal with human blood is no other than a murderer. Like Satan, the destroyer, "he also goeth about seeking whom he may devour."
II. MILITARY CONQUESTS SOW DEEPLY THE SEEDS OF DEADLY REVENGE. The arbiter of war settles nothing. The victor to-day is the vanquished to-morrow. The memories of the conquered people hold, with a deathless tenacity, purposes of revenge; and if the conqueror himself does not live to see his military fortune reversed, his successors feel the blow with accumulated fury. The ram, with his two unequal horns, pushed westward, northward, and southward, and for a moment was accounted great. But ere tong the goat with one strong horn assailed him with uncontrollable rage, smote him to the ground, and trod him underfoot. The arm of muscular strength soon decays. If a monarch has nothing better to depend upon than an arm of flesh, his glory will soon fade. It is surprising how that, generation after generation, monarchs still rely upon human battalions rather than on the living God. So ingrained in their imperial nature is ambitions pride, that they need to be bruised and pulverized in a mortar before the pride can be extracted.
III. THE MILITARY POWER OF A KINGDOM IS EASILY BROKEN. Very significantly is it said respecting this he-goat, that "when he was strong, the great horn was broken." Alexander, surnamed by flatterers "the Great," was to the kingdom of Macedon merely a horn - a weapon of offence. Can there be a more humiliating statement? If God has given to the inferior animals natural horns, they are intended to serve as defensive weapons. If the animal has any native sagacity, it will reserve its horns for fitting occasions of danger; for if it should rush into needless hostilities, its horns may be broken, and in the hour of peril the animal will become a helpless prey. How often does God snap the horn of human power in the hour of boastful triumph! Herod was drinking the sweet potion of profane flattery, when an angel smote him, and he was eaten up of worms. Nebuchadnezzar was feasting on the pride of his great success, when his reason forsook him, and he was degraded to a place among the cattle. Alexander sat down to weep, because there seemed no further scope for his ambition; but God's shaft of disease pierced him, and left him a corpse.
IV. TRANSIENT SUCCESS MAKES MONARCHS INSOLENT AND PROFANE. If God takes away, he also gives. Where the one strong horn had been broken off, four other horns came up instead. The vital energy which could produce this is the direct gift of God. Whoever is meant by this "little horn," he ought to have learnt, as the very first lesson of his life, that he had been raised up by God to replace one who had been removed by death, But instead of learning lessons of humility and pious trust from the patent scenes of human mortality, men, for the most part, become more presumptuous and profane. No outward events permanently impress the soul. Nothing but the mysterious grace of God can soften and purify man's heart. This "little horn" ventures to assail the very stars of heaven. As high as the stars are above the earth - as bright and as useful - so are God's saints compared with earthly and sensual men. Against these this proud ruler arrays his hostile forces - yea against the Prince of heaven. He corrupts the priesthood, defiles God's sanctuary, interrupts the daily sacrifice. This is a sin of sins - a crime of blackest dye. Herein we see what is the natural effect of military conquest upon the victor himself. It hardens the feelings, stupefies the conscience, makes the man a demon, and hurries him along to the brink of self-destruction.
V. PRESENT TRIUMPHS OVER THE RIGHTEOUS ARE DIVINELY PERMITTED, IN' ORDER TO SECURE HIGHER GOOD. Although the leaders among the Jews were vastly superior to the invading hordes of Antiochus - superior in virtue and morality - nevertheless they were far from perfect. A strange intermingling of good and evil - of light and darkness - appeared in their nature. So great was God's regard for his chosen peep]e, that he made adversity to serve as moral medicine. Military disaster may serve as moral triumph. The armies of proud monarchs God used as his instruments of chastisement. The wicked are his hand - his sword. The victorious army usually boasts that, by their own might, they have conquered. They can see no other result or end than their own fame. But God sees other and remoter results. In this case it was not simply because Syria's army was mightier than the Jewish force, that the former triumphed, and made the daily sacrifice to cease. The real cause was that transgression was found in Israel; and if God's remedy was severe, it was not more severe than needful. Israel was smitten before the Canaanites, because a spirit el mercenary selfishness was found in Achan. The cause of righteousness may be arrested, impeded, dishonoured, if some flagrant sin be found in its leaders. The kingdom of righteousness can only be advanced by righteous methods. It is true that God bad promised to shield his people Israel from their foes, but there was a condition, tacit or expressed, viz. that they should honour his commands. An army is defeated; the temple desecrated; access to God interrupted; because transgression was found in Israel. - D.
time should be noted - two years after the last, Belshazzar still living; and the place, viz. Shushan. Daniel seems not to have been there in reality, but only in vision. So Ezekiel from Babylon was "brought in the visions of God to Jerusalem." This vision concerned the overthrow of Persia, and so the prophet was placed at the centre of the empire, whence he might see the desolation coming. This vision develops dramatically:
1. We have symbols. (Vers. 1-12.) Then:
2. Answering voices. (Vers. 13, 14.)
3. Communication from God through Gabriel. (Vers. 15-27.) This may suggest discourse on some modes of coming to the vision of supersensual truth. By -
I. CONTEMPLATING PICTURES IN THE WORLD OF SENSE. Daniel was brought first into contact with symbol - picture of power and action, the ram, the goat; destruction of the ram; certain transformations of the goat. So man's first lesson now comes through the sense-pictures of the world. This depends, as a fact, on the truth that the world is one transparency, through which is ever shining supersensual truth. Behind all phenomena of space and time lie luminous eternal truths. Consider how much we can see in and learn from:
1. Our present home of the material world
2. The life-forms with which it is crowded.
3. Common employment.
4. Social relations. How much of spiritual truth may be seen, e.g., in paternity, the family, civil constitution, law, etc.!
5. Our training through the successive incidents of life.
II. LISTENING TO ANSWERING VOICES. "Then I heard one saint," etc. (ver. 13). Here we pass to a higher realm than that of sense-pictures, into the arena of pure intelligence. An angel-voice addressed Daniel, or was about to address him, when another, interrupting, requested the first angel to afford Daniel definite information on certain points; which he did. We may learn much:
1. From the colloquy of the angels. True, we cannot hear this; but much of angel-discourse is recorded in the book. Think of Stier's 'Words of the Angels.'
2. From the controversies of the Church. Present and past. What have they been but contentions, out of which truth has come with a clearer definition and more resplendent aspect'?
3. From the assaults of unbelief. The indebtedness of the Church to disbelief, misbelief, and non-belief can never be accurately reckoned. Scepticism often has:
(1) Stripped the Church of untenable positions.
(2) Driven her back on deeper foundations.
(3) Corrected the interpretation of supersensual truth.
We may go a step further:
4. From the continuities of infidelities among themselves.
III. DEVOUT ATTENTION TO MAN INFORMED BY GOD. (Ver. 15.) Daniel looking on the vision, behold, the apparition of a man! Gabriel - the man (the vir. not the homo) of God. To Gabriel a voice - not that of the genius of the river Ulai, but of God. Here we have intimated another way in which supersensual truth may be uncovered to man; i.e. by man, but by man informed by God. We use the word "informed" in two senses:
(1) in the grand old sense - the form filled out with spirit and power;
(2) in the more modern sense, of being instructed simply. The name "Gabriel," equivalent to "Vir Dei," suggests that revelation may come:
1. Through manhood. Through man at his highest, noblest, best. Through holiness unfallen, as in the case of Gabriel. Or through holiness restored, as in the case of a man. Through power, virility, genius sanctified.
2. Vitalized by God. Filled with God.
3. Spoken to by God. (Ver. 16.) Note: The Divine voice has a human tone in it. We may take, as examples of this mode of revelation, the case of the text, Gabriel; any real prophet; Christ, the Divine Man; the true preacher of modern times. The first effect of Divine revelation, as with Daniel, may be consternation (ver. 17); but that effect may be relieved and softened by sympathy (ver. 18): "but he touched me." Think of Christ's healing touch. - R.
I. PERSIA. In the symbol we have:
1. Its unity. "A ram."
2. Its duality "Two horns." Media and Persia.
3. Its inequality. One horn the higher; and came up last.
4. The direction of its aggression. (Ver. 4.) Babylon; Lydia; Egypt.
5. Its temporary irresistibility. (Ver. 4.)
6. Complete overthrow. (Ver. 7.) Compare throughout with the bear of ch. 7.
II. GREECE. Here should be opened out:
1. The fitness of the goat as a symbol; e.g. Greece abounded in goats; several municipalities adopted it as a symbol, and struck its image on their coins, etc. See detailed Expositions.
2. Its ubiquity. "On the face of the whole earth."
3. Celerity. "Touched not the ground."
4. The concentration of its genius. "A notable horn." Alexander (ver. 21).
5. Its victory.
(1) The conflict was within the Persian lines. "Close unto the ram."
(2) The attack made with the concentrated wrath of Greece. "Moved with choler." The provocation was the successive Persian invasions.
6. Its subsequent growth.
7. Sudden break-down.
III. GREECE DIVINED.
1. Into four. Greece; Asia Minor; Syria; Egypt.
2. At the zenith of power; i.e. under Alexander (ver. 8).
3. With instant collapse. (Ver. 22.) "Not in his power." - R.
1. The general description. Out of one of the four kingdoms into which Alexander's empire was divided, came forth a new kingdom - at least a new king, with special characteristics, and with special antagonistic relations to the kingdom of God.
2. The notes of time - very remarkable. The date of the rise of Antiochus is given. "In the latter time" of the dominion of the four kingdoms "a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up." These kingdoms were gradually absorbed into the Roman empire, but may be considered to have commenced with the defeat of Perseus at the battle of Pydna, B.C. 168. Another note: "When the transgressions are come to the full." We understand that to be said of the state of thing,s in Judaea. There affairs were in a frightful state. We can imagine the condition when men fought for the high priesthood, and obtained it often by bribery or murder. "The sacred writers often speak of iniquity as being full - of the cup of iniquity as being full - as if there was a certain limit or capacity beyond which it could not be allowed to go. When that arrives, God interferes, and cuts off the guilty by some heavy judgment." Such a state of things existed at Jerusalem, when Antiochus ascended the throne of Syria.
I. HIS CHARACTER was marked by:
1. Shameless audacity. "Of fierce countenance;" i.e. "hardy of countenance" (ver. 23). Destitute of shame. Most conquerors respected the religion of the conquered; this man forced on the Jews his own.
2. Deceitful subtlety. Master of deceitful wiles. "Understanding dark sentences" (ver. 23).
3. Power. But such advantage as he gained against Israel was "not by his own power." By whose .9 By God's. In what sense? The eternal law of righteousness made him its instrument, as against the iniquity of Israel.
4. Practical genius. "He shall practise" (ver. 24); i.e. "he shall do;" i.e. the man was to be no mere dreamer. What he professed he would perform.
5. Destructiveness. (Ver. 24.) The activity should be malicious.
II. HIS ACTION.
1. He practised deceit. (Ver. 25.) "And though... by peace shall destroy many." He would destroy a people resting in an unreal security.
2. He disliked the ecclesiastical rulers in Israel. (Ver. 10.) Read, The horn "waxed great against the host," etc.
3. He acted so that the whole Hebrew commonwealth was at his mercy. (Ver. 12.) Read, "A host was given [him] with the daily sacrifice, by reason of transgression."
4. He abolished the daily sacrifice. (Ver. 11.) Read, "And by him was taken away the perpetual, and was cast down the place of his sanctuary." No doubt the daily sacrifice is principally intended, but there is given to it grandeur by designating it "the perpetual," i.e. the everlasting changeless element in the Hebrew ritual. The undying testimony to the atonement of the Lord (Exodus 29:35-44; Leviticus 6:13). Against the Redeemer's own memorial did Antiochus lift up his hand. That struck down, the sanctuary was desolate. (See terrible description, 1 Macc. 1. Note the heroic fidelity of some, vers. 63, 64.)
5. He struck at the truth. (Ver. 12.)
6. He sets himself against God. "He magnified himself against the Prince of the hosts;" "He stood up against the Prince of princes" (vers. 11, 25).
7. He attained to a certain sort and measure of prosperity. (Ver. 9.) The reference is to Egypt, to what remained of Persia, and to Judaea.
III. THE DOOM. How sublime the prophecy! "He shall be broken without hand." How terrible the fulfilment! He fell by an invisible blow from the King of kings. He died of grief and remorse at Babylon (1 Macc. 1:16; 2 Macc. 9.). - R.
B.C. 165. Reckoning back two thousand three hundred days, we come to August 1, B.C. 171. Up to this latter date the relations between Antiochus and the Jewish people had been peaceful; then began a series of aggressions, which ended only with his death. (For account of the new dedication of the temple, see 1 Macc. 4:36-61.) We suggest a homily on The certainty of the fulfilment of the Divine Word.
I. THE DEFINITENESS OF THE END. Here "the cleansing of the sanctuary."
II.. THE EXACT MEASUREMENT OF ALL INTERMEDIATE SECOND CAUSES. The number, force, combination, duration of their action.
III. CONSEQUENT LIMIT OF TIME. In the Divine mind. Not necessarily revealed to us; though the exact number of the days was so in this case.
IV. OUR MORAL ATTITUDE. Belief in the word. Confidence in the Word-giver. Obedience, active and passive. The entertainment of a great hope. Let the sunshine of the assured future light the present. - R.
I. OBSERVE THEIR HOLY CHARACTER. They are denominated "saints," i.e. "holy ones." Our Lord distinctly styles them by this epithet, "the holy angels." They are capable of sin; have been exposed to temptation; and yet have preserved their original purity. This is their high distinction, their crown of excellence. So far they are models for our imitation.
II. THEIR PREVAILING DISPOSITION. They are not absorbed in thinking ant planning about themselves. The very reverse. Their chief concern is the honour and majesty of God - about the well-being of man. They are represented as inquiring of each other respecting the cessation of symbolic sacrifice, the desolations of God's temple, and the unhappy prospects of mankind. Into the great problems of atonement and redemption "the angels desire to look." So absorbed are their minds in these momentous themes, that all time appears to them but as a season of atonement. "Days" are described as "evening-morning. They are the subjects of hope, even as are men; and they encourage the faith of the godly by announcing the brevity of the disaster. It stirs their joy to anticipate the termination of the transient eclipse, and to see beforehand the brightness of Messiah's reign.
III. THEIR SUBMISSION TO THE GOD-MAN. The Son of God is Lord of angels, as well as Lord of saints. Without doubt this was a pre-incarnate visit of Christ to our earth. Daniel was staggered by the vision, and stood in an attitude of reverent inquiry. He was knocking at the gate of truth, and lo! Incarnate Truth himself stood before him. To his rapt vision there was the appearance of a man." His organ of hearing caught the sounds of a human voice. Yet this voice was not addressed directly to Daniel Gabriel was summoned to intervene as mediator and instructor. Immediately Gabriel undertakes the office, and proceeds to instruct the trembling prophet. The obedience of angels is prompt, hearty, and complete.
IV. THE SUPERIORITY IN KNOWLEDGE OF ANGELS TO MEN. They are said in the Book of Psalms to "excel in strength." We know that they excel in purity; here we learn that they excel also in wisdom and knowledge. Without doubt, they have clearer and larger vision of the kingdom of God, as it extends through the entire universe. As man possesses, through God's goodness, a gift of memory; so it is possible theft the unfallen angels are endowed with a measure of foreknowledge. In this case Gabriel certainly knew the precise import of the vision, end knew the order of events which were about to occur in the Eastern empires. Such prescience may be an assistance to their loyal service; it would be mainly a hindrance in the discharge of human duty. But the case of Daniel was exceptional. So much of humility and patient trust had he that he would not run counter to the revealed will of God. This was a manifest reward of his piety, and was a banquet of peace for his soul. A large accession was made to his knowledge through the friendly interest of Gabriel.
V. THEIR DESIRE THAT MEN, LIKE ANGELS, SHOULD DO ALL THE WILL OF GOD. Having certified to the veracity of the vision and to the certainty of approaching events, Gabriel enjoins Daniel to fulfil his part, viz. to seal up the vision. For the present it must be concealed from the common eye, and be carefully preserved for the future confirmation of human faith. To many men there would be a subtle temptation to publish abroad what they knew touching the march of events. This would serve to swell their self-importance. But Daniel was a wiser man. Fully to obey his God was his first principle in creed and life. To disclose these things prematurely might have injured the existing prospects of the captive Hebrews - might, in some measure, have turned the history of the world into another channel. To wait is at times as plain a duty as to act Patiently to endure is one of the most heroic virtues the world has seen. - D.
I. ON THE BODY. Even the prophets were but men like ourselves. Daniel was utterly prostrated by this overpowering vision. Became ill for a long time. In our present state we can only bear so much.
II. ON THE MIND. "I was astonished at the vision .... Arid there was none who understood it."
1. Fulfilled prophecy is an open book.
2. Unfulfilled, a book only partly open. There should, then, be:
(1) Devout inquiry.
(2) The glad acquisition of some knowledge. But:
(3) No dogmatism.
Even a prophet, who had with his own eyes seen the glory, had to grope along the path of daily duty, with only the common dim and partial light.
III. ON THE LIFE. "I rose up, and did the king's business. These grand disclosures of things heavenly, of things future, of things Divine, to his soul; the high enjoyments of religion; only disposed him to be more faithful in meeting present obligations. There is no proper separation between deepest spirituality and the faithful plodding on the path of duty, which so much becomes us. He who has been favoured with the clearest views of Divine things will be none the less prepared to discharge with faithfulness the duties of this life. He who is permitted and enabled to look into the future will be none the less likely to be diligent, faithful, laborious in meeting the responsibilities of the present moment. If a man could see all that there is in heaven, it would only serve to inspire him with a deeper conviction of his obligations in every relation. If he could see all that there is to come in the vast eternity before him, it would only inspire him with a profounder sense of the consequences which may follow from the discharge of the present duty." - R.