It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom;…
As every climate and every condition of soil are favourable to the propagation of particular weeds, so every state of society offers facility for the growth of some sins. Prosperity has its dangers as well as adversity. If the refinements of civilization make grosser vices intolerable, the greater encouragement is given for the secret sins of envy, deceit, and uncharitableness. It is never safe for the conscience to fall asleep.
I. ENVY CAN EXIST IN THE BEST-ORDERED COMMUNITY. Whatever may have been the faults of Darius, he had a remarkable faculty for wise government. The difficult task of ruling a large empire was distributed among suitable orders of men. He was not only successful in war, but also skilful in council. Unlike many Oriental monarchs, he was neither an autocrat nor a tyrant. He did not suppose that all wisdom resided in himself, nor did he imagine that intelligent beings could be ruled by sheer will. Therefore he laid the basis for constitutional government, and appointed a prince in every province of the empire, whose business it would be to maintain the royal authority, and to secure to all subjects rights of freedom and property. But no human government, however wise or good, can check the growth of immoral principles. Human authority, at the most, can deal with overt crimes; it cannot check or punish the iniquities in the human heart. There is need for higher authority - for a heart-searching God - to control the tempers and passions of the soul.
II. ENVY IS EXCITED BY THE SIGHT OF SUPERIOR GOODNESS IN OTHERS, It is a strange phenomenon that virtue in one should be the occasion of vice in others. Yet virtue is not responsible for this result. Eminent goodness either allures or repels men. Virtue may be the innocent occasion of wickedness: it is not its originating cause. The warmer the sun shines on our gardens, the faster grow the weeds on the dunghill. Yet the sun is not to be blamed. The peerless purity of Jesus Christ exasperated men to commit the foulest offence that our earth has ever witnessed. As a rule, it is not the virtue itself that is envied, but the advantages and rewards which virtue secures. Men, for the most part, wish to gain the fruits of virtue rather than the virtue itself; and if they cannot, with facility, rise to the elevation of their rival, they seek to bring him down to their level or else destroy him altogether. Because Daniel was preferred by the king on account of his probity and prudence, the evil nature in his competitors developed in the direction of bitter envy.
III. ENVY IS LABORIOUS IN THE SEARCH AFTER OTHERS' SINS. The base and contemptible nature of envy is seen in its occupations. It is not conducive to the health of men's minds to be perpetually engaged in the study of disease. There may be compensations and alleviations to be obtained from other sources. But the pursuit itself is injurious. Much more injurious to the soul is it to be on the search for diseases of the soul, and to find a satisfaction in the supposed faults of our fellow-men. In the case of Daniel, this search served only to bring more clearly into view Daniel's exceptional virtue. Not even the sharp lynx-eye of ambitious envy could find a blemish on his reputation. His unworthy detractors were at length compelled to acknowledge his private and his public virtues; so they confessed to each other, "We shall find no occasion of blame against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the Law of his God."
IV. ENVY SEEKS TO GAIN ITS END BY THE MOST DISCREDITABLE METHODS. It matters little to Envy whether she speaks the language of truth or of falsehood; whether she employs just or unjust measures. These jealous rivals of Daniel went to the king with a lie in their mouths when they said that "all the presidents" and princes had united in asking this decree. How sedulously busy is Envy in her intrigue! She counts no toil inordinate! She had paced up and down the land, whispered in the ear of every state official, and secured their adhesion to this deadly plot. Seeming success makes her bold. She will involve the king himself in her murderous scheme. A crafty use of flattery will win his powerful patronage. The intrigue shall be masked under the pretence of excessive loyalty. For thirty days the king shall be the sole dispenser of bounty to the people. His ear shall be open to every complaint. This will gain him wide popularity; this will bring pious Daniel within the meshes of contumacy. These professed believers in other gods will neglect their deities for a whole month in order to encompass the murder of the best and noblest man in the empire.
V. ENVY IS NOTHING BETTER THAN INCIPIENT MURDER. No tender or humane feeling can dwell in the same breast as Envy. She will gradually banish every virtuous occupant, and introduce instead the basest crew. Hide her final intention as she may, she must at length confess that murder is the final act in her programme. These jealous colleagues of Daniel would probably have been for the moment satisfied, if only they could have deposed Daniel from his just eminence, or if they could have seriously injured his reputation with the king. But since these ends were compassed with insuperable difficulty, they determine to aim higher still, and because this end seemed within easier reach, they make a thrust at his life. It is a perilous thing to harbour an evil principle in any corner of the heart. Like a tiny leak in a mill-dam, it will steadily increase: the trickling stream will carve for itself a larger and a larger channel, until every barrier at last gives way, and devastation on a large scale is the result. "Keep thine heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life." Envy, when developed to maturity, becomes red-handed murder. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom;