In the first year of the reign of Belshazzar over Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he lay on his bed. He wrote down the dream, and this is the summary of his account.
Four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another (ver. 3). We remark the transition
here from history to prophecy; the date
, the first year of Belshazzar, that is, before the fall of the first of the world-powers about to be described; the form
, a dream, - before this Daniel had interpreted others' dreams, he now dreams himself; the fact that it was at once committed to writing
not set down after fulfilment; and that the prophecy is only an outline
, so that we must not expect too much detail. All this in ver. 1. The nature of the prophecy rebukes dogmatism. It may be well to call attention here to the fact that all these expositions and homilies are written independently of each other; there may be, then, possibly some diversity of critical judgment; this, however, will be no disadvantage to the student. For our own homiletic purpose we treat this chapter under three sections - in the first, we have a vision of brute rule; in the second, of Divine sovereignty; in the third, of a great rebellion.
I. ITS CONDITION. "The great sea" is distinguished from all inland seas. The ocean. The image of our troubled world (Isaiah 17:12-14; Revelation 21:1). Out of the commotion and confusion of troubled peoples the four forms of brute rule arose.
II. ITS CAUSE. "The four winds of heaven strove upon the great sea." As the wind plays on ocean, so do supernatural powers (in this case evil) lash into fury the passions of a troubled world; and out of revolutionary confusion emerges oft mute despotism.
III. ITS GENERIC NATURE. "Four beasts." Four great empires. Same as described in ch. 2. Why the different form? That vision gave the external glory; this the inmost nature. They had life in them, but it was a life less than human. Man sinks below the human when the πνεῦμα is no longer animated by the Spirit of God. As with man individually, so collectively, so with nations, governments. Government is of God, but may lose the Divine in it, and so become brutal. A boast may inspire terror; but its look is not heavenward, but earthward; hears no Divine voice; has no conscious relations with God. "Four beasts," but "diverse." All brutal.
IV. SPECIFIC FORMS.
1. The lion-form. The Babylonian empire. Dominant, like the king of the forest; swift and reaching far, like the eagle. Then came deteriorations. The deteriorations developed slowly. "I continued looking" is the sense. Swift energy was crippled. Not even with the speed of a lion walking did the empire advance; but painfully, slowly, as a beast marching on hind legs alone. Then instead of the lion-heart at the centre of government, the timid heart of a man. Here we have the glory of Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon, its gradual decay under his successors, until it fell before one mightier than itself. So do governments without God go down.
2. The bear-form. The Persian empire. Less noble than the lion; fierce, heavy, slow. Of these characteristics, the most striking illustration would be the cumbrousness and slow advance of the Persian armies; e.g. the invasion of Greece by Xerxes (see the histories). Note the accessories of the symbol. Raising itself on one side, and perhaps striking out with its right forearm. This indicates the combination of Mode with Persian - the latter the stronger and more aggressive. The three ribs devoured stand for Lydia, Babylon, Egypt, subdued. "Devour much flesh" suggests the awful waste of life incident to Persian progress. How many of the two millions returned from Greece?
3. The leopard-form. The Greek empire, specially under Alexander. Characteristics: insatiable appetite for blood, swiftness, subtlety. "Four wings." "Four heads." The Greek dominion essentially one, but with four centres. Trace the analogy. Alexander's determination to conquer the world. Swift movement, equalled only by Napoleon I. The subtlety of his genius. The division of his empire into four.
4. The nameless form. The Roman empire. So terrible is this power, that no one creature can represent it, nor the combined attributes of many. The eminence and importance of this empire are apparent from:
(a) Its prominence in this chapter.
(b) Daniel's anxiety to "know the truth of the fourth beast."
(c) Its collision with the Divine kingdom.
(d) Its successive historical aspects.
(1) Its first aspect. (See ver. 7.) All this exhibits the utterly destructive energy of Rome. What it did not devour, it destroyed for destruction's sake. A contrast with the other powers. They ravaged, subdued, extorted tribute; "but their connection with the states which they subdued was loose and disjointed." Rome conquered all, kept all, assimilated all
(2) Two developments.
(a) "Ten horns. Horn is the symbol of power. The ten were on the head from the beginning, to manifest the unity of the Roman empire plus the European nations. Their development, however, was not at once.
(b) The one. Small at the beginning. Displaces a third (nearly) of existing powers. A development of the Roman domination. Eyes" for a certain intelligence. Pride and blasphemy out of its "mouth"? What can this be but the papacy?
V. ITS JUDGMENT AND OVERTHROW. Not for ever and for ever shall the brutal reign. How sublime the contrast ushered in by ver. 9! Below, the ocean, lashed by powers of evil; out of it the brutal, its last developments the worst. Now heaven opens. Thrones were set (not "cast down"). A central throne. On it the Eternal The throne the source of all splendour, the fount of energy (Revelation 4:5). Judgment proceeding. Not the last judgment. But the continuous judgment of men and nations. The Roman empire, and all that came of it doomed - annihilated. The other empires long gone, though for a while they lingered. Learn:
1. The eternal supremacy of God.
2. The righteousness of his judgments.
3. The certain doom of all that is alienated from his own Divine life.
Individuals and nations are human and. humane only as they live in him. The reign of the brutal in any form cannot be eternal. Animalism in all its ugly, cruel, sensual forms, must go down; for God in Christ "must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet." - R.
Therefore King Darius reigned the Writing and the Decree.
The Jews passed into the hands of the conqueror of Babylon, and became the subjects of the great Cyrus, whose viceroy at Babylon is called in the Bible by the common name of Darius. The Persians were not idolaters. They believed in two principles the good and the evil, and they held that the former of these principles was visibly incarnate in the person of their kings. Hence arose the unalterableness of the royal edicts of the Medes and Persians. They could not be changed without reflecting on the sacred character of the king. This pretension enables us to understand the strange decree about prayer. It was promulgated in order that Darius might obtain from his new subjects in Babylon recognition of himself as the supreme personage, the representative of the supreme God. It was to wring from the conquered, idolatrous Babylonians an acknowledgment of the conqueror's Divinity. Observe that it was a negative, not a positive, decree. They were not commanded by it to worship any other god, they were not even required by it to pay any divine honour to the king. Persecution was not attempted; open apostasy was not required. Why, we may ask, should Daniel have fallen into a trap it was so easy to avoid? He need not drop one petition out of his daily prayers. He need not, by word or gesture, pay blasphemous honour to the new sovereign. Why should he obtrude his disobedience? There is something unspeakably sublime in the line taken by that Hebrew courtier, Daniel. No fanatic, no headlong zealot, but the wisest and most diplomatic of statesmen, and the farthest sighted of men, calmly continued his religious habits precisely as afore-time. Compare the Apostles before the Sanhedrin saying "We ought to obey God rather than men." There was no balancing of consequences, no thought of compromise. Most of us have some idea of what truth is, of the rights and claims of truth, and, above all, of the deepest truth given to us to know that which is the hope of our own spiritual life. We have an idea that we are ourselves in possession of some truth — that we know something which is important, sacred, sublime; something which others in the world do not know relating to this subject, — but which of us will dare to say that he has a deep hold, and a passionate love of truth, such as inspired these men to resist for the sake of it, and to strive against falsehood and sin? These are days of loose beliefs and hazy views, days when it is fashionable to be an honorary member of all creeds. To one who is infected with the indifferentism of such a time, the stand made by the heroes of the Book of Daniel must seem little better than fanatical folly, and sheer waste of life. So must all martyrdom appear to the man who is a spectator and not a disciple, who has never understood the claims or felt the value of the truth he professes to hold. Babylon has fallen, but it has had its counterpart in every age, for it is the type of that world, with its still subtler pomps and vanities, in which you and I have to pass through our probation; go where we will we cannot escape from it. It sets up its idols and demands worship for them; it has issued its imperious edicts, and attaches formidable penalties to the defiance of them. This will ever be the secret of moral victory — the victory which will overcome the world, even unto the end — our faith
. The true self cannot be touched with the mightiest of persecutors or the cruellest of inquisitors, — the true self which comes from God, and belongs to God, and witnesses for God, cannot be delivered to the tormentors. It defies captivity; it is indestructible and immortal.
We find that Darius — who was probably one of the high military commanders engaged in the siege of Babylon — takes the kingdom, while Cyrus is off conquering other parts of the world. As soon as he attains the throne he makes his arrangements for governing the country. He divides the kingdom into one hundred and twenty provinces; and he appoints a prince or ruler over each province; and over the princes he puts three presidents to see that these rulers do no damage to the king, and do not swindle the government. And over these three he places Daniel, as president of the presidents. Very possibly Darius knew the man. He may have been in former days at the court of Nebuchadnezzar; and if so, he probably considered Daniel an able and conscientious statesman. We do not know how long he held that position. But sooner or late the other presidents and the princes grew jealous, and wanted Daniel out of the way. It was as if they had said, "Let us see if we cannot get this sanctimonious Hebrew removed: he has 'bossed' us long enough." You see he was so impracticable: they could do nothing with him. There were plenty of collectors and treasurers; but he kept such a close eye on them that they only made their salaries. There was no chance of plundering the government while he was at the head. "If we had matters in our own hands it would be different; for King Darius does not know half as much about the affairs of this empire as does this old Hebrew: and he watches our accounts so closely that we can get no advantage over the government. Down with this pious Jew!" Perhaps they worked matters so as to get an investigating committee, hoping to catch him in his accounts. But it was no use. Now I want to call your attention to the fact that one of the highest eulogies ever paid to a man on earth was pronounced upon Daniel at this time by his enemies. These men were connected with the various parts of the kingdom, and on laying their heads together they came to this conclusion — that they could "find no occasion against this Daniel, except they found it against him concerning the law o his God." What a testimony from his bitterest enemies! Would that it could be said of all of us! Young man, character is worth more than money. Character is worth more than anything else in the wide world. I would rather have such a testimony as that borne of Daniel than have all that this world can give. The men said, "We will get him out of the way. We will get the king to sign a decree; and we will propose a penalty. It shall not be the fiery furnace this time. We will have a lions' den — a den of angry lions; and they will soon make away with him." Probably these plotters met at night, for it generally happens that if men want to do any downright mean business they meet at night; darkness suits them best. The chief-president himself was not there: he had not been invited to meet them. Very likely some lawyer, who understood All about the laws of the Medes and Persians, stood up, and talked something after this fashion: "Gentlemen, I have got, I think, a plan that will work well, by which we may get rid of this old Hebrew. You know he will not serve any but the God of Abraham and of Isaac." We know that very well. And if a man had gone to Babylon in those days he would not have had to ask if Daniel loved the God of the Bible. I pity any man who lives so that people have to ask, "Is he a Christian?" Let us so live that no one need ask that question about us. And these plotters said one to another, "Now, let us get Darius to sign a decree that if any man make a request of any God or man — except of the King Darius — for thirty days, he shall be put into the lions' den. And let us all keep perfectly still about this matter so that it won't get out. We must not tell our wives, for fear the news may get about the city. The king would never sign the decree if he found out what the object was." Then they may have said, "We must draw it so tight that Darius will not be able to get out of it after he has once signed. We must make it so binding that if the king once signs we shall have that Daniel in the lions' den: and we will take good care that the lions shall be hungry." When the mine is all ready, the conspirators come to the king, and open their business with flattering speech: "King Darius, live for ever!" When people approach me with smooth and oily words, I know they have something else coming — I know they have some purpose in telling me I am a good man. These plotters, perhaps, go on to tell the king how prosperous the realm is, and how much the people think of him. And then, perhaps, in the most plausible way, they tell him that if he signs this decree he will be remembered by their children's children — that it would be a memorial for ever of his greatness and goodness. "What is this decree that you wish me to sign?" And running his eye over the document he says "I don't see any objection to that." "Will you put your signet to it, and make it law?" He puts his signature to the decree, and seals it with his seal There was probably a long preamble, telling him how popular he was; saying that he was liked better than Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzar. They most likely tickled his vanity, and told him that he was the most popular man that had ever reigned in Babylon; and then they may have gone on to tell him how attached they were to him and his rule, and that they had been consulting together what they could do to increase his popularity and make him more beloved; and now they had hit upon a plan that was almost sure to do it. If you touch a man's vanity he will do almost anything; and Darius was like most of the human race. They touched his vanity by intimating that this would make him great. It was not only Daniel they were thus going to get out of the way, but every conscientious Jew. There was not a true Jew in the whole of that wide empire who would bow down and worship Darius; and these men knew that: and so they were going to sweep away at a stroke all the Jews who were true to their faith. They hated them. And I want to tell you that the world does not love Christians nowadays. The world will persecute a man if he attempts to live the life of a true Christian. The world is no friend to true grace: mark that! A man may live for the world, and like the world, and escape persecution. But if the world has nothing to say against you, it is a pretty sure sign that God has not much to say for you; because if you do seek to live unto Christ Jesus you must go against the current of the world. And now they are ready to let the news go forth; and it is not long before it spreads through the highways of Babylon. The men of the city knew the man: knew that he would not vacillate. Daniel was none of your sickly Christians of the nineteenth century; he was none of your weak-backed, none of your weak-kneed Christians; he had moral stamina and courage. I can imagine that aged white-haired Secretary of State sitting at his table going over the accounts of some of these rulers of provinces. Some of the timid, frightened Hebrews come to him, and say: "Oh, Daniel, have you heard the latest news ?" "No. What is it ?" "What! have you not been to the king's palace this morning?" "No! I have not been to the palace to-day. What is the matter?" "Well, there is a conspiracy against you. A lot of those princes have induced King Darius to sign a decree that if any man shall call upon any God in his kingdom within thirty days he shall be thrown to the lions. Their object is to have you cast into the den. Well now, just you get out of Babylon. Or, if you stay in Babylon, do not let anyone catch you on your knees. And if you will pray, close that window, draw a curtain over it; shut the door, and stop up every crevice. People are sure to be about your house listening." And some of our nineteenth century Christians would have advised after the same fashion: — "Cannot you find out some important business to be done down in Egypt, and so take a journey to Memphis? or can you not think of something that needs being looked after in Syria, and so hurry off to Damascus? Or, surely you can make out there is a need for your going to Assyria, and you can make a stay at Nineveh. Or why not get as far as Jerusalem, and see what changes fifty or sixty years have wrought? Any way, just be out of Babylon for the next thirty days, so that your enemies may not catch you: for, depend upon it, they will all be on the watch. And, whatever you do, be sure they do not catch you on your knees." How many men there are who are ashamed to be caught upon their knees! Men have not the moral courage to be seen praying. Ah, the fact is — we are a pack of cowards: that is what we are. Shame on the Christianity of the nineteenth century! it is a weak and sickly thing. Would to God that we had a host of men like Daniel living to-day! I can picture that aged man, with his grey hairs upon him, listening to the words of these "miserable counsellors," who would tempt him to "trim," and "hedge," and shift — "to save his skin," as men say, at the cost of his conscience. And their counsel falls flat and dead. I can fancy how Daniel would receive a suggestion that he should even seemingly be ashamed of the God of his fathers. "They will be watching you; they will have their spies all around. But if you are determined to go on praying, shut up your window; close all your curtains stop up the keyhole, so that no one can look through to see you on your knees, and so that no one can overhear a single word. Accommodate yourself just a little. Compromise just a little." That is just the cry of the world to-day! It is, "Accommodate yourself to the times. Compromise just a little here; and deviate just a little there, just to suit the opinions and views of a mocking world. True as steel, that old man goes to his room three times a day. Mark you, he had time to pray. There is many a business man to-day who will tell you he has no time to pray. "If you have so much business to attend to that you have no time to pray, depend upon it you have more business on hand than God ever intended you should have." But look at this man. He had the whole, or nearly the whole, of the King's business to attend to. Yes, he could take up the words of the fifty-fifth Psalm, and say:
"As for me, I will call upon God;
And the Lord shall save me.
Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray and cry aloud;
And he shall hear my voice."So Daniel went to his room three times a day: he trod that path so often that the grass could not grow upon it." He goes to pray as aforetime; and he has his windows open. Like Paul, in later days, he "knew whom he had believed"; like Moses, he "saw Him who is invisible." He knew whom he worshipped. There was no need to trace back the church records for years to find out whether this man had ever made a profession of religion. See him as he falls upon his knees. He is not careful to inquire whether there are any outsiders, or whether they can hear. There are men listening there near the open window: the hundred and twenty princes have taken good care of that.
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