Studies on Daniel 1-2

Daniel 1-2
The book of Daniel has reference to the time during which Israel, the people of God, are under subjection to the Gentiles. At its opening we discover an accomplishment of the threat made to Hezekiah; Isa. 39:6, 76Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. 7And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. (Isaiah 39:6‑7). The throne of God has been taken from Jerusalem; the power and the kingdom have been transferred to the Gentiles; and Israel, as to its actual state (being no longer, by the judgment of God, His people) is kept in captivity. But God does not abandon them: only He administers His blessings according to their actual necessity. The things most needful for them to know, under their existing trials, were the history of this dominion of the Gentiles, to which they were subjected, and also the effect of these changes upon the promises which belonged to them. And as the glory of God was to be considered in this great transference of power, it was important to know how the Gentiles would use it, or what their conduct would be, whether towards God or themselves (the Jews), under this responsibility conferred on them.
The book, then, embraces two principal subjects: Firstly, the character and conduct of the four monarchies, which occupy the period called " the times of the Gentiles " (Luke 21:2424And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. (Luke 21:24)), namely, from the time that God had retired from Jerusalem (His throne being no longer there), and had transferred imperial power over the world to the Gentiles, until the time of the re-establishment of His throne.
And, secondly, the relationship of these nations with Israel His people, during the period in which the supremacy that had been confided to them was in exercise. And all this is of practical importance. For the Christian is informed of the result of the politics of this world, and, being " warned of things not seen as yet," he separates himself, whether in heart or in action, from all that of which the result will be so sad. Besides, an acquaintance beforehand with all that is to take place keeps him tranquil and composed. There is no need that he should give his heart to the world which surrounds him, for he knows by the written revelation of God both its course and its end. But further, such prophetic intimation is precious to us, not alone because it refers to Christ, and to the people beloved of God, but also because, in every communication which God makes to us, there is a sensible joy in the very fact that He speaks to us. Are not our souls happy in communion with Him? Now this is the case in the prophecies, as in every other part of the word; we feel our nearness to Him and His goodness to us. Thus our faith in Him is strengthened, and the sanctification of our souls increased and established.
This book accordingly is divided into two parts, sufficiently distinct, according to the two great subjects which it contains: six chapters occupy the first, and six others the second part. The first six contain, not the communications made to Daniel, except to interpret them, but the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, or the things which befell the heads of the empire. We have the great general principles of the Gentile monarchies given to us, or their public history in the world announced to their rulers or manifested in their conduct. The last six chapters are communications made to the prophet himself, and reveal not only the history of these empires, but what they are in the eyes of God; they also furnish details of their (the Gentiles') relationship with the Jews, and of the worship still maintained by the Jewish people. This last was important to Daniel, who, as a prophet, had the people and glory of God at heart, as well as the general history of these empires.
It is instructive to mark the character of the man who became the depositary of the intentions of God in this time of distress and captivity of His people. First, he refuses to defile his soul in partaking of the delicate food of this world. God, who prepares and orders everything for the well-being of those who walk faithfully, in whatever circumstances they are placed, disposed the heart of the chief of the eunuchs in favor of Daniel and his three companions: this eunuch, under whose charge they were, conceived a great regard for them. Moreover, God answers the prayers of Daniel, who " became fairer and fatter in flesh," than any of those who had given themselves over to the ways and nourishment of this world. In a word, Daniel is faithful in all that constitutes a complete separation from the world, according to the Jewish rites, in refusing to eat of meats from the table of a pagan monarch; and this conduct of faith, which was in appearance blamable, meets the approval of God. The personal behavior of Daniel is the basis of and introduction to the revelation of the whole book. It is the same with us. Separation from the world- a decided refusal to have our portion in that which it furnishes- puts us into a position to receive those communications from God, which, whilst their fullness is contained in the written word, we never receive but through the direct teaching of God (that is, for it to be the teaching of faith), whatever be the instrument which God may make use of to impart such communications to us.
God soon finds an occasion in which Daniel is to serve Him as a witness, after having, through His grace, disposed him for the undertaking. He often acts by ways which leave the world completely at fault. He permits Nebuchadnezzar’s memory to fail him, in order to force him into dependence upon the prophet whom God had chosen to show forth His divine wisdom.
Notwithstanding, at the actual moment, Daniel knew no more than others how to resolve the difficulty. God made him feel his dependence; but he had faith, and faith and dependence are identified. At the instance of Daniel, he and his companions seek the God of heaven in prayer; God answers them, making use of all the difficulties of the case to identify Himself with the poor remnant of His people.
Hereupon Daniel's first act is, not to hasten to the king to inform him of the discovery of the secret, and to rejoice in the deliverance, but he turns with thanksgiving to the God who had heard him. He attributes to Him all that could give comfort to the remnant during the supremacy of these ungodly and rebellious Gentile powers (chap. 2: 21).
Daniel, when introduced into the presence of the king, is not elated; he conceals himself, so to speak, behind the glory of God. It is when we understand how to humble ourselves thoroughly, that we are truly exalted. If Daniel disappears, God Himself is manifested in him. Oh that we might have wisdom and spiritual power to hide ourselves thus behind Jesus, in order that He might be put into the foreground! Every such act is a great and precious triumph.
As to the interpretation of the dream, a few words will suffice, as the light upon this is almost universal. All acknowledge the dream to speak of the four great monarchies, viz., the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman. In verses 37, 38 dominion is given to Nebuchadnezzar by the God of heaven- a universal dominion-absolute in its character over the earth, though not over the seas. There is no information given how far this dominion has been realized, but the gift was bestowed; and it is the first monarchy which, it appears, possessed this power in the most pure and absolute way. It was in the person of its chief " the head of gold." The fourth was to break everything in pieces by its power; but at the end it was to be divided, and in this condition it was to be both strong and weak; a result of the union of the empire and of the original principle of its existence with heterogeneous elements (that is, in my judgment, of barbarians with that which was, properly speaking, Roman).
At the end, the God of heaven, will establish the kingdom of Christ, who will put aside all these monarchies by an act of judgment. We must bear in mind that the kingdom of Christ in this place is His kingdom established in power in the world, and not the blessed influence of the gospel of His grace. The first act of the little stone, before it grows and becomes a great mountain which fills the whole earth, is to fall upon the statue, so that it becomes as the chaff of the summer threshing floor. The stone does not become a mountain until after that. In other words, when Christ shall have executed a judgment which shall break in pieces and destroy the power of the Gentiles, then His kingdom (an earthly kingdom, and one still of judgment) shall fill the earth.
In chapter 2 the moral history of these monarchies is not touched upon nor their conduct signalized. These will have their place in the four following chapters. I shall only here point out the marks which are given to us as characterizing them, as we shall return to them in another lecture.
The first is idolatry, or the civil power endeavoring to make the people submit to a law of unity in worship, the object being a statue set up by the civil power. The second is that the heads of the empire become beasts. That is, they lose the consciousness of being set in relationship with God; and, instead of being in dependence upon Him according to the light given from above, which is the only and true glory of man, they, having lost this light, descend to the rank of beasts. The third is impiety, seen in the conduct of the imperial power towards the Jews, and the God of the Jews, whose name, and all that had reference to His worship, it dishonors. The fourth is self-exaltation. The head of the empire makes himself God, and forbids prayer to be addressed to any other than himself.
In all these events the history ends by the exaltation of the true God. In the first, the Gentile acknowledges the God of those who had preferred the fiery furnace to idolatry. In the second, it is the Gentiles themselves who confess the God of heaven, who humbled them when they walked in pride-a pride of which Babylon was the center. In the third, it is judgment executed against the " wicked king." In the fourth, it is not alone the God of heaven who is proclaimed, but His power is established with authority, and His kingdom is acknowledged as that which shall endure forever.