Studies on Daniel 3-6

Daniel 3-6
You will remember that chapter 2 gave a general history of the period taken up by the whole of Daniel. This was revealed in a dream which Daniel recalled to Nebuchadnezzar, and of which he gave the interpretation. It is the history of the times of the Gentiles. The four monarchies are brought before us, and their final dispersion, by the judgment which the little stone (the kingdom of Christ-Christ Himself) will execute against the whole power of the Gentiles.
I would press again upon your attention that, after having destroyed the image, and not until then, the little stone became a great mountain, which filled the whole earth. We stated that the four following chapters (that is, to the end of chapter 6) gave the character and conduct of these empires; and that, instead of existing in dependence upon God, they are found in rebellion against Him, persecute His people, and exalt themselves against Him. The consequence is judgment.
In chapter 3 we observe the first and principal sin, namely, idolatry, as marking Gentile power, or the power which reigns during the times of the Gentiles. In the succeeding chapter, we observe that these empires, instead of being subject to God, become beasts, that is, they lose their proper understanding, and act as beasts-as wild beasts, who cease to be in subjection (all men, in their true place, acknowledging their subjection to God), and who lose their understanding. In chapter 5 there is open impiety; and in chapter 6 the head of the empire exalts himself as God. Then follow details and circumstances of these empires, and their special relationship with the people of God.
The principles are given us in the first six chapters, and the details in the remaining six. The first thing which the civil power sets up is idolatry, with the object of establishing a religious unity, but always in separating the people from the true God, and in putting something in His place. This circumstance serves as an occasion for trying the faithfulness of God's people and the manner of it. Nebuchadnezzar commands the people, yea, even all the nations (for there were many under his dominion) to worship a statue. This is idolatry. (Consult Dan. 3:4-74Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, 5That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: 6And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. 7Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. (Daniel 3:4‑7) for the words of the proclamation.) This is not an unusual way with Satan; he excites in the civil power the desire of unity; and there is no more powerful motive for the mass than the influence of religion. Satan impels the civil powers to establish unity, in order that everything under their authority should be well ordered and regulated. It was thus with Nebuchadnezzar: he sets up this image in the province of Babylon, and demands the assent of all the governors to its reception and worship.
I repeat, that such a religious act is a powerful means of influencing the mass, and of holding them in submission, united in one community, and bound to the civil power, which is the center of such religion, or at all events supports it, and is identified with it. But whenever this is the case, there must be persecution-it may be more or less violent-but persecution there will be. We see it in the present case. Nebuchadnezzar's alternative is, " Whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace."
But there is yet another important consequence as characteristic of Gentile power; I mean impiety. Impiety not only refuses to respect the conscience, but, what is worse, disallows the rights of God. Respect for the conscience is necessary enough, but the rights of God are infinitely more so. Observe the words of the king: " Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hand? " (v. 15). This is impiety-that principle of blasphemy which characterizes the beast under all times and circumstances. His thought is of the power which he (the beast) possesses and holds. May we remember that it is God who has given it, and who overrules it! (Compare Hab. 1 II, 15-17.) Impiety, in forgetting the source of power, would arrogate to itself all its rights in spite of God Himself. Now, if unity be maintained, when God's own rights are set aside, it immediately becomes idolatry; for we fall into the hands of the enemy when we are at a distance from the true God. And when the civil power endeavors to establish this unity, it puts aside not only the rights of conscience, but the rights of God Himself. This applies in an especial manner to the word of God.
It is not only that man has a right to the word of God, as between him and his neighbor, but there is a more sacred right which is interfered with, if we deprive him of it: it is that God has the right to address what He will to the souls of men, and, having addressed the word to them, those who would deprive men of it, derogate from the rights and despise the authority of God, who has seen good to send it to them. Suppose that I have servants, dependents, to whom I send orders, evidently, if any one hinder the servants from receiving these orders, he interferes, not only with their rights, but with mine; and this is the great question: God no doubt will make inquisition for all this. It is bad enough to violate the conscience of another man to satisfy one's own wickedness; but here Nebuchadnezzar entirely set aside the prerogative of the true God. And this is the principle of blasphemy which attaches to the Gentiles from the beginning. This was the first act of the head of gold; and such is the commencement of the power of the Gentiles as presented to us in this chapter.
On the other hand we have a touching picture in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. They are not at all in alarm or disquietude. " We are not careful to answer thee in this matter " (v. 16) is their answer to the king. Does this confidence issue in their escape from the threatened penalty? By no means; they do not escape. God allows them to be put to the proof; He does not manifest Himself beforehand, but permits Nebuchadnezzar to fulfill his threats. They are cast into the furnace of fire, as Daniel was afterward into the den of lions. Whilst they would not obey the will of Nebuchadnezzar in violating their conscience, they offered no resistance to the persecution, but, as to their bodies, they submit entirely to his commands; and what is the consequence? They are loosed by the fire, and nothing is burnt but the chains with which the world had bound them; moreover, they have the Son of God as their companion in the furnace. The consequence of this interference of God in behalf of His poor servants was that a confession was forced from the civil power that their God was a God who delivered His people, and who condescended to attach His name to theirs. " Blessed," said the king, " be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him." This is the position of a believer; he yields up his body to death, in order to serve none other than the true God. And more than this, dear friends, these men quit the furnace as witnesses to the power of God-their God-in the sight of all the world. It will be the same with the faithful Jews at the end; they will be in a furnace of fire, but, at the same time, God will manifest Himself as their God. Christians have a higher hope: even if we are left to suffer death, our hope is the hope of the glory of Him who has saved us, which we shall enjoy with Him in the place where He is. But as to the Jews, they will be delivered from death by the power of God, and the true God will be acknowledged as their God.
Chapter 4. The dream of the king concerning that great tree which overshadowed all the earth is related in this chapter. These are his words, " Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great," (v. 10). A great tree is always the symbol of a man of vast power on the earth: one tree in this instance sufficed, because, in fact, Nebuchadnezzar ruled over all the civilized or prophetic earth. There was, as it were, only one tree: " The beasts of the field had shelter under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof."
But what becomes of this delegated power? It is used as an occasion of self-exaltation. God had confided this power to Nebuchadnezzar; He had blessed the king beyond measure in temporal things. As a consequence pride takes possession of him, and that in spite of the warning given in the interpretation of the dream, and the express prediction of what was to come; for the heart gets blinded by the things which it sees. Here then we have no longer unity in religious externals, and a deliverance by the hand of God, but another character of Gentile power. It is this-that if God, in His providence, elevate man, as a consequence man elevates himself. All is then lost. The case is this: the throne of God had been taken from the Jews, and God puts the Gentiles into the place of power in the person of Nebuchadnezzar; but man being guilty, and thus unable to observe any law, power cannot be committed to him without his lifting himself up against God who gave it. " Is not this great Babylon which I have built? " He makes himself the center instead of God. He becomes a beast and loses his reason entirely. A beast may be powerful, large, stronger than man, show much sagacity in his ways, but its look is downward; there is no exercise of conscience, and, as a consequence, no real relationship to God.
The only ennobling principle in man is submission-that is, submission to God; it supposes a capacity to understand the will of God. Man bows to this will, and does homage to God, as to One who is superior to himself. From the moment that he says " I have built," he loses his moral relationship to God. All true elevation is lost, and he becomes in this like one of the brute creation; for, I repeat it, a capacity to maintain a relationship with God is man's true superiority; but in this God must be God, and man must be in submission. Whenever this connection is lost, we descend to objects below ourselves, to which our affections attach themselves. Nebuchadnezzar became the companion of beasts-he had lost his proper understanding. The effect of all this is given at the close of the chapter; for when he finds himself out, he uses such language as is ever heard in such a case. " At the same time, my reason returned unto me," etc. (v. 36, 37). Behold the effect of God's judgments upon Gentile power. It is now no longer His interposition in behalf of a poor remnant of His people, as in the case of Shadrach, etc., but He brings down the pride of earthly power. Man exalts himself against God, but exactly where his greatest strength is put forth, the Lord is above him; Ex. 18: H. The great principle then of chapter 4 is the evil conduct of Gentile power. It exalts itself against God, becomes brutish in its understanding, and is judged. Seven times pass over it, and at last it confesses God. In other words, the sovereign power of the Gentiles is deprived of all real understanding during the entire period of its imperial existence, after which it confesses God.
Chapter 5. In this chapter we have further detail. King Belshazzar makes a feast, and commands " to bring the golden and silver vessels, which his father had taken out of the temple at Jerusalem, that the king and his princes, his wives and his concubines, might drink therein " (v. 2). Here is a fresh aspect of Gentile failure. It is a thorough impiety, and pro-. yokes the immediate destruction of the Babylonian power. This third form of impiety is still in connection with the Jews; for God, in relation to them, is always the God of the earth who is seen exercising a government below. It is not a question of the heavenly hopes of the church. God has delivered the Jews as captives into Gentile hands; He has delivered His altar, His sanctuary (Lam. 2:77The Lord hath cast off his altar, he hath abhorred his sanctuary, he hath given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; they have made a noise in the house of the Lord, as in the day of a solemn feast. (Lamentations 2:7)), all the exterior signs of His presence and glory, into the hands of the Gentiles.
The head of the Gentiles vaunts himself, and, because God has thus delivered up the Jews, he glorifies his false gods, exalts them, and dishonors God. It will be the same with the king of Babylon at the end-open blasphemy. It will not be the principle of idolatry only, neither will it be alone that pride of heart which says " I have built." These things will assuredly characterize him, for he is man; but it will be an immediate outrageous act which will dishonor the true God-that God who delivers His people into the hands of the wicked for their chastisement. It will be an act against the God of the Jews. The instant he does this, " there came forth fingers of a man's hand and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall " these words, " Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin ": the king seeing the part of the hand which wrote, and his countenance being changed... then Daniel answered and said before the king... o thou king, the most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honor... And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee," etc. Judgment falls on Belshazzar, and his kingdom is destroyed. Verse 30: " In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain, and Darius the Median took the kingdom."
Chapter 6. In this chapter we find the fourth principle of evil which existed among the Gentiles, and which completes the whole. It is not only an impiety which dishonors God, but it is man who exalts himself; he puts himself in the place of God Himself. The satraps go to the king and say (v. 6, 7) " King Darius, live forever. All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, etc., have consulted together, to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever," etc.
It is proposed, in short, that no one should be confessed as God, and no request made to any but to Darius himself. It will be thus with the wicked one, " who opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God," 2 Thess. 2:44Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Again, it is said of him, Dan. 11:36, 3736And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done. 37Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all. (Daniel 11:36‑37), " The king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished; for that that is determined shall be done. Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all."
It is then that he is destroyed. This is the utmost limit of wickedness, an exalting of himself against God, a desire to supplant Him on the earth. Notwithstanding, in every case, where the faithful have been put to the proof (whether by Nebuchadnezzar or Darius) the result has been the humiliation of the power of the Gentiles, which, having beforetime opposed, now confesses God.
It is thus with Darius, " I make a decree, that in every dominion of my kingdom, men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for he is the living God, and steadfast forever; and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end " (v. 26). There is a difference of expression to be noticed here. The confession of Nebuchadnezzar is to this effect, that the God of heaven is the God of the Jews; that is, of Shadrach, etc., and that no god can deliver like Him. Here also we have the God of Daniel, and, therefore, of the Jews; but He is also " the living God, and steadfast forever; and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end ": all of which will be ushered in at the revelation of Jesus Christ, and the establishment of His kingdom, which will have no end.
Again, Darius says " he delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions." It is the deliverance of the Jews, that is, of a remnant, which is the public manifestation on the earth, and which gives occasion to the confession of the Gentiles, that God is the true God. They will say, as Jethro said to Moses, " Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods," Ex. 18: x 1.
The true God is, then, acknowledged by the judgments which He executes on those who exalt themselves against Him, and by the deliverance of His people the Jews. The first of these judgments, for it is one, is that the chief of the Gentiles loses all understanding as to the ways of God; and the second is the entire destruction of this king of Babylon, on the very night in which he dishonors God. This Gentile history is sad, though glorious in its result by the manifestation of God for His people. In chapter 3 we see idolatry-the establishment of unity in idolatry by the arm of the civil power, which is mistress to all appearance, whilst really it is the slave of Satan. Chapter 4 is the history of man's exaltation of himself. Chapter 5 is open impiety against the Eternal; and finally, chapter 6 is the head of the Gentiles putting himself in the place of God.
In all these cases we find the people of God entirely submissive to the temporal power of these kings; for their power came from God. This is the principle of a Christian; he submits. The use which these established powers make of the authority which God has given them does not alter the source of the power. Jesus acknowledged that the power of Pontius Pilate, by which that governor condemned Him, came from God: when His hour was come, He submitted Himself to that which the authority, ordained of God, commanded. It is evident, from the use which the Gentiles make of their power in turning it against God, that they are under the direction of Satan; while holding their power from the one, they make use of it for the other.
What course does the child of God pursue? He does not maintain himself by leaning upon the civil power; he acts according to his conscience, and seeks only the will of God; at the same time he submits, and in so doing yields up his body; for his conscience is submissive to no one but the Lord: he cannot serve two masters. Shadrach and his friends undergo their punishment, but they refuse to do what the king, in the exercise of his power, wishes them to do. They do not seek to turn away the king from his plans; they are threatened and punished by Nebuchadnezzar, but they are faithful to their God, and He delivers them. They leave their case with Him. " He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king; but if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods," chap. 3: 17, 18. There is yet another remark; it is, that even when man is unfaithful (as were the Jews), God never loses his rights. He may confer power on the Gentiles for a time, but He never loses His rights, and, as a consequence, He never abandons His people; as He said unto Pharaoh, " Let my people go." The people of Israel were a subject of controversy between Pharaoh and God. Christians have other hopes, but the principle is always true. Daniel, who had faith, spoke as faith always does; for it sees as God sees. It is true that God had said, " It is no longer my people "; but Daniel speaks always of Israel as the people of God, because faith confesses all the rights of God. If a Jew had faith in the heart, God recognized him in spite of his circumstances; and this is very precious.
It is impossible, in spite of all Satan can do in the church of God, that he could put us into a position where God cannot recognize faith: otherwise God would lose His rights. In the ensuing lecture it will be needful to enter into details. An acquaintance with the leading features of Gentile power, from Nebuchadnezzar to the end, is of the utmost importance for understanding the things of God. For although we, as Christians, have another hope, even a heavenly one, yet we are in the times of the Gentiles; and the nearer we approach the end, the more Israel will come into prominence, and it is easy to see, by their present condition, that events are leading rapidly to a termination; and the more Israel becomes important, the more it behooves us to understand the thoughts of God concerning that people.
We have seen now in its general traits the history of the Gentile power from Nebuchadnezzar (that is from the ruin of Jerusalem) till the time the Lord shall come and destroy the impious and apostate power; for what we have read shows us the establishment of the kingdom of God on the ruins of the folly and impiety of man. In the next lecture, dear friends, we shall have nothing more of the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, etc., but we shall be occupied with the revelations made to Daniel himself. It is he who represented the faithful remnant of the Jews, and it is he who interprets that which others received and to whom are confided the details of those things which relate to the people of God.
There is yet another remark to make before concluding this preface: it is, that these communications from God should have the effect of separating us entirely from this world, by making us understand that, as to this world, God sees none else, so to speak, than Jews or these apostate Gentiles. I am not speaking of Christians (He sees them after another manner), but of external power. When it is a question of Christians, then the circumstances are beyond this world. Jesus Christ says, " Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." It should be thus in the purposes of daily Christian activity into which the energy of love leads • us. As to those within, we train each other, not for Jewish hopes, but for the place which Jesus occupies, and for those mansions in His Father's house which He went to prepare for us. As for our hope, the end which we propose to ourselves, until God shall execute His judgments, it is not a hope that the world can be improved; for we see from the word that, until this judgment falls, the course of the world runs on in impiety and exaltation of man, which very wickedness brings down the judgment of God.
Such is the world in which we live, according to God's description of it; but He has revealed to us also the things of heaven. He has revealed to us Him whom the world rejected, and who is gone into heaven, so that we have an object and motives which ought to govern us entirely and direct our walk; in order that, by these motives presented to the heart, and with which the new man occupies himself, we should live and walk by the Spirit in a world to ourselves-" the world to come, whereof we speak ": whilst, on the other hand, by the warnings which God has given us here, by the details with which He has furnished us, He would detach us, and that with an enlightened mind, from the world in which we sojourn as pilgrims and strangers. It is sad with what ease the world attaches itself to our hearts. I do not say that our hearts attach themselves to the world now, although that may follow soon as a consequence, but that the world attaches itself to our hearts.
Dear friends, if a man is covetous, this is the world. If a man is over diligent in affairs, he is occupied with the world, he lives in it, so to speak. It is extremely difficult for us to keep clear of the general principles of the world. It varies in its forms: in one, it is avarice; in another, it is a good position in society; in another, it is an active mind, which engages itself in politics. But this world below, dear friends, is not our world; we have another, of which Christ will be the chief, the center, and the joy-" the world to come, whereof we speak," says the apostle. And may God grant that in all the details of life, in our everyday circumstances, this separation may be realized and manifested, and that we may be able to say, " Our life is hid with Christ in God." The treasure, the life, and the joy of all those souls who have understood what happiness it is to be with Him, is there where He is.