Therefore, may my advice be pleasing to you, O king. Break away from your sins by doing what is right, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed. Perhaps there will be an extension of your prosperity."
Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him (ver. 19). "Astonied for one hour." This is not quite accurate. The meaning is that Daniel was so troubled, so overcome, that he remained for some time
without uttering a word. Perhaps he stood gazing at the king in mute amazement and sorrow. At length the king himself broke the distressing silence, encouraging the prophet to cast away all fear of consequences
, and to tell the meaning, whatever it might be. With much trembling, doubtless, in a tone of deep respect, with fidelity softened by tenderness, Daniel proceeded
to point out the meaning - the king's sin and the king's doom. This passage in the history suggests much as to the giving and receiving
of reproof. We are our brothers' keepers, but it is to be feared that this duty of spiritual guardianship is one very much neglected. Let us first look at things from the point of view of -
I. THE BEPROVED. There are many difficulties in approaching a man with even the most necessary reproof, most of which were present in this case of the king. A sinner is like a fort surrounded by many lines of entrenchment. The reprover is quite conscious of the strength of the moral fortification, and is oft deterred from his duty. The reproved is ready to repel reproof by virtue of:
1. Self-love. "Most quick, delicate, and constant of all feelings."
2. Pride. The reprover seems to assume the office of both lawgiver and judge. But what right this superiority?
3. Difference in social rank. It matters not whether, as in this case, the reproved be of superior rank or of inferior. If the former, the reproved resents the audacity; if the latter, what he is pleased to call the patronage.
4. Absence of moral aspiration. The reproved does not really desire to be better than he is.
5. Contrariety of judgment. The reproved doubts the principle upon which you are proceeding; e.g. you expostulate with a man on the sin of gambling; but he disputes your premiss, viz. that there is wrong in gambling. There is no sin or vice which some men will not be found to defend. Nebuchadnezzar may have considered all his oppressions of the poor, etc., as quite within his kingly right.
6. Suspicion of the reprover's motive.
II. THE REPROVER - his tone and spirit. He should be characterized by:
1. Sincere and simple sympathy for the man. In this respect Daniel was perfect.
2. Grief over the moral position.
3. Sorrow for the consequences.
5. Courtesy. Note the tone of vers. 19, 27. Daniel was mindful of his relation to his king.
6. Hopefulness. Daniel gave counsel simple, comprehensive, direct. And then expresses a large hope, "If it may be," etc. (vers. 26, 27). Some elements in -
III. THE REPROOF WILL BE SUGGESTIVE.
1. It was solicited. An immense advantage.
2. Based on adequate knowledge. Nothing can be more paralyzing to a would-be reprover than to find that he is proceeding either on false or unproved assumptions.
3. Strong by authority of truth. "In presenting admonitory or accusatory truth, it should be the instructor's aim that the authority may be conveyed in the truth itself, and not seem to be assumed by him as the speaker of it." "One man, a discreet and modest one (and not the less strong for that), shall keep himself as much as he can out of the pleading, and press the essential virtue and argument of the subject. Another makes himself prominent in it, so that yielding to the argument shall seem to be yielding to him. His style, expressly or in effect, is this: 'I think my opinion should have some weight in this case;' 'These arguments are what have satisfied me;' 'If you have any respect for my judgment,' etc. So that the great point with him is not so much that you should be convinced, as that he should bare the credit of convincing you."
4. Well-timed. "The teller of unpleasing truths should watch to select favourable times and occasions (mollia tempora fandi) when an inquisitive or docile disposition is most apparent; when some circumstance or topic naturally leads without formality or abruptness; when there appears to be in the way the least to put him (the person reproved) in the attitude of pride and hostile self-defence" For aught we know, Daniel may have had it on his mind for a long time to speak to the king; at length the day of opportunity dawned.
IV. THE RESULT.
1. The reproof was not at once successful. For a year more (ver. 29) the king seems to have gone on, in the same spirit, to do the same deeds.
2. But was so finally. (Ver. 34.) When reproof had been emphasized by judgment. The memory, then, of Daniel's counsel. - R.
Wherefore, O King, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee.
Daniel gives counsel to the king like a man of God, directing him to break off his sins by righteousness, and his iniquities or oppressions by showing mercy to the poor, if it might be a lengthening of his tranquility, and thus in some degree mitigating the punishment that was coming upon him. We see here brought out some of the excellencies of Daniel.
1. The kindness of his heart. In the yearnings of compassion which he felt when he heard the king's dream, and discerned its import. He was troubled with tender concern for the king, though he was an oppressive and haughty monarch. This is the true spirit of benevolence and piety, for it should ever appear in the exercise of some compassion and kindness, even towards those who have brought upon themselves tokens of the Divine pleasure.
2. The wisdom with which he was endowed. He was enabled at once to discern what God designed to communicate by this dream of the king. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." "The meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way."
3. The faithful spirit of this servant of God. Daniel stands before this mighty monarch of Babylon; he knows that his passions are strong, and that his pride is as great as his power; yet, guided by his God, and looking up, no doubt, for support from above, he ventures to give counsel to the king, exhorting him to the duties of penitence and reformation. He gave him clearly to understand that it was a rebuke from the great Supreme Ruler for his sins of pride, impurity, and oppression. As Daniel had been faithful to his God and his king, he could leave the matter in the highest hands, however he might be treated by an earthly monarch.
In all cases, when God visits an individual with chastisement, sin is the procuring cause, and reformation is the end in view. When warned of coming calamity, repentance is the only means by which it can be averted, and the best frame in which to endure it, if inflicted. Having interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream, which was prophetical of evil to that monarch, Daniel exhorted him "to break off his sins by righteousness, and his iniquities by showing kindness to the poor." Very awful was the threatening denounced against Nebuchadnezzar, to be not only degraded from his throne, but deprived of his reason, and have his dwelling among the beasts. A denunciation, infinitely more awful than this, has gone forth against every son and daughter of humanity. Let us then break off our sins by righteousness, and our iniquities by showing kindness to the poor. In exhorting Nebuchadnezzar to this, Daniel could only hold out a peradventure of his tranquillity being lengthened. But we are warranted, in the name of God, to assure every sinner, that in the way of returning to God, the punishment denounced against sin shall not only be suspended for a time, but cancelled for ever. This is genuine repentance. This is genuine religion. Holiness of life, springing from holiness of heart. We may suppose that Nebuchadnezzar would be greatly troubled by the interpretation of his dream. Whether his soul was benefited by it does not appear. Probably the impression, though strong at first, became gradually more faint. Day after day passed, and brought him nearer to the period when the calamity must occur. Instead of becoming alarmed by their approach to death and eternity, we every day see sinners becoming more hardened and callous. At the end of twelve months, Nebuchadnezzar walked in the palace of his kingdom. The place, in which he was walking, is generally supposed to have been the famous hanging gardens of Babylon. These were one of the most stupendous erections ever devised by genius for the gratification of pride. A stranger, gazing on this astonishing spectacle, must have felt his heart swell within him. No wonder, then, that the mind of its proprietor was moved. All that he beheld was his own. Much of it had been made by him, and it was all made for him. "Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of my kingdom, by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" In these expressions, we discern ambition with her lofty eyes, and her presumptuous tongue, and her selfish heart. He looks upon himself as the author and the end of all. No reference to Divine providence in bestowing this — no reference to the Divine glory in using it — no indication that he felt the awful responsibility of one to whom so much had been entrusted. It is all viewed in reference to himself. But oh! even Babylon was little, when considered as the only portion of an immortal soul. The poorest of God's children, the least of all saints, is infinitely better provided for than Nebuchadnezzar. All things show the vanity of the world, considered as the portion of man. At the moment when Nebuchadnezzar cried aloud, "Is not this great Babylon which I have built," there were, probably, few men in his empire who would not have panted to be in his place. But the next moment, the lowest, the vilest, the most wretched slave in the monarchy of Babylon would not, on any account, not for a crown — not for a kingdom — not for a world — have been Nebuchadnezzar. The next moment Nebuchadnezzar is a madman. O the uncertainty of all beneath the sun! But power is nothing, and wisdom is nothing, and courage is nothing, when God is the adversary. When it is said that a beast's heart was given to Nebuchadnezzar, we are not to suppose that his rational soul was extinguished, and that a beast's heart was instead thereof transfused into his body. His reason was not annihilated, the use of it was merely suspended. By a Divine infliction on the sensitive part of his nature, he ceased to have the sensations proper to a man, and began to feel as if he were an ox. It is well known that, in certain diseases of the nervous system, persons often lose the feelings common to mankind, and look upon themselves as if they were formed of other materials than dust, and placed in other circumstances than those which they actually occupy. Swayed by hope, some have fancied that they were kings, though occupying the humblest stations. Others, under the predominating influence of fear, have fancied that they were formed of such fragile materials that they would be destroyed by moving. Nebuchadnezzar seems to have been exposed to a similar derangement. His sentient nature obtained a predominance over his rational. He fancied he was an ox. He felt and acted as if he had been one, imitating its actions, submitting to its treatment, shunning the society of men, dwelling in the open field, and eating grass for his food. At the end of seven years his understanding returned to him. What a change would this be! It would be more than health after sickness, more than liberty after a long captivity. It would be like awaking from the dead, as if he had undergone the fabled metempsychosis, and after existing, for his allotted period, as an inferior animal, he had entered upon the higher destiny of a rational being. He now ceased to look down to the earth as an ox. He looked up to the heavens as a man. He did more. He looked, above the moon and stars, above the thrones of angels, unto God. From this passage we may learn the value of sanctified affliction. "No affliction for the present is joyous, but rather grievous." Sorely was Nebuchadnezzar tried. He was brought lower than ever we read of another in sacred or profane history. This seemed very bad for him, but in reality it was very good. It; was the best thing that ever befell him on earth. Had he not been smitten down by this humbling stroke, he would have remained proud and presumptuous to the end of his days. But God brought him low, that he might raise him to a higher elevation than the throne of Babylon. He was evidently a very changed man, and there is every reason to hope that he was a new creature. One of the best tests of saintship is to meet God with exercise suited to His dispensations. And did not Nebuchadnezzar act suitably to the case of one who has been sorely chastised, and then delivered from affliction? Does not this proclamation bear upon it the stamp of genuine religious feeling? Does he not praise God for correcting him? And could an unrenewed man do so? Is not his conduct changed? Formerly he was a man of war; now, he says to all nations, peace be multiplied unto you. Formerly, self was his end; now, he makes use of his royal station for promoting the glory of God and the good of men. But this decree was issued after mature deliberation. In it, we see the peaceable fruits of righteousness, which affliction afterwards produces. We may also learn, from this passage, that God adapts his corrections to the sins of those to whom they are sent. It is said that God does not afflict willingly, and it may be said, with equal truth, that He doth not afflict at random, nor arbitrarily. Every individual, and especially everyone who, like Nebuchadnezzar, has a strongly marked character, has what may be called his master passion, his imperial sin, to which all the rest are subordinate. This is the stronghold of sin, the citadel of the city. And as s city can only be permanently recovered from the hands of an enemy by forcing the citadel to surrender, so the soul of man can only be recovered to the love of God by the subduing of this besetting sin Or ruling passion. Nebuchadnezzar's punishment was continued until he learned that the Most High ruleth among the kingdoms of men. So soon as this lesson was taught the discipline was removed. From this we may learn that God will continue his corrections as long, but no longer than is needful Affliction is a Divine ordinance, for the improvement of which we are responsible. In many instances, besides that of Nebuchadnezzar, it has been the means, in the hands of God's Spirit, of awaking sinners to a sense of their condition. But there are few vows worse kept than those which have been made in the day of trouble. With the return of health solemn impressions wear away, the world fills the heart, and leaves no room for God. The king of Babylon will rise up in judgment against all who have been afflicted, and whose afflictions have not brought forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness.
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