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Daniel 1:14-15

14. So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.

14. Et a audivit eos in hoc verbo, et probavit eos decem diebus.

15. And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.

15. Et a fine decem dierum visus est vultus eorum pulcher, 9494     Or plump.Calvin. et ipsi pinguiores carne prae omnibus pueris, 9595     Namely, the rest.Calvin. qui comedebant portiones cibi regii.

 

Now this surprising event took place, — Daniel contracted neither leanness nor debility from that mean food, but his face was as shirting as if he had continued to feed most delicately; hence we gather as I have already said, that he was divinely impelled to persist firmly in his own design, and not to pollute himself with the royal diet. God, therefore, testified by the result that he had advised Daniel and his companions in this their prayer and proposal. It is clear enough that there is no necessary virtue in bread to nourish us; for we are nourished by God’s secret blessing, as Moses says, Man lives not by bread alone, (Deuteronomy 8:3,) implying that the bread itself does not impart strength to men, for the bread has no life in it; how then can it afford us life? As bread possesses no virtue by itself, we are nourished by the word of God; and because God has determined that our life shall be sustained by nourishment, he has breathed its virtue into the bread — but, meanwhile, we ought to consider our life sustained neither by bread nor any other food, but by the secret blessing of God. For Moses does not speak here of either doctrine or spiritual life, but says our bodily life is cherished by God’s favor, who has endued bread and other food with their peculiar properties. This, at least, is certain, — whatever food we feed on, we are nourished and sustained by God’s gratuitous power. But the example which Daniel here mentions was singular. Hence God, as I have said, shews, by the event, how Daniel could not remain pure and spotless with his companions, otherwise than by being content with pulse and water. We must observe, for our improvement, in the first place, — we should be very careful not to become slaves of the palate, and thus be drawn off from our duty and from obedience and the fear of God, when we ought to live sparingly and be free from all luxuries. We see a this day how many feel it a very great cross if they cannot indulge at the tables of the rich, which are filled with abundance and variety of food. Others are so hardened in the enjoyment of luxuries, that they cannot be content with moderation; hence they are always wallowing in their own filth, being quite unable to renounce the delights of the palate. But Daniel sufficiently shews us, when God not only reduces us to want, but when, if necessary, all indulgences must be spontaneously rejected. Daniel indeed, as we saw yesterday, does not attach any virtue to abstinence from one kind of food or another; and all we have hitherto learnt has no other object than to teach him to guard against imminent danger, to avoid passing over to the morals of a strange nation, and so to conduct himself at Babylon as not to forget himself as a son of Abraham. But still it was necessary to renounce the luxuries of the court. Although delicate viands were provided, he rejected them of his own accord; since, as we have seen, it would be deadly pollution, not in itself but in its consequences. Thus Moses, when he fled from Egypt, passed into a new life far different from his former one; for he had lived luxuriously and honorably in the king’s palace, as if he had been the king’s grandson. But he lived sparingly in the Desert afterwards, and obtained his support by very toilsome labor. He preferred, says the Apostle, the cross of Christ to the riches of Egypt. (Hebrews 11:26.) How so? Because he could not be esteemed an Egyptian and retain the favor which had been promised to the sons of Abraham. It was a kind of self-denial always to remain in the king’s palace.

We may take this test as a true proof of our frugality and temperance, if we are able to satisfy the appetite when God compels us to endure poverty and want; nay, if we can spurn the delicacies which are at hand but tend to our destruction. For it would be very frivolous to subsist entirely on pulse and water; as greater intemperance sometimes displays itself in pulse than in the best and most dainty dishes. If any one in weak health desires pulse and other such food which is injurious, he will surely be condemned for intemperance. But if he feeds on nourishing diet, as they say, and thus sustains himself, frugality will have its praise. If any one through desire of water, and being too voracious, rejects wine, this as we well know would not be praiseworthy. Hence we ought not to subsist on this kind of food to discover the greatness of Daniel’s virtue. But we ought always to direct our minds to the object of his design, namely, what he wished and what was in his power — so to live under the sway of the king of Babylon, that his whole condition should be distinct from that of the nation at large, and never to forget himself as an Israelite — and unless there had been this great difference, Daniel would have been unable to sharpen himself and to shake off his torpor, or to rouse himself from it. Daniel necessarily kept before his mind some manifest and remarkable difference which separated him from the Chaldeans; he desired pulse and water, through the injurious effects of good living.

Lastly, this passage teaches us, although we should meet with nothing but the roots and leaves of trees, and even if the earth herself should deny us the least blade of grass, yet God by his blessing can make us healthy and active no less than those who abound in every comfort. God’s liberality, however, is never to be despised when he nourishes us with bread and wine and other diet; for Paul enumerates, among things worthy of praise, his knowing how to bear both abundance and penury. (Philippians 4:12) When, therefore, God bountifully offers us both meat and drink, we may soberly and frugally drink wine and cat savory food; but when he takes away from us bread and water, so that we suffer from famine, we shall find his blessing sufficient for us instead of all nutriment. For we see that Daniel and his companions were ruddy and plump, and even remarkably robust by feeding on nothing but pulse. How could this occur, unless the Lord, who nourished his people in the Desert on manna alone, when other diet was deficient, even at this day turns our food into manna, which would otherwise be injurious to us. (Exodus 16:4.) For if any one asks the medical profession, whether pulse and other leguminous plants are wholesome? they will tell us they are very injurious, since they know them to be so. But at the same time, when we have no choice of viands and cannot obtain what would conduce most to our health, if we are content with herbs and roots, the Lord, as I have said, can nourish us no less than if he put before us a table well supplied with every dainty. Temperance does not exist in the food itself, but in the palate — since we are equally intemperate if pleasure entices us to gratify the appetite on inferior food — so, again, we may remain perfectly temperate though feeding on the best diet. We must form the same opinion of the properties of various viands, which do not support us by their own inherent qualities, but by God’s blessing, as he sees fit. We sometimes see the children of the rich very emaciated, although they may receive the greatest attention. We see also the children of the country people most beautiful in form, ruddy in countenance, and healthy in condition; and yet they feed on any kind of food, and sometimes upon what is injurious. But although they are deprived of tasty sauces, yet God gives them his blessing, and their unripe fruit, pork, lard, and even herbs, which seem most unwholesome, become more nourishing than if the people abounded in every delicacy. This, therefore, must be remarked in the words of Daniel. It follows —


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