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Lecture Twelfth

We said yesterday that King Nebuchadnezzar was worthy of praise, because he prostrated himself before Daniel after he had heard the narration of his dream and the interpretation which was added. For he gave them some testimony of piety, since in the person of Daniel he adored the true God, as we shall mention hereafter. Hence he shewed himself teachable, since the prophet might, exasperate his mind; because tyrants can scarcely ever bear anything to detract from their power. But he cannot be entirely excused. Although he confesses the God of Israel to be the only God, yet he transfers a part of his worship to a mortal man. Those who excuse this do not sufficiently remember how profane men mingle heavenly and earthly things; though they occasionally have right dispositions, yet they relax immediately to their own superstitions. Without doubt the confession, which we shall meet with directly, was confined to this single occasion. Nebuchadnezzar was not really and completely converted to true piety, so as to repent of his errors, but he partially recognized the supreme power to be with the God of Israel. This reverence, however, did not correct all his idolatries, but by a sudden impulse, as I have said, he confessed Daniel to be a servant of the true God. At the same time he did not depart from the errors to which he had been accustomed, and he afterwards returned to greater hardness, as we shall find in the next chapter. So also we see Pharaoh giving glory to God, but only for a moment, (Exodus 9:27, and Exodus 10:16;) meanwhile he continued determinately proud and cruel, and never put off his original disposition. Our opinion of the king of Babylon ought to be of the same kind, though different in degree. King Nebuchadnezzar’s obstinacy was not equal to the pride of Pharaoh. Each, indeed, showed some sign of reverence, bug neither was truly and heartily submissive to the God of Israel. Hence he bows before Daniel, not thinking him a God, but mingling and confounding, as profane men do, black and white; and we know that from the beginning even the dullest men had some perception of the only God. For no one ever denied the existence of a Supreme Deity, but men afterwards fabricated for themselves a multitude of gods, and transferred a part of the divine worship to mortals. As King Nebuchadnezzar was involved in these errors, we are not surprised at his adoring Daniel, and at the same time confessing there is but one God! And at this day we see how all in the papacy confess this truth, and yet they tear up the name of God, not in word, but in reality; for they so divide the worship of God, that each has part of the spoil and the plunder. Daniel relates what experience even now teaches us. This adoration was, it is true, commonly received among the Chaldeans, since the Orientals were always extravagant in their ceremonies, and we know their kings to have been adored as gods. But since the word for sacrificing is here used, and the word, מנחה, mencheh, for “offering” also occurs, it is quite clear that Daniel was worshipped without consideration, as if he had been a demigod dropped down from heaven. Hence we must conclude that king Nebuchadnezzar did wrong in offering this honor to Daniel.

There ought to be moderation in our respect for God’s Prophets, as we should not extol them beyond their deserts; we know the condition on which the Lord calls us forth — -that he alone may be exalted, while all his teachers, and prophets, and servants, should remain in their own position. A question arises concerning the Prophet himself, — Why did he allow himself to be worshipped? For if Nebuchadnezzar sinned, as we have said, the Prophet had no excuse for allowing it. Some commentators labor anxiously to excuse him; but if he passed this by in silence, we must be compelled to confess him in some degree corrupted by the allurements of the court, since it is difficult to be familiar there without immediately being subject to its contagion. The defense of any man, however perfect, ought never to interfere With this fixed principle — nothing must be subtracted from the honor of God, and — it is a mark of perverseness whenever and howsoever the worship which is peculiar to God is transferred to creatures. Perhaps Daniel decidedly refused this, and so restrained the folly of the king of Babylon; but I leave the point in doubt, as nothing is said about it. Although it is scarcely probable that he took no notice at the time, when he saw the honor of God partly transferred to himself; for this would have been to make himself a partaker of sacrilege and impiety. A holy Prophet could scarcely fall into this snare. We know many things are omitted in the narrative, and Daniel does not record what was done, but what the king ordered. He prostrated himself on his face; but perhaps Daniel shewed this to be unlawful. When he ordered sacrifice to be offered, Daniel might have rejected it as a great sill. For Peter properly corrected the error of Cornelius, which was more tolerable, since he wished to adore Peter after the common fashion. If, therefore, the Apostle did not endure this, but boldly rebuked the deed, (Acts 10:26,) what must be said about the Prophet? But, as I have said, I dare not assert anything on either side, unless what conjecture renders probable, that God’s servant rejected this preposterous honor. If, indeed, he allowed it, he had no excuse for his sin; but still, as we have said, it is very difficult for those who desire to retain their purity to have much intercourse with courts, without contracting some spots of corruption. We see this even in the person of Joseph. Although he was completely dedicated to God, yet in his language, as shown by his swearing, he was tainted by the Egyptian custom. (Genesis 42:15.) And since this was sinful in him, the same may be said of Daniel. Let us go on: —

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