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Daniel 4:28-32

28. All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar.

28. Hoc totum impletum fuit, vel, incidit, super Nebuchadnezer regem

29. At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon.

29. In fine mensiron duodeeim, 227227     That is, after twelve months.Calvin. in palatio regni, quod est in Babylone, deambulabat.

30. The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?

30. Loquutus est rex et dixit, An non haec est Babylon magna, quam ego aedificavi in domum regni, 228228     That is, that it may be a royal seat. — Calvin. in robore fortitudinis meae, et in pretium, vel, excellentiam, decoris mei?

31. While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee:

31. Adhuc sermo erat in ore regis, 229229     That is, when the speech was in the king’s mouth. — Calvin. vox e coelis cecidit, Tibi dicunt, rex Nebuchadnezer, regnum tuum migravit, vel, discessit, abs to.

32. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.

32. Et ex hominibus to ejicient, et cum bestia agri habitatio tua: herbam sicuti bores gustare to facient: 230230     Or, the grass shall feed thee as it does oxen. — Calvin. aet septem tempora transibunt super to, donec cognoscas quod dominator sit excelsus in regno hominum, et cui voluerit det illud.

 

After Nebuchadnezzar has related Daniel to be a herald of God’s approaching judgment, he now shews how God executed the judgment which the Prophet had announced. But he speaks in the third person, according to what we know to be a common practice with both the Hebrews and Chaldees. Thus Daniel does not relate the exact words of the king, but only their substance. Hence he first introduces the king as the speaker, and then he speaks himself in his own person. There is no reason why this variety should occasion us any trouble, since it does not obscure the sense. In the first, verse, Nebuchadnezzar shews the dream which Daniel had explained not to have been in vain. Thus the miracle shews itself to be from heaven, by its effects; because dreams vanish away, as we know well enough. But since God fulfilled, at his own time, what he had shewn to the king of Babylon by his dream, it is clear there was nothing alarming in the dream, but a sure revelation of the future punishment which fell upon the king. Its moderation is also expressed. Daniel says, when a year had passed away, and the king was walking in his own palace, and boasting in his greatness, at that moment a voice came down from heaven, and repeated what he had already heard in the dream. He afterwards relates how he had been expelled from human society, and dwelt for a long time among the brutes, so as to differ from them in nothing. As to the use of words, since מהלך, mehelek, occurs here, some think that he walked upon the roof of his palace, whence he could behold all parts of the city. The inhabitants of the east are well known to use the roofs of their houses in this way; but I do not interpret the phrase with such subtlety, since the Prophet seems to wish nothing else than to shew how the king enjoyed his own ease, luxury, and magnificence. There is nothing obscure in the rest of the language.

I now approach the matter before us. Some think Nebuchadnezzar to have been touched with penitence when instructed by God’s anger, and thus the time of his punishment was put off. This does not seem to me probable, and I rather incline to a different opinion, as God withdrew his hand till the end of the year, and thus the king’s pride was the less excusable. The Prophet’s voice ought to have frightened him, just as if God had thundered and lightened from heaven. He now appears to have been always like himself. I indeed do not deny that he might be frightened by the first message, but I leave it doubtful. Whichever way it is, I do not think God spared him for a time, because he gave some signs of repentance. I confess he sometimes indulges the reprobate, if he sees them humbled. An example of this, sufficiently remarkable, is displayed in King Ahab. (1 Kings 21:29.) He did not cordially repent, but God wished to shew how much he was pleased with his penitence, by pardoning a king impious and obstinate in his wickedness. The same might be said of Nebuchadnezzar, if Scripture had said so; but as far as we can gather from these words of the Prophet, Nebuchadnezzar became prouder and prouder, until his sloth arrived at its height. The king continued to grow proud after God had threatened him so, and this was quite intolerable. Hence his remarkable stupidity, since he would have been equally careless had he lived an hundred years after he heard that threat! Finally, I think although Nebuchadnezzar perceived some dreadful and horrible punishment to be at hand, yet, while frightened for the time, he did not lay aside his pride and haughtiness of mind. Meanwhile, he might think this prediction to be in vain; and what he had heard probably escaped from his mind for a long time, because he thought he had escaped; just as the impious usually abuse God’s forbearance, and thus heap up for themselves a treasure of severer vengeance, as Paul says. (Romans 2:5.) Hence he derided this prophecy, and hardened himself more and more. Whatever sense we attach to it, nothing else eau be collected from the Prophet’s context, than the neglect of the Prophet’s warning, and the oracle rendered nugatory by which Nebuchadnezzar had been called to repentance. If he had possessed the smallest particle of soundness of mind, he ought to flee to the pity of God, and to consider the ways in which he had provoked his anger, and also to devote himself entirely to the duties of charity. As he had exercised a severe tyranny towards all men, so he ought to study benevolence; yet when the Prophet exhorted him, he did not act thus, but uttered vain boastings, which shew his mind to have been swollen with pride and contempt for God. As to the space of time here denoted, it shews how God suspended his judgments, if perchance those who are utterly deplorable should be reclaimed; but the reprobate abuse God’s humanity and indulgence, as they make this an occasion of hardening their minds, while they suppose God to cease from his office of judge, through his putting it off for a time. At the end, then, of twelve months, the king was walking in his palace; he spoke, and said This doubling of the phrase shews us how the king uttered the feelings of premeditated pride. The Prophet might have said more simply, The king says, — but he says, he spoke, and said. I know how customary it is with both the Hebrews and Chaldees to unite these words together; but I think the repetition emphatic in this place, since the king then uttered what he had long ago conceived and concealed in his mind; Is not this great Babylon, which I have built for a royal palace, and that too in the mightiness of my valor; as I have built it in the splendor of my excellency? In these words we do not see any open blasphemy which could be very offensive to God, but we must consider the king by this language to claim to himself supreme power, as if he were God! We may gather this from the verse, “Is not this great Babylon? says he. He boasts in the magnitude of his city, as if he wished to raise it giant-like to heaven; which I, says he — using the pronoun with great emphasiswhich I have built, and that too in the greatness of my valor We see that by claiming all things as his own, he robs God of all honor.

Before I proceed further, we must see why he asserts Babylon to have been founded by himself. All historians agree in the account of the city being built by Semiramis. A long time after this event, Nebuchadnezzar proclaims his own praises in building the city. The solution is easy enough. We know how earthly kings desire, by all means in their power, to bury the glory of others, with the view of exalting themselves and acquiring a perpetual reputation. Especially when they change anything in their edifices, whether palaces or cities, they wish to seem the first founders, and so to extinguish the memory of those by whom the foundations were really laid. We must believe, then, Babylon to have been adorned by King Nebuchadnezzar, and so he transfers to himself the entire glory, while the greater part ought to be attributed to Semiramis or Ninus. Hence this is the way in which tyrants speak, as all usurpers and tyrants do, when they draw towards themselves the praises which belong to others. I, therefore, says he, have built it, by the strength of my hand Now it is easy to see what had displeased God in this boasting of the king of Babylon, namely, his sacrilegious audacity in asserting the city to have been built by his own mightiness. But God shews this praise to be peculiar to himself and deservedly due to him. Unless God builds the city, the watchman watches but in vain. (Psalm 127:1.) Although men labor earnestly in founding cities, yet they never profit unless God himself preside over the work. As Nebuchadnezzar here extols himself and opposes the strength of his fortitude to God and his grace, this boasting was by no means to be endured. Hence it happened that God was so very angry with him. And thus we perceive how this example proves to us what Scripture always inculcates, — God’s resistance of the proud, his humbling their superciliousness, and his detestation of their arrogance. (Psalm 18:27.) Thus God everywhere announces himself as the enemy of the proud, and he confirms it by the present example, as if he set before us in a mirror the reflection of his own judgment. (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5.) This is one point. The reason also must be noticed why God declares war on all the proud, because we cannot set ourselves up even a little, without declaring war on God; for power and energy spring from him. Our life is in his hands; we are nothing and can do nothing except through him. Whatever, then, any one assumes to himself he detracts from God. No wonder then if God testifies his dislike of the haughty superciliousness of men, since they purposely weary him when they usurp anything as their own. Cities, indeed, are truly built by the industry of men, and kings are worthy of praise who either build cities or adorn them, so long as they allow God’s praise to be inviolate. But when men exalt themselves and wish to render their own fortitude conspicuous, they bury as far as they can the blessing of God. Hence it is necessary for their impious rashness to be judged by God, as we have already said. The king also confesses his vanity when he says, I have built it for a royal palace, and for the excellency of my splendor. By these words he does not dissemble how completely he looked at his own glory in all those buildings by which he hoped to hand down his name to posterity. Hence, on the whole, he wishes to be celebrated in the world, both during his life and after his death, so that God may be nothing in comparison with himself, as I have already shewn how all the proud strive to substitute themselves in the place of God.

It now follows,While the speech was in the mouth of the king, a voice descended from heaven They say unto thee, O King Nebuchadnezzar, thy kingdom has departed from thee! God does not now admonish the king of Babylon by either the mouth of a Prophet or a dream by night; but he sends forth his own voice from heaven; and as if he had not tamed down the pride by which the king was puffed up, a voice is now heard from heaven which inspires greater terror than either the Prophet’s oracle or interpretation. Thus God is in the habit of dealing with the hardened and impenitent, since he causes his own prophets to denounce the penalty which hangs over them. Besides, when he sees them untouched or unaffected, he doubles the terror, until the final execution follows, as in. the case of this tyrant. The word was in the king’s mouth when, the voice was heard. We see how God restrains in a moment the madness of those who raise themselves extravagantly. But it is not surprising that the voice was so suddenly heard, because time for repentance was allowed to King Nebuchadnezzar. In the form of speech, they say to thee, it is not necessary to inquire anxiously to whom these words apply. Some restrict them to angels; but I do not agree to this; it seems rather to be used in the customary way, they saymeaning “it is said,” as if sanctioned by common consent. Hence they say to thee, O King Nebuchadnezzar; God does not simply call him by his name, but uses the word king — not for the sake of honor, but of ridicule, and to strike away from the king all the allurements by which he deceived himself. Thou indeed art intoxicated by thy present splendor, for while all adore thee, thou art forgetful of thy frailty; but this royal majesty and power will not hinder God from laying thee prostrate; for since thou: wilt not humble thyself, thy kingdom shall be taken from thee! This indeed appeared incredible, since Nebuchadnezzar had the tranquil possession of the kingdom in his hand; no one dared to shew himself his enemy; he had subdued all his neighbors; his monarchy was terrible to all nations; hence God pronounces, The kingdom has gassed away from thee! And this shews the certainty of the oracle; and thus Nebuchadnezzar may know the time to be fulfilled, and the punishment to be no longer delayed, because he had trifled with God’s indulgence.

It follows, — They shall expel thee from among men, and thy habitation shall be with the beasts of the fieldor of the country,they shall make thee eat grass like oxen! Some think Nebuchadnezzar to have been changed into a beast; but this is too harsh and absurd. We need not fancy any change of nature; but he was cut off from all intercourse with men, and with the exception of a human form, he did not differ from the brutes, — nay, such was his deformity in his exile that, as we shall afterwards see, he became a horrid spectacle; — all the hairs of his body stood up and grew like eagles’ feathers; his claws were like those of birds. In these points he was like the beasts, in others like the rest of mankind. It is uncertain whether God struck this king with madness, causing him to escape and he hid for a length of time, or whether he was cast forth by a tumult and conspiracy of nobles, or even the consent of the whole people. All this is doubtful, since the history of those times is unknown to us. Whether, then, Nebuchadnezzar was snatched away by madness, and while he continued a maniac was separated from the society of men, or was cast forth as many tyrants have been, his dwelling with beasts for a time, becomes a memorable example to us. He was probably rendered stupid, by God’s leaving him a human form while be deprived him of reason, as the context will make evident to us. They shall cast thee out from human society; thy dwelling shall be with wild beasts; they shall make thee eat grass like an ox! that is, when deprived of all delight, nay, of the commonest and plainest food, thou wilt find no other sustenance than that of oxen. Thou shalt eat the grass like an animal, and seven times shall pass over thee. Of the “seven times” we have spoken before. Some restrict this to days, but this is contrary not only to every reason, but to every pretext. Nor do I explain it of months; the space of time would have been much too short. Hence the opinion of those who extend it to seven years is more probable. If Nebuchadnezzar had been cast out by a tumult, he would not have been so quickly recalled: then, since God wished to make an example of him for all generations, I suppose him to have been driven out from common society for a length of time. For if the penalty had been for seven months only, we see how coolly God’s judgments would be received in the world. Hence, with the view of engraving this penalty more deeply in the hearts of all, he wished to protract it longer — I will not say to seven years, since I have previously expounded the certain number as put for an uncertain one, implying a long space of time.

Seven years, then, shall pass away, says he, until thou shalt know that there is a lofty ruler in the kingdoms of men. This is the end of the punishment, as we have previously said, for I need not repeat my former remarks. But we must remember this — God mitigates the bitterness of the penalty by making it temporary. Then he proposed this end to induce Nebuchadnezzar to repent, as he required many blows for this purpose, according to the old proverb about the fool who can never be recalled to a sound mind without suffering calamity. Thus King Nebuchadnezzar ought to be beaten with stripes, to render him submissive to God, as he never profited by any holy admonition or any heavenly oracle. God does not treat; all in this way. Hence we have here a special example of his clemency, which provides for the punishment inflicted on King Nebuchadnezzar, being both useful and profitable. For the reprobate are more and more hardened against God, and are ever stirred up and excited to madness. It was an act, then, of special grace, when Nebuchadnezzar was chastised for the time by the hand of God, to cause his repentance and his owning God’s entire sway over the whole world.

He says, that God may be Lord in the kingdom of men; because nothing is more difficult than to persuade tyrants to submit to the power of God. On the one side they confess themselves to reign by his grace; but at the same time, they suppose their own sway to be obtained by either valor or good fortune, and to be retained by their own guards, counsels, and wealth. Hence, as far as they can, they shut God out from the government of the world, while they are puffed up with a false conceit of themselves, as if all things were maintained in their present state by their valor or advice. This, then, was an ordinary effect when Nebuchadnezzar began to feel God to be the ruler in the kingdom of men, since kings wish to place him somewhere between themselves and the multitude. They confess the people to be subject to God’s power, but think themselves exempt from the common order of events, and in possession of a privilege in favor of their lusts, relieving them from the hand and empire of God. Hence, as I have said, it was no common thing for Nebuchadnezzar to acknowledge God to reign in the earth; for tyrants usually enclose God in heaven, and think him content with his own happiness, and careless about mingling in the concerns of men. Hence thou mayest know him to be the ruler. He afterwards adds the kind of dominion, because God raises up whomsoever he pleases, and casts down others: God is not only supreme in the sense of sustaining’ all things by his universal providence, but because no one without his will obtains empire at all. He binds some with a belt, and looseth the bonds of others, as it is said in the book of Job. (Job 12:18.) We ought not, therefore, to imagine God’s power to be at rest, but we should join it with present action, as the phrase is. Whether tyrants obtain power, or sovereigns are pious and just, all are governed by God’s secret counsel, since otherwise there could be no king of the world. It follows:


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