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Daniel 5:18-20

18. O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:

18. O rex, 264264     Verbally, “Thou, O king,” as he addresses him. — Calvin. Deus excelsus imperium, et magnitudinem, et praestantiam, et splendorem dedit Nebuchadnezer patri tuo.

19. And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down.

19. Et ob magnitudinem quam dederat ei, omnes populi, gentes et linguae tremuerunt, et formidarunt a conspectu ejus: quem volebat, occidebat: 265265     That is, “whom he wished to slay was slain.” — Calvin. et quem volebat percutere, percutiebat: et quem volebat attol-lere, attollebat: et quem volebat dejicere, dejiciebat.

20. But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him:

20. Quando autem elevatum fuit cor ejus, et spiritus ejus roboratus est 266266     Or, “he was hardened.” — Calvin. ad superbtam, dejectus fuit e solio regni, et gloriam abstulerunt ab eo.

 

Before Daniel recites the writing, and adds its interpretation, he explains to King Belshazzar the origin of this prodigy. He did not begin the reading at once, as he might conveniently have done, saying Mene, Mene! as we shall see at the end of the chapter, since the king could not have pro-fired by his abrupt speech. But here Daniel shews it to be by no means surprising, if God put forth his hand and shewed the figure of a hand describing the king’s destruction, since the king had too obstinately provoked his anger. We see then why Daniel begins by this narrative, since King Nebuchadnezzar was a most powerful monarch, subduing the whole world to himself and causing all men to tremble at his word, and was afterwards hurled from the throne of his kingdom. Hence it more clearly appears that Belshazzar did not live in ignorance, for he had so signal and remarkable an example [hat he ought to have conducted himself with moderation. Since then that domestic admonition did not profit him, Daniel shews the time to be ripe for the denunciation of God’s wrath by a formidable and portentous sign. This is the sense of the passage. Passing on to the words themselves, he first says, To King Nebuchadnezzar God gave an empire, and magnificence, and loftiness, and splendor; as if he had said, he was magnificently adorned, as the greatest monarch in the world. We have stated elsewhere, and Daniel repeats it often, that empires are bestowed on men by divine power and not by chance, as Paul announces, There is no power but of God. (Romans 13:1.) God wishes his power to be specially visible in kingdoms. Although, therefore, he takes care of the whole world, and, in the government of the human family even the most miserable things are regulated by his hand, yet his singular providence shines forth in the empire of the world. But since we have often discussed this point at length, and shall have many opportunities of recurring to it, it is now sufficient just briefly to notice the principle, of the exaltation of earthly kings by the hand of God, and not by the chances of fortune.

When Daniel confirms this doctrine, he adds, On account of the magnificence which God conferred upon him, all mortals trembled at the sight of him! By these words he shews how God’s glory is inscribed on kings, although he allows them to reign supreme. This indeed cannot be pointed out with the finger, but the fact is sufficiently clear; kings are divinely armed with authority, and thus retain under their hand and sway a great multitude of subjects. Every one desires the chief power over his fellow-creatures. Whence happens it, since ambition is natural to all men, that many thousands are subject to one, and suffer themselves to be ruled over and endure many oppressions? How could this be, unless God entrusted the sword of power to those whom he wishes to excel? This reason, then, must be diligently noticed, when the Prophet says, All men trembled at the sight of King Nebuchadnezzar, because God conferred upon him that majesty, and wished him to excel all the monarchs of the world. God has many reasons, and often hidden ones, why he raises one man and humbles another; yet this point ought to be uncontroverted by us. No kings can possess any authority unless God extends his hand to them and props them up. When he wishes to remove them from power, they fall of their own accord; not because there is any chance in the changes of the world, but because God, as it is said in the Book of Job, (Job 12:18,) deprives those of the sword whom he had formerly entrusted with it.

It now follows, Whom he wished to slay he slew, and whom he wished to strike he struck Some think the abuse of kingly power is here described; but I had rather take it simply, for Nebuchadnezzar being able to east down some, and to raise others at his will, since it was in his power to give life to some and to slay others. I, therefore, do not refer these words to tyrannical lust, as if Nebuchadnezzar had put many innocent persons to death, and poured forth human blood without any reason; or as if he had despoiled many of their fortunes, and enriched others and adorned them with honor and wealth. I do not take it so. I think it refers to his arbitrary power over life and death, and over the rise of some and the ruin of others. On the whole, Daniel seems to me to describe the greatness of that royal power which they may freely exercise over their subjects, not through its being lawful, but through the tacit consent of all men. Whatsoever pleases the king, all are compelled to approve of it, or at least no one dares to murmur at it. Since, therefore, the regal license is so great, Daniel here shews how King Nebuchadnezzar was not carried away by his own plans, or purposes, or good fortune, but was entrusted with supreme power and rendered formidable to all men, because God had designed him for his own glory. Meanwhile, kings usually despise what they are permitted to enjoy, and what God allows them. For powerful as they are, they must hereafter render an account to the Supreme King. We are not to gather from this, that kings are appointed by God without any law, or any self-restraint; but the Prophet, as I have said, speaks of the royal power in itself. Since kings, therefore, have power over their subjects for life and death, he says, the life of all men was in the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar. He now adds, When his heart was exalted, then he was cast down (or ejected) from the throne of his kingdom, and they deprived him of his majesty He follows up his own narrative, tie wishes to shew King Belshazzar how God bears with the insolence of those who forget him, when they have obtained the summit of power. Desiring to make this known, he says, King Nebuchadnezzar, thy grandfather, was a mighty monarch. He did not obtain this mightiness by himself, nor could he have retained it, except he had been supported by God’s hand. Now his change of circumstances was a remarkable proof that the pride of those who are ungrateful to God can never be endured unto the end, as they never acknowledge their sway to proceed from his benevolence. When, therefore, says he, his heart was raised up and his spirit strengthened in pride, a sudden change occurred. Hence you and all his posterity ought to be taught, lest pride still further deceive you, and ye profit not by the example of your father; as we shall afterwards relate. Hence this writing has been set before thee, for the purpose of making known the destruction of thy life and kingdom.


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