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Four Young Israelites at the Babylonian Court
In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods.
3 Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, 4young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. 6Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. 7The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. 9Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master. 10The palace master said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king.” 11Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12“Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.” 14So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. 15At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. 16So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.
18 At the end of the time that the king had set for them to be brought in, the palace master brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, 19and the king spoke with them. And among them all, no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they were stationed in the king’s court. 20In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. 21And Daniel continued there until the first year of King Cyrus.
3. And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and the of the king’s seed, and of the princes;
3. Et mandavit1 7070 Or, declared — Calvin. Rex Aspenazo 7171 Or, said to Aspenaz, as those who retain the Hebrew phrase translate it. — Calvin. principi eunuchorum, ut educeret e filiis Israel et ex semine regio, et ex principibus. 7272 Or, elders — Calvin.
Here Daniel pursues his narrative, and shows the manner in which he was led away together with his companions. The king had demanded young men to be brought, not from the ordinary multitude, but from the principal nobility, who stood before him, that is, ministered to him. Hence, we ascertain why Daniel and his companions were chosen, because they were noble young men and of the royal seed, or at least of parents who surpassed others in rank. The king did this purposely to show himself a conqueror; he may also have taken this plan designedly, to retain hostages in his power; for he hoped, as we shall see, that those who were nourished in his palace would be degenerate and hostile to the Jews, and he thought their assistance would prove useful to himself. He also hoped, since they were born of a noble stock, that the Jews would be the more peaceable, and thus avoid all danger to those wretched exiles who were relations of the kings and the nobles. With regard to the words, he calls this Aspenaz the prince of eunuchs, under which name he means the boys who were nourished in the king’s palace to become a seminary of nobles; for it is scarcely possible that this Aspenaz was set over other leaders. But we gather from this place, that the boys whom the king held in honor and regard were under his custody. The Hebrews calls eunuchs סריסים, serisim, a name which belongs to certain prefects; for Potiphar is called by this name though he had a wife. So this name is everywhere used in Scripture for the satraps of a king; (Genesis 37:36; Genesis 40:2, 7;) but since satraps also were chosen from noble boys, they were probably called eunuchs, though they were not made so, yet Josephus ignorantly declares these Jewish children to have been made eunuchs. But when eunuchs existed among the luxuries of Oriental kings, as I have already said, those youths were commonly called by this name whom the king brought up as a kind of school of nobles, whom he might afterwards place over various province.
The king, therefore, commanded some of the children of Israel of the royal seed and of the nobles to be brought to him. So the sentence ought to be resolved; he did not command any of the common people to be brought to him, but some of the royal race, the more plainly to show himself their conqueror by doing all things according to his will. He means those “elders” who yet were in chief authority under the king of Judah. And Daniel also was of that tribe, as we shall afterwards see. The word פרתמים, pharthmim, “princes,” is thought to be derived from Perah, which is the Euphrates, and the interpreters understand prefects, to whom the provinces on the banks of the Euphrates were committed; but this does not suit the present passage where Jews are treated of. We now see the general signification of this name, and that all the elders ought to be comprehended under it. 7373 ‘This word has caused great difference of opinion among commentators. Theodotion does not attempt to explain it. Symmaehus takes it for the Parthians. Jerome interprets it by tyranni, and Saadias by their off-spring. Aben-Ezra considers it a foreign word; and R. Salom. Jarehi calls it Persian, and translates it “leaders” Hottinger and Aug. Pfeiffer both treat it as Persian, but derive it from different roots. “Nobles” or “elders” seems its best English equivalent. — The rest tomorrow.
In yesterday’s Lecture we saw how the prefect or master of the eunuchs was commanded to bring up some noble youths, the offspring of the king and the elders; and Daniel now describes their qualities, according to Nebuchadnezzar’s order. They were youths, not so young as seven or eight years, but growing up, in whom there was no spot; that is, in whom there was no defect or unsoundness of body. They were also of beautiful aspect, meaning of ingenuous and open countenance, he adds also, skilled in all prudence, and understanding knowledge; and then, expressing their thoughts I think those interpreters right who take this participle actively, otherwise the repetition would be cold and valueless. Their eloquence seems to me pointed out here; because there are some who inwardly understand subjects presented to them, but cannot express to others what they retain in their minds; for all have not the same dexterity in expressing exactly what they think Daniel, therefore, notices both qualifications here — the acquisition of knowledge, and the power of communicating it.
And in whom was vigor for כח, cach, usually signifies fortitude, as in Isaiah. (Isaiah 40:9.) Those who fear God shall change their fortitude, or renew their rigor. Then in Psalm 22, (Psalm 22:15,) my strength or rigor has failed.” He adds, the fortitude or vigor of intelligence, knowledge, and eloquence; or a healthy habit of body, which is the same thing. 7777 It can scarcely be correct to confound bodily with mental endowments. Wintle explains the three clauses very appositely, referring the first to “excellent natural abilities,” the second to “the greatest improvement from cultivation,” and the last to” the communication of our perceptions in the happiest manner to others.” That they might stand in the king’s palace, and be taught literature, (I cannot translate the particle ספר, sepher, otherwise, verbally it is a “letter,” but it means learning or discipline,) and the language of the Chaldees We now see how the king regarded not only their rank, when he ordered the most excellent of the royal and noble children to be brought to him; but he exercised his choice that those who were to be his servants should be clever; they were of high birth, as the phrase is; so they ought to prevail in eloquence and give hopeful promise of general excellence in both body and mind. Without doubt he wished them to be held in great estimation, that he might win over other Jews also. Thus, if they afterwards obtained authority, should circumstances allow of it, they might become rulers in Judea, bearing sway over their own people, and yet remain attached to the Babylonian empire. This was the king’s design; it affords no reason why we should praise his liberality, since it is sufficiently apparent that he consulted nothing but his own advantage.
Meanwhile, we observe, that learning and the liberal arts were not then so despised as they are in this age, and in those immediately preceding it. So strongly has barbarism prevailed in the world, that it is almost disgraceful for nobles to be reckoned among the men of education and of letters! The chief boast. of the nobility was to be destitute of scholarship — nay, they gloried in the assertion, that they were “no scholars,” in the language of the day; and if any of their rank were versed in literature, they acquired their attainments for no other purpose than to be made bishops and abbots’ still, as I have said, they generally despised all literature. We perceive the age in which Daniel lived was not so barbarous, for the king wished to have these boys whom he caused to be so instructed, among his own princes, as we have said, to promote his own advantage; still we must remark upon the habit of that age. As to his requiring so much knowledge and skill, it may seem out of place, and more than their tender age admitted, that they should be so accomplished in prudence, knowledge, and experience. But we know that kings require nothing in moderation when they order anything to be prepared, they often ascend beyond the clouds. So Nebuchadnezzar speaks here; and Daniel, who relates his commands, does so in a royal manner. Since the king commanded all the most accomplished to be brought before him, if they really manifested any remarkable qualities, we need not be surprised at their knowledge, skill, and prudence. The king simply wished those boys and youths to be brought to him who were ingenious and dangerous, and adapted to learn with rapidly; and then those who were naturally eloquent and of a healthy constitution of body. For it follows directly, that they might learn, or be taught the literature and language of the Chaldees We perceive that King Nebuchadnezzar did not demand teachers, but boys of high birth, and good talents, and of promising abilities; he wished them to be liberally instructed in the doctrine of the Chaldees he was unwilling to have youths of merely polished and cultivated minds without natural abilities. His desire to have them acquainted with the language of Chaldea arose from his wish to separate them by degrees from their own nation, to introduce them to forget their Jewish birth, and to acquire the Chaldean manners, since language is a singular bond of communication. Respecting their learning, we may ask, whether Daniel and his companions were permitted to learn arts full of imposition, which we know to be the nature of the Chaldean learning. For they professed to know every one’s fate, as in these days there are many impostors in the world, who are called fortune-tellers. They abused an honorable name when they called themselves mathematicians, as if there were no scientific learning separate from those arts and diabolic illusions. And as to the use of the word, the Caesars, in their laws, unite Chaldeans and mathematicians, treating them as synonymous. But the explanation is easy, — the Chaldeans not only pursued that astrology which is called “Judicial,” but were also skilled in the true and genuine knowledge of the stars. The ancients say, that the course of the stars was observed by the Chaldeans, as there was no region of the world so full of them, and none possessed so extensive an horizon on all sides. As the Chaldeans enjoyed this advantage of having the heavens so fully exposed to the contemplation of man, this may have led to their study, and have conduced to the more earnest pursuit of astrology. But as the minds of men are inclined to vain and foolish curiosity, they were not content with legitimate science, but fell into foolish and perverse imaginations. For what fortune-tellers predict of any one’s destiny is merely foolish fanaticism. Daniel, therefore, might have learned these arts; that is, astrology and other liberal sciences, just as Moses is said to have been instructed in all the sciences of Egypt. We know how the Egyptians were infected with similar corruption’s; but it is said both of Moses and of our Prophet, that they were imbued with a knowledge of the stars and of the other liberal sciences. Although it is uncertain whether the king commanded them to proceed far in these studies, yet we must hold that Daniel abstained, as we shall see directly, from the royal food and drink, and was not drawn aside nor involved in these Satanic impostures. Whatever the king’s commandment was, I suppose Daniel to have been content with the pure and genuine knowledge of natural things. As far as the king is concerned, as we have already said, he consulted simply his own interests; wishing Daniel and his companions to pass over into a foreign tribe, and to be drawn away from their own people, as if they had been natives of Chaldea. It now follows —
In this verse, Daniel shews that the king had ordered some youths to be brought to him from Judea, and to be so nourished as to be intoxicated with delicacies, and thus rendered forgetful of their own nation. For we know that wherever there is any cunning in the world, it reigns especially in kings palaces! So Nebuchadnezzar, when he perceived he was dealing with an obstinate people, (and we know the Jews to have been of a hard and unsubdued spirit,) wished to acquire servants spontaneously obedient, aid thus endeavored to soften them with luxuries. This was the reason why he provided for them an allotment of his own meat and drink; as at present it is the greatest honor at princes’ tables to be served with a bon-bouche, as they say. Nebuchadnezzar wished this Daniel and his companions, though but captives and exiles, to be brought up not only splendidly but royally, if of the royal race. Through his right of conquest he, had drawn them away violently from their country, as we said yesterday. Hence he does not act thus from any feeling of liberality, and his feeding those miserable exiles from his own table should not be esteemed a virtuous action; but, as we have said, he cleverly reconciles the minds of the boys to be reckoned Chaldeans rather than Jews, and thus to deny their own race. This, then, was the king’s intention; but we shall see how God governed Daniel and his companions by His Spirit, and how they became aware of these snares of the devil, and abstained from the royal diet, lest they should become polluted by it. This point will hereafter be treated in its place — we are now only commenting on the craftiness of the king. He, commanded a daily portion of diet to be distributed to them, not that the spirit of parsimony dictated this daily portion, but the king wished their food should be exactly the same as his own and that of the chiefs.
He adds, that they should be educated for three years; meaning, until they were thoroughly skilled in both the language and knowledge of the Chaldeans. Three years were sufficient for both these objects, since he had selected youths of sufficient talent to learn with ease both languages and sciences. As they were endued with such capacity, it is not surprising that the space of three years had been prescribed by the king. At length, he says, at the end of them, meaning of the three years. We have shown how this ought not to be referred to the boys, as if the king afterwards selected some of them, for we shall see in its own place that a distinct time was fixed beforehand; hence no long refutation is needed. It is certain, then, that the Prophet speaks of the close of the three years. It had been said just before, that they with stand in the palace; but this ought also to be understood of the time of which mention has been made. They did not stand before the king immediately, but were reserved for this purpose. Since the king commanded them to be brought up for the purpose of using their services afterwards Daniel twice repeats — they were splendidly educated — seeing the king wished them to become his servants at table and in other duties.
The Prophet now comes to what properly belongs to his purpose. He did not propose to write a full narrative, but he touched shortly on what was necessary, to inform us how God prepared him for the subsequent discharge of the prophetic office. After he had stated their selection from the royal and noble seed, as excelling in talent, dexterity, and eloquence, as well as in rigor of body, he now adds, that he would his companions were among them. He leaves out the rest, because he had nothing to record of them worthy of mention; and, as I have said, the narrative hitherto is only subsidiary. The Prophet’s object, then, must be noticed, since he was exiled, and educated royally and sumptuously in the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar, that he might afterwards be one of the prefects, and his companions be elevated to the same rank. He does not say that he was of the royal house, but only of the tribe of Judah; but he was probably born of a noble rather than of a plebeian family, since kings more commonly selected their prefects from their own relations than from others. Moreover, since the kingdom of Israel was cut off, perhaps through a feeling of modesty, Daniel did not record his family, nor openly assert his origin from a noble and celebrated stock. He was content with a single word, — he and his companion were of the tribe of Judah, and brought up among the children of the nobility. He says — their names were changed; so that by all means the king might blot out of their hearts the remembrance of their own race, and they might forget their own origin. As far as interpretations are concerned, I think I have said enough to satisfy you, as I am not willingly curious in names where there is any obscurity, and especially in these Chaldee words. As to the Hebrew names, we know Daniel’s name to mean the judge, or judgment of God. Therefore, whether by the secret instinct of God, his parents had imposed this name, or whether by common custom, Daniel was called by this name, as God’s judge. So also of the rest; for Hananiah has a fixed meaning, namely, one who has obtained mercy from God; so Misael means required or demanded by God; and so Azariah, the help of God, or one whom God helps. But all these flyings have already been better explained to you, so I have only just touched on these points, as the change has no adequate reason for it. It is enough for us that the names were changed to abolish the remembrance of the kingdom of Judah from their hearts. Some Hebrews also assert these to have been the names of wise men. Whether it was so or not, if, was the kings plan to draw away those boys that they should have nothing in common with the elect people, but degenerate to the manners of the Chaldeans. Daniel could not help the prince or master of the eunuchs changing his name, for it was not in. his power to hinder it; the same must be said of his companions. But they had enough to retain the remembrance of their race, which Satan, by this artifice, wished utterly to blot out. And yet this was a great trial, because they suffered from their badge of slavery. Since their names were changed, either the king or his prefect Aspenaz wished to force them under the yoke, as if he would put before their eyes the, judgment of their own slavery as often as they heard their” names. We see, then, the intention of the change of name, namely, to cause these miserable exiles to feel themselves; in captivity, and cut off from the race of Israel; and by this mark or symbol they were reduced to slavery, to the, king of Babylon and his palace. This was, indeed, a hard trial, but it mattered not to the servants of God to be contemptuously treated before men, so long as they were not infected with any corruption; hence we conclude them to have been divinely governed, as they stood pure and spotless. For Daniel afterwards says —
Here Daniel shows his endurance of what he could neither cast off nor escape; but meanwhile he took care that he did not depart from the fear of God, nor become a stranger to his race, but he always retains the remembrance of his origin, and remains a pure, and unspotted, and sincere worshipper of God. He says, therefore, — he determined in his heart not to pollute himself with the kings food and drink, and that he asked the prefect, under whose charge he was, that he should not be driven to this necessity. It may be asked here, what there was of such importance in the diet to cause Daniel to avoid it? This seems to be a kind of superstition, or at least Daniel may have been too morose in rejecting the king’s diet. We know that to the pure all things are pure, and this rule applies to all ages. We read nothing of this kind concerning Joseph, and very likely Daniel used all food promiscuously, since he was treated by the king with great honor. This, then, was not perpetual with Daniel; for he might seem an inconsiderate zealot, or this might be ascribed, as we have said, to too much moresoness. If Daniel only for a time rejected the royal food, it was a mark of levity and inconsistency afterwards to allow himself that liberty from which he had for the time abstained. But if he did this with judgment and reason, why did he not persist in his purpose? I answer, — Daniel abstained at first from the luxuries of the court to escape being tampered with. It was lawful for him and his companions to feed on any kind of diet, but he perceived the king’s intention. We know how far enticements prevail to deceive us; especially when we are treated daintily; and experience shows us how difficult it is to be moderate when all is affluence around us, for luxury follows immediately on plenty. Such conduct is, indeed, too common, and the virtue of abstinence is rarely exercised when there is an abundance of provisions.
But this is not the whole reason which weighed with Daniel. Sobriety and abstinence are not simply praised here, since many twist this passage to the praise of fasting, and say Daniel’s chief virtue consisted in preferring pulse to the delicacies of a palace. For Daniel not only wished to guard himself against the delicacies of the table, since he perceived a positive danger of being eaten up by such enticements; hence he simply determined in his hem not to taste the diet of the court, desiring by his very food perpetually to recall the remembrance of his country. He wished so to live in Chaldea, as to consider himself an exile and a captive, sprung from the sacred family of Abraham. We see, then, the intention of Daniel. He desired to refrain from too great an abundance and delicacy of diet, simply to escape those snares of Satan, by which he saw himself surrounded. He was, doubtless, conscious of his own infirmity, and this also is to be reckoned to his praise, since; through distrust of himself he desired to escape from all allurements and temptations. As far as concerned the king intention, this was really a snare of the devil, as I have said. Daniel rejected it, and there is no doubt that God enlightened his mind by his Spirit as soon as he prayed to him. Hence he was unwilling to cast himself into the snares of the devil, while he voluntarily abstained from the royal diet. This is; the full meaning; of the passage.
It may also be asked, Why does Daniel claim this praise, as His own, which was shared equally with his companions? for he was not the only one who rejected the royal diet. It is necessary to take notice, how from his childhood he was, governed by the Spirit of God, that the confidence and influence of his teaching might be the greater; hence he speaks peculiarly of himself, not for the sake of boasting, but to obtain confidence in his teaching, and to show himself to have been for a long period formed and polished by God for the prophetic office. We must also remember that he was the adviser of his companions; for this course might never have come into their minds, and they might have been corrupted, unless they had been admonished by Daniel. God, therefore, wished Daniel to be a leader and master to his companions, to induce them to adopt the same abstinence. Hence also we gather, that as each of us is endued more fruitfully with the grace of the Spirit, so should we feel bound to instruct others. It will not be sufficient for any one to restrain himself and thus to discharge his own duty, under the teaching of God’s Spirit, unless he also extend his hand to others, and endeavor to unite in an alliance of piety, and of the fear and worship of God. Such an example is here proposed to us in Daniel, who not only rejected the delicacies of the palace, by which he might be intoxicated and even poisoned; but he also advised and persuaded his companions to adopt the same course. This is the reason why he calls tasting the king’s food pollution or abomination, though, as I have said, there was nothing abominable in it of itself. Daniel was at liberty to eat and drink at the loyal table, but the abomination arose from the consequences. Before the time of these four persons living in Chaldea., they doubtless partook of ordinary food after the usual manner, and were permitted to eat whatever was offered to them. They did not ask for pulse when at an inn, or on their journey; but they began to desire it when the king wished to infect them with his delicacies, and to induce them if possible to prefer that condition to returning to their own friends. When they perceived the object of his snares, then it became both a pollution and abomination to feed on those dainties, and to eat, at the king’s table. Thus we may ascertain the reason why Daniel thought himself polluted if he fared sumptuously and partook of the royal diet; he was conscious, as we have already observed, of his own infirmities, and wished to take timely precautions, lest he should be enticed by such snares, and fall away from piety and the worship of God, and degenerate into the manners of the Chaldeans, as if he were one of their nation, and of their native princes. I must leave the rest till tomorrow.
Daniel, yesterday, related what he had asked from the master to whose care he had been committed, he now inserts his sentence, to show this demand to be quite unobjectionable, since the prefect of the eunuchs treated him kindly. The crime would have been fatal had Daniel been brought into the king’s presence. Although very probably he did not use the word “pollution,” and openly and directly call the royal diet a “defilement,” yet it, may be easily conjectured from these words which he now records, that he asked the prefect to be permitted to eat pulse, because he did not think himself permitted to partake of the royal diet. We yesterday gave the reason; but the king of Babylon would immediately have been angry, had he known this. What! he would say, I honor those captives, when I might abuse them as slaves; nay, I nourish them delicately like my own children. and yet they reject my food, as if I were polluted. This, therefore, is the reason why Daniel here relates his being in favor with that prefect. For, as we shall see in the next verse, the prefect simply denied his request. Where was then any favor shown? But though he was not willing to acquiesce in the prayers of Daniel, he showed a singular kindness in not taking him before the king, since courtiers are ready for any accusation for the sake of obtaining favor. Then, very probably, the prefect would know that this had been granted to Daniel by his servant. If then there was any connivance on the part of the prefect, this is the favor and pity of which Daniel now speaks. His intention, then, is by no means doubtful, since he did not hesitate to adopt a different course of life, in order to remain pure and spotless, and uncontaminated with the delicacies of the palace of Babylon. He expresses how he escaped the danger, because the perfect treated him kindly, when he might have instantly caused his death. But we must notice the form of speech here used; — God placed him in favor and pity before that prefect He might have used the usual phrase, merely saying he was favorably treated; but, as he found a barbarian so humane and merciful, he ascribes this benefit to God. This phrase, as we have expounded it, is customary with the Hebrews; as when it is said, (Psalm 106:46,) God gave the Jews favor in the sight of the heathen who had led them captive; meaning, he took care that their conquerors should not rage so cruelly against them as they had done at first. For we know how the Jews were often treated harshly, roughly, and contemptuously. Since this inhumanity was here mitigated, the Prophet attributes it to God, who prepared mercies for his people. The result is this, — Daniel obtained favor with the prefect, since God bent the heart of a man, otherwise unsoftened, to clemency and humanity. His object in this narrative is to urge us to greater earnestness in duty, if we have to undergo any difficulties when God calls us.
It often happens that we cannot discharge everything which God requires and exacts without imminent danger to our lives. Sloth and softness naturally creep over us, and induce us to reject the cross. Daniel, therefore, gives us courage to obey God and his commands, and here states his favor with the prefect, since God granted his servant favor while faithfully performing his duty. Hence let us learn to cast our care upon God when worldly terror oppresses us, or when men forbid us with threats to obey God’s commands. Here let us acknowledge the power of God’s hand to turn the hearts of those who rage against us, and to flee us from all danger. This, then, is the reason why Daniel says the prefect was kind to him. Meanwhile, we gather the general doctrine from this passage, that men’s hearts are divinely governed, while it shows us how God softens their iron hardness, and turns the wolf into the lamb. For when he brought his people out of Egypt, he gave them favor with the Egyptians, so that they carried with them their most precious vessels. It is clear enough that the Egyptians were hostile towards the Israelites. Why then did they so freely offer them the most valuable of their household goods? Only beck, use the Lord inspired their hearts with new affections. So, again, the Lord can exasperate our friends, and cause them afterwards to rise up in hostility against us. Let us perceive, then, that on both sides the will is in God’s power, either to bend the hearts of men to humanity, or to harden those which were naturally tender. It is true, indeed, that every one has a peculiar disposition from his birth some are ferocious, warlike, and sanguinary; others are mild, humane, and tractable. This variety springs from God’s secret ordination; but God not only forms every one’s disposition at his birth, but every day and every moment, if it seems good to him, changes every one’s affections. He also blinds men’s minds, and rouses them again from their stupor. For we sometimes see the rudest men endued with much acuteness, and show a singular contrivance in action, and others who excel in foresight, are at fault when they have need of judgment and discretion. We must consider the minds and hearts of men to be so governed by God’s secret instinct, that he changes their affections just as he pleases. Hence there is no reason why we should so greatly fear our enemies, although they vomit forth their rage with open mouth, and are overflowing with cruelty; for they can be turned aside by the Lord. And thus let us learn from the example of Daniel to go on fearlessly in our course, and not to turn aside, even if the whole world should oppose us; since God can easily and readily remove all impediments and we shall find those who were formerly most cruel, become humane when the Lord wishes to spare us. We now understand the sense of the words of this verse, as well as the Prophet’s intention. It follows —
Daniel suffers a repulse from the prefect; and truly, as I have lately remarked, his humanity is not praised through his listening to Daniel’s wish and prayer; but through his burying in silence whatever might have brought him into difficulties. And his friendship appears in this; for although he denies his request, yet he does so mildly and civilly, as if he had said he would willingly grant it unless he had feared the king’s anger. This, therefore, is the meaning, — the prefect, though he did not dare to comply with Daniel’s request, yet treated both him and his companions kindly by not endangering their lives. He says, — he was afraid of the king who had ordered the food He is not to be blamed as if he feared man more than the living God, for he could not have any knowledge of God. Although he may have been persuaded that Daniel made his request in the earnest, pursuit of piety, yet he did not think himself authorized to comply; for he thought the Jews had their peculiar method of worship, but meanwhile he clung entirely to the religion of Babylon. Just as many profane persons now think us quite right in casting away superstitions, but yet they slumber in this error, — it is lawful for themselves to live in the ancient manner, since they were so brought up and instructed by their forefathers. Hence they use rites which they allow to be disapproved by us. So also this prefect might feel rightly concerning Daniel and his associates; at the same time he was not so touched by them as to desire to learn the difference between the two religions. Therefore he simply excuses himself, as not being at liberty to grant Daniel’s request, since this would endanger his own head with the king. It now follows —
Since Daniel understood from the answer of the prefect that he could not obtain his wish, he now addresses his servant. For the prefect had many servants under him, according to the custom of important stewardships. Most probably the steward’s duty was similar to that of the Chief Steward of the Household, 9393 Du grand Escuyer. — Fr. Trans. as it exists at this time in France. Daniel and his companions were under the care of one of these servants; Daniel descends to this remedy and obtains his wish, though, as we shall see, not without some artifice. And here Daniel’s singular constancy is observable, who after trying the matter once in vain, did not cease to pursue the same object It is a clear and serious proof of our faith, when we are not fatigued when anything adverse occurs, and never consider the way closed against us. Then if we do not retrace our steps, but try all ways, we truly show the root of piety fixed in our hearts. It might have seemed excusable in Daniel, after he had met with his first repulse; for who would not have said he had discharged his duty, and that an obstacle had prevailed over him! But; since he did not prevail with the chief prefect, he goes to his servant. Thus voluntarily to incur risk was the result of no common prudence. For this servant could not make the same objection, as we have just heard the prefect did. Without doubt he had heard of Daniel’s request, and of his repulse and denial; hence Daniel is beforehand with him, and shows how the servant may comply without the slightest danger; as if he had said, — We, indeed, did not obtain our wish from the prefect because he was afraid of his life, but I have now thought of a new scheme by which you may both gratify us and yet not become chargeable with any crime, as the whole matter will be unknown. Try thy servants, therefore, for ten days, and prove them; let nothing but pulse be given us to eat and water to drink If after that time our faces are fresh and plump, no suspicion will attach to time, and no one will be persuaded that we are not treated delicately according to the king’s commandment. Since, then, this proof will be sufficiently safe for thee, and cautious enough for us both, there is no reason why you should reject our prayers. Besides, without the slightest doubt, when Daniel brought this forward, he was directed by God’s Spirit to this act of prudence, and was also impelled to make this request. By the singular gift of the Holy Spirit Daniel invented this method of bending the mind of the servant under whose care he was placed. We must hold, then, that this was not spoken rashly or of his own will, but by the instinct of the Holy Spirit. It would not have been duty but rashness, if Daniel had been the author of this plan, and had not been assured by the Lord of its prosperous issue. Without doubt he had some secret revelation on the subject; and if the servant allowed him and His associates to feed on pulse, it was a happy answer to his prayers. Hence, I say, he would not have spoken thus, except under the guidance and command of the Spirit. And this is worthy of notice, since we often permit ourselves to do many things which turn out badly, because we are carried away by the mere feelings of the flesh, and do not consider what is pleasing to God. It is not surprising, then, when men indulge in various expectations, if they feel themselves deceived at last, since every one occasionally imposes upon himself by foolish hopes, and thus frustrates his designs. Indeed, it is not our province to promise ourselves any success. Hence let us notice how Daniel had not undertaken or approached the present business with any foolish zeal; and did not speak without due consideration, but was assured of the event by the Spirit of God.
But he says, let pulse be put before us to eat, and water to drink We see, then, that the foul youths did not abstain from the royal food for fear of pollution; for there was no law to prevent any one drinking wine, except the Nazarites, (Numbers 6:2,) and they might eat of any kind of flesh, of which there was abundance at the royal table. Whence then sprang this scrupulousness? because, as we said yesterday, Daniel was unwilling to accustom himself to the delicacies of the palace, which would cause him to become degenerate. He wished, therefore, to nourish his body not only frugally, but abstemiously, and not to indulge in these tastes; for although he was raised to the highest honors, he was always the same as if still among the most wretched captives. There is no occasion for seeking other reasons for this abstinence of Daniel’s. For he might have fed on ordinary bread and other less delicate food; but he was content with pulse, and was continually lamenting and nourishing in his mind the remembrance of his country, of which he would have been directly forgetful if he had been plunged into those luxuries of the palace. It follows —
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 —
After Melsar saw it possible to gratify Daniel and his companions without danger and promote his own profit, he was humane and easily dealt with, and had no need of long disputation. For an intervening obstacle often deters us from the pursuit of gain, and we forbear to seek what we very much crave when it requires oppressive labor; but when our profit is at hand, and we are freed from all danger, then every one naturally pursues it. We see, then, what Daniel means in this verse, namely, when Melsar saw the usefulness of this plan, and the possibility of his gaining by the diet assigned by the king to the four youths, then he gave them pulse. But we must notice also Daniel’s intention. He wishes to shew that we ought not to ascribe it to the kindness of man, that he and his companions could preserve themselves pure and unspotted. Why so? Because he never could have obtained anything from this man Melsar, until he perceived it could be granted safely. Since, therefore, Melsar consulted his own advantage and his private interest, and wished to escape all risks and hazards, we easily gather that the benefit is not to be ascribed entirely to him. Daniel and his companions obtained their wish, but God’s providence rendered this man tractable, and governed the whole event. Meanwhile, God openly shews how all the praise was due to himself, purposely to exercise the gratitude of Daniel and his associates.
The Prophet here shows what we have already touched upon, how his authority was acquired for exercising the prophetic office with greater advantage. He ought to be distinguished by fixed marks, that the Jews first, and foreigners afterwards, might acknowledge him to be endued with the prophetic spirit. But a portion of this favor was shared with his three companions; yet he excelled them all, because God fitted him specially for his office. Here the end is to be noticed, because it would be incorrect to say that their reward was bestowed by God, because they lived both frugally and heavenly, and spontaneously abstained from the delicacies of the palace; for God had quite a different intention. For he wished, as I have already said, to extol Daniel, to enable him to shew with advantage that Israel’s God is the only God; and as he wished his companions to excel hereafter in political government, he presented them also with some portion of his Spirit. But it is worthwhile to set Daniel before our eyes; because, as I have said, before God appointed him his Prophet, he wished to adorn him with his own insignia, to procure confidence in his teaching. He says, therefore, to those four boys, or youths, knowledge and science were given in all literature and wisdom Daniel was endued with a very singular gift — he was to be an interpreter of dreams, and an explainer of visions. Since Daniel here speaks of literature, without doubt he simply means the liberal arts, and does not comprehend the magical arts which flourished then and afterwards in Chaldea. We know that nothing was sincere among unbelievers; and, on the other hand, I have previously admonished you, that Daniel was not imbued with the superstitions in those days highly esteemed in that nation. Through discontent with genuine science, they corrupted the study of the stars; but Daniel and his associates were so brought up among the Chaldeans, that they were not tinctured with those mixtures and corruptions which ought always to be separated from true science. It would be absurd, then, to attribute to God the approval of magical arts, which it is well known were severely prohibited and condemned by the law itself. (Deuteronomy 18:10.) Although God abominates those magical superstitions as the works of the devil, this does not prevent Daniel and his companions from being divinely adorned with this gift, and being very well versed in all the literature of the Chaldees. Hence this ought to be restricted to true and natural science. As it respects Daniel, he says, he understood even, visions and dreams and we know how by these two methods the Prophets were instructed in the will of God. (Numbers 12:6.) For while God there blames Aaron and Miriam, he affirms this to be his usual method; as often as he wishes to manifest his designs to the Prophets, he addresses them by visions and dreams. But Moses is treated out of the common order of men, because he is addressed face to face, and mouth to mouth. God, therefore, whenever he wished to make use of his Prophets, by either visions or dreams, made known to them what he wished to be proclaimed to the people. When, therefore, it is here said, — Daniel understood dreams and visions, it has the sense of being endued with the prophetic spirit. While his companions were superior masters and teachers in all kinds of literature, he alone was a Prophet of God.
We now understand the object of this distinction, when an acquaintance with visions and dreams was ascribed peculiarly to Daniel. And here our previous assertion is fully confirmed, namely, that Daniel was adorned with the fullest proofs of his mission, to enable him afterwards to undertake the prophetic office with greater confidence, and acquire greater attention to his teaching. God could, indeed, prepare the in a single moment, and by striking terror and reverence into the minds of all, induce them to embrace his teaching; but he wished to raise his servant by degrees, and to bring him forth at the fitting time, and not too suddenly so that all might know by marks impressed for many years how to distinguish him from the common order of men. It afterwards follows:
Now, Daniel relates how he and his companions were brought forward at a fixed time, since three years was appointed by the king for their instruction in all the science of the Chaldees and on that account the prefect of the eunuchs produces them. He shews how he and his companions were approved by the king, and were preferred to all the rest. By these words he confirms my remark, that the Lord through a long interval had adorned them with much favor, by rendering them conspicuous throughout the royal palace, while the king himself acknowledged something uncommon in them. He, as well as the courtiers, ought all to entertain such an opinion concerning these four youths, as should express his sincere reverence for them. Then God wished to illustrate his own glory, since without doubt the king was compelled to wonder how they could surpass all the Chaldeans. This monarch had spared no expense on his own people, and had not neglected to instruct them; but when he saw foreigners and captives so superior, a spirit of rivalry would naturally spring up within him. But, as I have already said, God wished to extol himself in the person of his servants, so that the king might be compelled to acknowledge something divine in these young men. Whence, then, was this superiority? for the Chaldeans boasted of their wisdom from their birth, and esteemed other nations as barbarians. The Jews, they would argue, are eminent beyond all others; verily the God whom they worship distributes at his will talent and perception, since no one is naturally gifted unless he receives this grace from heaven. God, therefore, must necessarily be glorified, because Daniel and his comrades very far surpassed the Chaldeans. Thus God usually causes his enemies to gaze with wonder on his power, even when they most completely shun the light. For what did King Nebuchadnezzar propose, but to extinguish the very remembrance of God? For he wished to have about him Jews of noble family, who should oppose the very religion in which they were born. But God frustrated this plan of the tyrant’s, and took care to make his own name more illustrious. It now follows.
Expositors are puzzled with this verse, because, as we shall afterwards see, the Vision occurred to Daniel in the third year of Cyrus’s reign. Some explain the word היה, haiah, by to be “broken;” but this is by no means in accordance with the history. Their opinion is right who say that Daniel continued to the first year of the reign of Cyrus in the discharge of the prophetic office, although expositors do not openly say so; but I state openly what they say obscurely. For since he afterwards set out into Media, they say this change is denoted here. But we may understand the words better in the sense of Daniel’s flourishing among the Chaldeans and Assyrians, and being acknowledged as a celebrated Prophet; because he is known to have interpreted King Belshszzar’s vision, on the very night on which he was slain. The word here is simple and complete — he was — but it depends on the succeeding ones, since he always obtained the confidence and authority of a Prophet with the kings of Babylon. This, then, is the true sense. 9999 See the Dissertations at the end of this Volume.