Daniel 4:27

27. Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.

27. Propterea, rex, consilium meum placeat apud to, 1 et peccata tua 2 justitia redimas 3 et iniquitatem tuam in misericordia erga pauperes: ecce erit prolongstio pact tuae. 4


Since interpreters do not agree about the sense of these words, and as the doctrine to be derived from them depends partly upon that, we must remark, in the first place, that yklm, meleki, means "my counsel." Some translate it "my king," and both words are derived from the same, root Klm, melek, signifying "to reign; but it also signifies counsel". There is no doubt flint this passage ought to be explained thus: -- May my counsel therefore please thee, and mayest thou redeem thy sins. The word qwrp, peruk, is here translated "to redeem;" it often signifies "to break off," or "separate," or "abolish." In this passage it may conveniently be translated, "separate or break off thy sins" by pity and humanity; as if he had said, Thus thou shalt make an end of sin, and enter upon a new course, and thus thy cruelty may be changed into clemency, and thy tyrannical violence into pity. But this is not of much consequence. The verb often signifies to free and to preserve; the context does not admit the sense of preserving, and it would be harsh to say, Free thy sins by thy righteousness. Hence I readily embrace the sense of Daniel exhorting the king of Babylon to a change of life, so as to break off his sins in which he had too long indulged. With respect to the clause at the end of the verse, behold there shall be a cure for thine error, as I have mentioned, the Greeks translate, "if by chance there should be a cure;" but the other sense seems to suit better; as if he had said, "this is the proper and genuine medicine," some translate, "a promulgation," since Kra, arek, signifies "to produce;" and at the same time they change the signification of the other noun, for they say, "there shall be a prolongation to thy peace or quiet." That sense would be tolerable, but the other suits better with the grammatical construction; besides, the more received sense is, this medicine may be suitable to the error. A different sense may be elicited without changing the words at all; there shall be a medicine for thine errors; meaning, thou mayest learn to cure thine errors. For length of indulgence increases the evil, as we have sufficiently noticed. Hence this last part of the verse may be taken, and thus Daniel may proceed with his exhortation; as if he had said, -- it is time to cease from thine errors, for hitherto thou hast deprived thyself of all thy senses by giving unbridled license to thy lusts. If, therefore, there is any moderation in thine ignorance, thou mayest open thine eyes and understand at length how to repent.

I now return to the substance of the teaching. May my counsel please thee! says he. Here Daniel treats the profane king more indulgently than if he had addressed his own nation; for he used the prophetic office. But because he knew the king did not hold the first rudiments of piety, he here undertakes only the office of a counselor, since he was not an ordinary teacher. As to Nebuchadnezzar sending for him, this was not a daily thing, nor did he do this, because he wished to submit to his doctrine. Daniel therefore remembers the kind of person with whom he was treating, when he tempers his words and says, may my counsel be acceptable to thee! He afterwards explains his counsel in a few words, -- Break away, says he, thy sins -- or cast them away -- by righteousness, and thy iniquities by pity to the poor. These is no doubt that Daniel wished to exhort the king to repentance; but he touched on only one kind, which we know was very customary with the Prophets. For when they recall the people to obedience by repentance, they do not always explain it fully, nor define it generally, but touch upon it by a figure of speech, and treat only of the outward duties of penitence. Daniel now follows this custom. If inquiry is made concerning the nature of repentance, it is the conversion of man towards God, from whom he had been alienated. Is this conversion then only in the hands, and feet, and tongue. Does it not rather begin in the mind and the heart, and then pass on to outward works? Hence true penitence has its source in the mind of men, so that he who wished to be wise must set aside his own prudence, and put away his foolish confidence in his own reason. Then he must subdue his own depraved affections and submit them to God, and thus his outward life will follow the inward spirit. Besides this, works are the only testimonies to real repentance; for it is a thing too excellent to allow its root to appear to human observation. By our fruits therefore we must testify our repentance. But because the duties of the second table, in some sense, open the mind of man; hence the Prophets in requiring repentance, only set before us the duties of charity, as Daniel says. Redeem, therefore, thy sins, says he, or break away, or east them away -- but how? namely, by righteousness. Without doubt the word "justice" means here the same as "grace" or "pity." But those who here transfer "grace" to "faith," twist the Prophet's words too violently; for we know of nothing more frequent among the Hebrews than to repeat one and the same thing under two forms of speech. As, therefore, Daniel here uses sins and iniquities in the same sense, we conclude justice and pity ought not to be separated, while the second word expresses more fully the sense of justice. For when men see their life must be changed, they feign for themselves many acts of obedience which scarcely deserve the name. They have no regard for what pleases God, nor for what he commands in his word; but just as they approve of one part or another, they thrust themselves rashly upon God, as we see in the Papacy. For what is a holy and religious life with them? To run about here and there; to undertake pilgrimages imposed by vows; to set up a statue; to found masses, as they call it; to fast on certain days; and to lay stress on trifles about which God has never said a single word. As, therefore, men err so grossly in the knowledge of true righteousness, the Prophet here adds the word "pity" by way of explanation; as if he had said, Do not think to appease God by outward pomps, which delight mankind because they are carnal and devoted to earthly things, and fashion for them. selves a depraved idea of God according to their own imagination; let not then this vanity deceive you; but learn how true justice consists in pity towards the poor. In this second clause, then, only a part of the idea is expressed, since true just. ice is not restricted simply to the meaning of the word, but embraces all the duties of charity. Hence we ought to deal faithfully with mankind, and not to deceive either rich or poor, nor to oppress any one, but to render every one his own. But this manner of speaking ought to be familiar to us, if we are but moderately versed in the prophetic writings.

The meaning of the phrase is this: -- Daniel wished to shew the king of Babylon the duty of living justly, and cultivating faith and integrity before men, without forgetting the former table of the law. For the worship of God is more precious than all the righteousness which men cultivate among themselves. But true justice is known by its outward proofs, as I have said. But he treats here the second table rather than the first: for, while hypocrites pretend to worship God by many ceremonies, they allow themselves to commit all kinds of cruelty, rapine, and fraud, without obeying any law of correct living with their neighbors. Because hypocrites cover their malice by this frivolous pretense, God sets before them a true test to recall them to the duties of charity. This, then, is the meaning of the verse from which we have elicited a double sense. If we retain the future time, behold, there shall be a medicine! it will be a confirmation of the former doctrine; as if he had said, We must not travel the long and oblique circuits -- there is this single remedy: or, if we are better pleased with the word of exhortation, the context will be suitable; may there be a medicine for thine errors! Mayest thou not indulge thyself hereafter as thou hast hitherto done, but thou must open thine eyes and perceive how miserably and wickedly thou hast lived, and so desire to heal thine errors. As the Papists have abused this passage, to shew God to be appeased by satisfactions, it is too frivolous and ridiculous to refute their doctrine; for when they speak of satisfactions, they mean works of supererogation. If any one could fulfill God's law completely, yet he could not satisfy for his sins. The Papists are compelled to confess this; what then remains? -- The offering to God more than he demands, which they call works not required! But Daniel does not here exact of King Nebuchadnezzar any work of supererogation; he exacts justice, and afterwards shews how a man's life cannot be justly spent unless humanity prevails and flourishes among men, and especially when we are merciful to the poor. Truly there is no supererogation here! To what end then serves the law? Surely this has no reference to satisfactions, according to the ridiculous and. foolish notions of the Papists! But if we grant them this point, still it does not follow that their sins are redeemed before God, as if works compensated either their fault or penalty, as they assert; for they confess their fault not to be redeemed by satisfactions -- this is one point gained -- and then as to the penalty, they say it is redeemed; but we must see whether this agrees with the Prophet's intention.

I will not contend about a word; I will allow it to mean "to redeem" -- Thou mayest redeem thy sins; but we must ascertain, whether this redemption is in the judgment of God or of man? Clearly enough, Daniel here regards the conduct of Nebuchadnezzar as unjust and inhuman, in harassing his subjects, and in proudly despising the poor and miserable. Since, therefore, he had so given himself up to all iniquity, Daniel shews the remedy; and if this remedy is treated as a redemption or liberation, there is nothing absurd in saying, we redeem our sins before men while we satisfy them. I redeem my sins before my neighbor, if after I have injured him, I desire to become reconciled to him, I acknowledge my sins and seek for pardon. If, therefore, I have injured his fortunes, I restore what I have unjustly taken, and thus redeem my transgression. But this does assist us in expiating sin before God, as if the beneficence which I put in practice was any kind of expiation. We see, therefore, the Papists to be foolish and silly when they wrest the Prophet's words to themselves. We may now inquire in the last place, to what purpose Daniel exhorted King Nebuchadnezzar to break away from or redeem his sins? Now this was either a matter of no consequence -- which would be absurd -- or it was a heavenly decree, as the king's dream was a promulgation of the edict, as we have formerly seen. But this was determined before God, and could not be changed in any way; it was therefore superfluous to wish to redeem sins. If we follow a different explanation, no difficulty will remain; but even if we allow the Prophet to be here discoursing of the redemption of sins, yet the exhortation is not without its use.

In whatever way Nebuchadnezzar ought to prepare to bear God's chastisement, yet this would prove most useful to him, to acknowledge God to be merciful. And yet the time might be contracted, during which his obstinate wickedness should extend; not as if God changed his decree, but because he always warns by threatening, for the purpose of treating men more kindly, and tempering vigor with his wrath, as is evident from many other examples. This would not have been without its use to a teachable disposition, nor yet without fruit, when Daniel exhorted King Nebuchadnezzar to redeem his sins, because he might obtain some pardon, even if he had paid the penalty, since not even a single day had been allowed out of the seven years. Yet this was a great progress, if the king had at last humbled himself before God, so as to be in a fit state for receiving the pardon which had been promised. For as a certain time had been fixed beforehand, or at least shewn by the Prophet, hence it would have profited the king, if through wishing to appease his judge he had prepared his mind for obtaining pardon. This doctrine was therefore in every way useful, because the same reason avails with us. We ought always to be prepared to suffer God's chastisements; yet it is no slight or common alleviation of our sufferings, when we so submit ourselves to God, as to be persuaded of his desire to be propitious to us, when he sees us dissatisfied with ourselves, and heartily detesting our transgressions.


Grant, Almighty God, that we may learn to bear patiently all adverse misfortunes, and know that thou exercisest towards us the duties of a judge, as often as we are afflicted in this world. Thus may we prevent thy wrath, and so condemn ourselves with true humility, that trusting in thy pity we may always flee to thee, relying upon the mediation of thy only-begotten Son, which thou hast provided for us. Grant, also, that we may beg pardon of thee, and resolve upon a true repentance, not with vain and useless fictions, but by true and serious proofs, cultivating true charity and faith among ourselves, and testifying in this way our fear of thy name, that thou mayest be truly glorified in us by the same our Lord. -- Amen.

Lecture Twenty-first.

1 rps, shepher, signifies to be beautiful; but it is metaphorically transferred to approbation or complacency, as the phrase is, "therefore my counsel shall please thee." -- Calvin.

2 Or, "that" for w, vau, may be used in this way. -- Calvin.

3 So it is usually translated: we shall discuss the word by and bye. -- Calvin.

4 The Greeks translate -- if by chance -- or a medicine for their error. -- Calvin.