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This was especially the case with respect to Daniel. The two characteristics of the faithful remnant in captivity are prominently marked in this chapter. Faithful to the will of God, although at a distance from His temple, they do not defile themselves among the Gentiles, and their prayer being granted, understanding is given them; as we see in chapter two, in Daniel's case, even to the knowledge of that which God alone can reveal, as well as His purpose in that revelation. They alone possess this understanding, a token of divine favour, and the fruit of their faithfulness through grace.
This is the case with Daniel in particular, whose faith and earnest fidelity marks out the path of faith for his companions. This did not interfere with their subjection to the Gentiles, which was the ordinance of God for the time being. On the other hand, we see in the second chapter the mighty king of the Gentiles, made the depository of the history of the Gentiles, and of God's entire plan, as the recipient of these divine communications; yet in such a manner as to exhibit Daniel, the captive child of Israel, as the one whom the Lord acknowledged, and who enjoyed His favour. But the details of this chapter, as a general picture of Gentile power, beginning with the dominion bestowed on Nebuchadnezzar, must be considered more attentively.
We may first observe that the Gentile kingdoms are seen as a whole. It is neither historical succession nor moral features with respect to God and man, but the kingdoms all together forming, as it were, a personage before God; the man of the earth in the eye of God glorious and terrible in his public splendour in the eyes of men. Four imperial powers were to succeed each other, as the great head of which, God had set up Nebuchadnezzar himself. There should be in certain respects a progressive deterioration, and at length the God of heaven would raise up another power that would execute judgment on that which still existed, and cause the image te disappear from off the earth, setting up in its place a kingdom that should never be overthrown. In the progressive decline of imperial power, there would be no diminution of material strength. Iron, that
breaks in pieces and crushes all things, characterises the fourth power. The strength of the head of gold appears to me to consist in its having received authority immediately from God Himself. In fact, the absolute authority of the first power was founded on the gift of the God of heaven. The others succeeded by providential principles. But God, known as supreme, bestowing `authority on the head, replacing His own authority on the earth by that of the head of the Gentiles, was not the immediate source of authority to the others. Babylon was the authority established of God. And, therefore, we found in Ezekiel (and the same thing is seen elsewhere), that the judgment of Babylon is connected with the restoration of Israel and of the throne of God. Observe, nevertheless, that God does not here present Himself as God of earth but of heaven. In Israel, He was God of the earth. He will be so again at the restitution of all things. Here He acts in sovereignty as God of heaven, setting up man, in a certain sense, in His place on the earth (see verses 37, 38). Although more limited, it is a dominion characterised by the same features as that of Adam. It differs, in that men are placed under his power; it is more limited, for the sea is not included in his sovereignty, but it reaches to every place where the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven exist. Human strength is found at the end; but the subsisting power is much more remote from the ancient relationship of God with the world. The mixture of iron and of potter's clay, is a change wrought in the primitive character of the imperial Roman power, an element introduced into it. The character remains in part, but another element is added. The energetic will of man is not there in an absolute manner. It is the introduction into the imperial Roman power of an element distinct from that which constituted its imperial strength, namely, the will of man devoid of conscience-military and popular power concentered in one individual without conscience. There are two causes here of weaknessdivision and the want of coherence between the elements. The kingdom (verse 41) shall be divided, and (ver 42) it shall be partly strong and partly brittle. The “ seed of men” is, I think, something outside of that which characterises the proper strength of the kingdom. But these two elements will never combine. It appears to me that the Barbaric or Teutonic element is probably here pointed out, as added to that which originally constituted the Roman empire. The fact of a subdivision is seen in verse 44. It is then announced that in the days of these last kings, He who rules from heaven will set up a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and that shall never pass into other hands. This is properly the only kingdom that, on God's part, takes the place of the kingdom of Babylon. The God of heaven had established Nebuchadnezzar in his kingdom, and had given him power, and strength, and glory, making all men subject to him. Doubtless the three others had followed, according to the will of Him who orders all things. But it is only with respect to the kingdom of verse 44, that it is once more said, " the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom.” The character, and some leading features in the history of the last of the four kingdoms are given. Nothing but the existence of the two preceding ones is stated, except the inferiority of the former of the two So that the Spirit of God gives us the divine establish ment of the first, the character of the fourth, and the divine establishment of the fifth or final kingdom.
We will now observe the manner in which this last kingdom is established; and we sce that it is accomplished by means of a judicial and destructive act which reduces the image to powder, bringing about its complete dissolution, so that no traces of it are left (vers. 34, 35). The instrument of this destruction was not formed by the wisdom or the schemes of man. It is a cut out without hands.” It does not act by a moral influence, that changes the character of the object on which it acts. It destroys that object by force. It is God who establishes it and gives it that force. The stone does not gradually increase in size to displace the image. Before it enlarges, it destroys the image. When it has become great, it is not merely a right given by God over men-it fills the whole earth-it is the exalted seat of a universal authority. It is on the last form of power exhibited in the image, that the stone falls with
destructive force; when the empire is divided and is partly strong and partly weak, on account of the elements composing its members. We may also observe, that it is not God destroying the image, in order to establish the kingdom; but the kingdom which He establishes smites the feet of the image as its first act. It is the outward and general history of that which, by God's appointment, took the place of His throne and His government in Jerusalem, and which had gradually degenerated in its public character with respect to God, and which at length comes to its end, in the judgment executed by the kingdom established of God without human agency. The kingdom of Christ, which falls on the last form of the monarchy formerly established by God, destroys the whole form of its existence, and itself fills the world.
I have nothing particular to say on the four monarchies. We find Babylon, Persia, and Greece, named in the book, as being already known to the Jews, and the Romans introduced, by the name which their territory bore, the coasts of Chittim, so that I receive without farther question, the four great empires ordinarily recognised by every one as pointed out in this prophecy. It does not appear to me that these prophecies leave room for any doubt on the subject.
The effect of the communication which proves that God is with the remnant, who alone understand his mind, is that the haughty Gentile acknowledges the God' of Israel as supreme in heaven and on earth. That which characterises the remnant here, is that God reveals to them his mind.
After this general picture, we have, historically, the characteristic features of these empires, marking the condition into which they fall, through their departure from God; primarily and principally Babylon.
In chapter iii. we have the first characteristic feature of man invested with imperial power, but whose heart is far afrom God-a distance augmented by the very possession of power.
He will have a god of his own, a god dependent on the will of man ; and in this case, dependent on the depositary of the imperial power.
This is man's wisdom. The religious instincts are gratified in connection with the supreme power.; and the influences of religion are exercised in binding all the members of the empire in one blended mass around the head, by the strongest bond, without any appearance of authority: For the religious wants of man are thus connected with his will; and his will is unconsciously subject to the centre of power
. Otherwise, religion, the most powerful motive of the heart, becomes a dissolvent in the empire. But the will of man cannot make a true god: and consequently Nebuchadnezzar, although he had confessed that there was none like the God of the Jewsforsakes Him and makes a god for himself. The Gentile government rejects God, the source of its power; and the true God is only acknowledged by a faithful and suffering remnant. The Empire is idolatrous. This is the first great feature that characterises the dominion of Babylon. But the faithfulness that opposes this wise system, which binds the most powerful motive of the whole people to the will of their Head, uniting them in worship around that which he presents to them-faithfulness like this touches the main-spring of the whole movement. The idol is not God at all ; and however powerful man may be, he cannot create a God. The man of faith, subject indeed to the king as we have seen, because appointed of God, is not subject to the false god which the king sets up, denying the true God who gave him his authority, and who is still acknowledged by the man of faith. But power is in the king's hands; and he will have it known that his will is supreme.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are cast into the fiery furnace. But it is in the sufferings of his people that God in the end appears as God. He allows their faithfulness to be tried, in the place where evil exists, that they may be with Him in the enjoyment of happiness, in the place where His character and His power are fully manifested, whether on this earth, or in a yet more excellent manner in Heaven.
We may observe, that faith and obedience are as absolute as the will of the king. Nothing can be finer and more calm than the answer of the three believers. God