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Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

Daniel 6

 

 

Verse 5

Daniel

A TRIBUTE FROM ENEMIES

Daniel 6:5.

Daniel was somewhere about ninety years old when he was cast to the lions. He had been for many years the real governor of the whole empire; and, of course, in such a position had incurred much hatred and jealousy. He was a foreigner and a worshipper of another God, and therefore was all the more unpopular, as a Brahmin would be in England if he were a Cabinet Minister. He was capable and honest, and therefore all the incompetent and all the knavish officials would recognise in him their natural enemy. So, hostile intrigues, which grow quickly in courts, especially in Eastern courts, sprung up round him, and his subordinates laid their heads together in order to ruin him. They say, in the words of my text, ‘We cannot find any holes to pick. There is only one way to put him into antagonism to the law, and that is by making a law which shall be in antagonism to God’s law.’ And so they scheme to have the mad regulation enacted, which, in the sequel of the story, we find was enforced.

These intriguers say, ‘We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.’

Now, then, if we look at that confession, wrung from the lips of malicious observers, we may, I think, get two or three lessons.

I. First, note the very unfavourable soil in which a character of singular beauty and devout consecration may be rooted and grow.

What sort of a place was that court where Daniel was? Half shambles and half pigsty. Luxury, sensuality, lust, self-seeking, idolatry, ruthless cruelty, and the like were the environment of this man. And in the middle of these there grew up that fair flower of a character, pure and stainless, by the acknowledgment of enemies, and in which not even accusers could find a speck or a spot. There are no circumstances in which a man must have his garments spotted by the world. However deep the filth through which he has to wade, if God sent him there, and if he keeps hold of God’s hand, his purity will be more stainless by reason of the impurity round him. There were saints in C泡r’s household, and depend upon it, they were more saintly saints just because they were in C泡r’s household. You will always find that people who have any goodness in them, and who live in conditions unusually opposed to goodness, have a clearer faith, and a firmer grasp of their Master, and a higher ideal of Christian life, just because of the foulness in which they have to live. It may sound a paradox, but it is a deep truth that unfavourable circumstances are the most favourable for the development of Christian character. For that development comes, not by what we draw from the things around, but by what we draw from the soil in which we are rooted, even God Himself, in whom the roots find both anchorage and nutriment. And the more we are thrown back upon Him, and the less we find food for our best selves in the things about us, the more likely is our religion to be robust and thorough-going, and conscious ever of His presence. Resistance strengthens muscles, and the more there is need for that in our Christian lives, the manlier and the stronger and the better shall we probably be. Let no man or woman say, ‘If only circumstances were more favourable, oh, what a saint I could be; but how can I be one, with all these unfavourable conditions? How can a man keep the purity of his Christian life and the fervour of his Christian communion amidst the tricks and chicanery and small things of Manchester business? How can a woman find time to hold fellowship with God, when all day long she is distracted in her nursery with all these children hanging on her to look after? How can we, in our actual circumstances, reach the ideal of Christian character?’

Ah, brother, if the ideal’s being realised depends on circumstances, it is a poor affair. It depends on you, and he that has vitality enough within him to keep hold of Jesus Christ, has thereby power enough within him to turn enemies into friends, and unfavourable circumstances into helps instead of hindrances. Your ship can sail wonderfully near to the wind if you trim the sails rightly, and keep a good, strong grip on the helm, and the blasts that blow all but in your face, may be made to carry you triumphantly into the haven of your desire. Remember Daniel, in that godless court reeking with lust and cruelty, and learn that purity and holiness and communion with God do not depend on environment, but upon the inmost will of the man.

II. Notice the keen critics that all good men have to face.

In this man’s case, of course, their eyesight was mended by the microscope of envy and malice. That is no doubt the case with some of us too. But whether that be so or no, however unobtrusive and quiet a Christian person’s life may be, there will be some people standing close by who, if not actually watching for his fall, are at least by no means indisposed to make the worst of a slip, and to rejoice over an inconsistency.

We do not need to complain of that. It is perfectly reasonable and perfectly right. There will always be a tendency to judge men, who by any means profess that they are living by the highest law, with a judgment that has very little charity in it. And it is perfectly right that it should be so. Christian people need to be trained to be indifferent to men’s opinions, but they also need to be reminded that they are bound, as the Apostle says, to ‘provide things honest in the sight of all men.’ It is a reasonable and right requirement that they should ‘have a good report of them that are without.’ Be content to be tried by a high standard, and do not wonder, and do not forget that there are keen eyes watching your conduct, in your home, in your relations to your friends, in your business, in your public life, which would weep no tears, but might gleam with malicious satisfaction, if they saw inconsistencies in you. Remember it, and shape your lives so that they may be disappointed.

If a minister falls into any kind of inconsistency or sin, if a professing Christian makes a bad failure in Manchester, what a talk there is, and what a pointing of fingers! We sometimes think it is hard; it is all right. It is just what should be meted out to us. Let us remember that unslumbering tribunal which sits in judgment upon all our professions, and is very ready to condemn, and very slow to acquit.

III. Notice, again, the unblemished record.

These men could find no fault, ‘forasmuch as Daniel was faithful.’ Neither was there any error’-of judgment, that is,-’or fault’-dereliction of duty, that is,-’found in him.’ They were very poor judges of his religion, and they did not try to judge that; but they were very good judges of his conduct as prime minister, and they did judge that. The world is a very poor critic of my Christianity, but it is a very sufficient one of my conduct. It may not know much about the inward emotions of the Christian life, and the experiences in which the Christian heart expatiates and loves to dwell, but it knows what short lengths, and light weights, and bad tempers, and dishonesty, and selfishness are. And it is by our conduct, in the things that they and we do together, that worldly men judge what we are in the solitary depths where we dwell in communion with God. It is useless for Christians to be talking, as so many of them are fond of doing, about their spiritual experiences and their religious joy, and all the other sweet and sacred things which belong to the silent life of the spirit in God, unless, side by side with these, there is the doing of the common deeds which the world is actually able to appraise in such a fashion as to extort, even from them, the confession, ‘We find no occasion against this man.’

You remember the pregnant, quaint old saying, ‘If a Christian man is a shoeblack, he ought to be the best shoeblack in the parish.’ If we call ourselves Christians, we are bound, by the very name, to live in such a fashion as that men shall have no doubt of the reality of our profession and of the depth of our fellowship with Christ. It is by our common conduct that they judge us. And the ‘Christian Endeavourer’ needs to remember, whether he or she be old or young, that the best sign of the reality of the endeavour is the doing of common things with absolute rightness, because they are done wholly for Christ’s sake.

It is a sharp test, and I wonder how many of us would like to go out into the world, and say to all the irreligious people who know us, ‘Now come and tell me what the faults are that you have seen in me.’ There would be a considerable response to the invitation, and perhaps some of us would learn to know ourselves rather better than we have been able to do. ‘We shall not find any occasion in this Daniel’-I wonder if they would find it in that Daniel-’except we find it concerning the law of his God.’ There is a record for a man!

IV. Lastly, note obedient disobedience.

The plot goes on the calculation that, whatever happens, this man may be trusted to do what his God tells him, no matter who tells him not to do it. And so on that calculation the law, surely as mad a one as any Eastern despot ever hatched, is passed that, for a given space of time, nobody within the dominions of this king, Darius, is to make any petition or request of any man or god, save of the king only. It was one of the long series of laws that have been passed in order to be broken, and being broken, might be an instrument to destroy the men that broke it. It was passed with no intention of getting obedience, but only with the intention of slaying one faithful man, and the plot worked according to calculation.

What did it matter to Daniel what was forbidden or commanded? He needed to pray to God, and nothing shall hinder him from doing that. And so, obediently disobedient, he brushes the preposterous law of the poor, shadowy Darius on one side, in order that he may keep the law of his God.

Now I do not need to remind you how obedience to God has in the past often had to be maintained by disobedience to law. I need not speak of martyrs, nor of the great principle laid down so clearly by the apostle Peter, ‘We ought to obey God rather than man.’ Nor need I remind you that if a man, for conscience sake, refuses to render active obedience to an unrighteous law, and unresistingly accepts the appointed penalty, he is not properly regarded as a law-breaker.

If earthly authorities command what is clearly contrary to God’s law, a Christian is absolved from obedience, and cannot be loyal unless he is a rebel. That is how our forefathers read constitutional obligations. That is how the noble men on the other side of the Atlantic, fifty years ago, read their constitutional obligations in reference to that devilish institution of slavery. And in the last resort-God forbid that we should need to act on the principle-Christian men are set free from allegiance when the authority over them commands what is contrary to the will and the law of God.

But all that does not touch us. But I will tell you what does touch us. Obedience to God needs always to be sustained-in some cases more markedly, in some cases less so-but always in some measure, by disobedience to the maxims and habits of most men round about us. If they say ‘Do this,’ and Jesus Christ says ‘Don’t,’ then they may talk as much as they like, but we are bound to turn a deaf ear to their exhortations and threats.

‘He is a slave that dare not be In the right with two or three,’

as that peaceful Quaker poet of America sings.

And for us, in our little lives, the motto, ‘This did not I, because of the fear of the Lord,’ is absolutely essential to all noble Christian conduct. Unless you are prepared to be in the minority, and now and then to be called ‘narrow,’ ‘fanatic,’ and to be laughed at by men because you will not do what they do, but abstain and resist, then there is little chance of your ever making much of your Christian profession.

These people calculated upon Daniel, and they had a right to calculate upon him. Could the world calculate upon us, that we would rather go to the lions’ den than conform to what God and our consciences told us to be a sin? If not, we have not yet learned what it means to be a disciple. The commandment comes to us absolutely, as it came to the servants in the first miracle, ‘Whatsoever He saith unto you’-that, and that only-’whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.’


Verses 16-28

Daniel

FAITH STOPPING THE MOUTHS OF LIONS

Daniel 6:16 - Daniel 6:28.

Daniel was verging on ninety when this great test of his faithfulness was presented to him. He had been honoured and trusted through all the changes in the kingdom, and, when the Medo-Persian conquest came, the new monarch naturally found in him, as a foreigner, a more reliable minister than in native officials. ‘Envy doth merit as its shade pursue,’ and the crafty trick by which his subordinates tried to procure his fall, was their answer to Darius’s scheme of making him prime minister. Our passage begins in the middle of the story, but the earlier part will come into consideration in the course of our remarks.

I. We note, first, the steadfast, silent confessor and the weak king.

Darius is a great deal more conspicuous in the narrative than Daniel. The victim of injustice is silent. He does not seem to have been called on to deny or defend the indictment. His deed was patent, and the breach of the law flagrant. He, too, was ‘like a sheep before the shearers,’ dumb. His silence meant, among other things, a quiet, patient, fixed resolve to bear all, and not to deny his God. Weak men bluster. Heroic endurance has generally little to say. Without resistance, or a word, the old man, an hour ago the foremost in the realm, is hauled off and flung into the pit or den. It is useless and needless to ask its form. The entrance was sealed with two seals, one the king’s, one the conspirators’, that neither party might steal a march on the other. Fellows in iniquity do not trust each other. So, down in the dark there, with the glittering eyeballs of the brutes round him, and their growls in his ears, the old man sits all night long, with peace in his heart, and looking up trustfully, through the hole in the roof, to his Protector’s stars, shining their silent message of cheer.

The passage dwells on the pitiable weakness and consequent unrest of the king. He had not yielded Daniel to his fate without a struggle, which the previous narrative describes in strong language. ‘Sore displeased,’ he ‘set his heart’ on delivering him, and ‘laboured’ to do so. The curious obstacle, limiting even his power, is a rare specimen of conservatism in its purest form. So wise were our ancestors, that nothing of theirs shall ever be touched. Infallible legislators can make immutable laws; the rest of us must be content to learn by blundering, and to grow by changing. The man who says, ‘I never alter my opinions,’ condemns himself as either too foolish or too proud to learn.

But probably, if the question had been about a law that was inconvenient to Darius himself, or to these advocates of the constitution as it has always been, some way of getting round it would have been found out. If the king had been bold enough to assert himself, he could have walked through the cobweb. But this is one of the miseries of yielding to evil counsels, that one step taken calls for another. ‘In for a penny, in for a pound.’ Therefore let us all take heed of small compliances, and be sure that we can never say about any doubtful course, ‘Thus far will I go, and no farther.’ Darius was his servants’ servant when once he had put his name to the arrogant decree. He did not know the incidence of his act, and we do not know that of ours; therefore let us take heed of the quality of actions and motives, since we are wholly incapable of estimating the sweep of their consequences.

Darius’s conduct to Daniel was like Herod’s to John the Baptist and Pilate’s to Jesus. In all the cases the judges were convinced of the victim’s innocence, and would have saved him; but fear of others biassed justice, and from selfish motives, they let fierce hatred have its way. Such judges are murderers. From all come the old lessons, never too threadbare to be dinned into the ears, especially of the young, that to be weak is, in a world so full of temptation, the same as to be wicked, and that he who has a sidelong eye to his supposed interest, will never see the path of duty plainly.

What a feeble excuse to his own conscience was Darius’s parting word to Daniel! ‘Thy God, whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee!’ And was flinging him to the lions the right way to treat a man who served God continually? Or, what right had Darius to expect that any god would interfere to stop the consequences of his act, which he thus himself condemned? We are often tempted to think, as he did, that a divine intervention will come in between our evil deeds and their natural results. We should be wiser if we did not do the things that, by our own confession, need God to avert their issues.

But that weak parting word witnessed to the impression made by the lifelong consistency of Daniel. He must be a good man who gets such a testimony from those who are harming him. The busy minister of state had done his political work so as to extort that tribute from one who had no sympathy with his religion. Do we do ours in that fashion? How many of our statesmen ‘serve God continually’ and obviously in their public life?

What a contrast between the night passed in the lions’ den and the palace! ‘Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage,’ and soft beds and luxurious delights of sense bring no ease to troubled consciences. Daniel is more at rest, though his ‘soul is among lions,’ than Darius in his palace. Peter sleeps soundly, though the coming morning is to be his last. Better to be the victim than the doer of injustice!

The verdict of nightly thoughts on daily acts is usually true, and if our deeds do not bear thinking of ‘on our beds,’ the sooner we cancel them by penitence and reversed conduct, the better. But weak men are often prone to swift and shallow regrets, which do not influence their future any more than a stone thrown into the sea makes a permanent gap. Why should Darius have waited for morning, if his penitence had moved him to a firm resolution to undo the evil done? He had better have sprung from his bed, and gone with his guards to open the den in the dark. Feeble lamentations are out of place when it is still time to act.

The hurried rush to the den in the morning twilight, and the ‘lamentable voice,’ so unlike royal impassiveness, indicate the agitation of an impulsive nature, accustomed to let the feeling of the moment sway it unchecked. Absolute power tends to make that type of man. The question thrown into the den seems to imply that its interior was not seen. If so, the half-belief in Daniel’s survival is remarkable. It indicates, as before, the impression of steadfast devoutness made by the old man’s life, and also a belief that his God was possibly a true and potent divinity.

Such a belief was quite natural, but it does not mean that Darius was prepared to accept Daniel’s God as his god. His religion was probably elastic and hospitable enough to admit that other nations might have other gods. But his thoughts about this ‘living God’ are a strange medley. He is not sure whether He is stronger than the royal lions, and he does not seem to feel that if a god delivers, his own act in surrendering a favoured servant of such a god looks very black. A half-belief blinds men to the opposition between their ways and God’s, and to the certain issue of their going in one direction and God in another. If Daniel be delivered, what will become of Darius? But, like most men, he is illogical, and that question does not seem to have occurred to him. Surely this man may sit for a portrait of a weak, passionate nature, in the feebleness of his resistance to evil, the half hopes that wrong would be kept from turning out so badly as it promised, the childish moanings over wickedness that might still have been mended, and the incapacity to take in the grave, personal consequences of his crime.

II. We next note the great deliverance.

The king does not see Daniel, and waits in sickening doubt whether any sound but the brutes’ snarl at the disturber of their feast will be heard. There must have been a sigh of relief when the calm accents were audible from the unseen depth. And what dignity, respect, faith, and innocence are in them! Even in such circumstances the usual form of reverential salutation to the king is remembered. That night’s work might have made a sullen rebel of Daniel, and small blame to him if he had had no very amiable feelings to Darius; but he had learned faithfulness in a good school, and no trace of returning evil for evil was in his words or tones.

The formal greeting was much more than a form, when it came up from among the lions. It heaped coals of fire on the king’s head, let us hope, and taught him, if he needed the lesson, that Daniel’s disobedience had not been disloyalty. The more religion compels us to disregard the authority and practices of others, the more scrupulously attentive should we be to demonstrate that we cherish all due regard to them, and wish them well. How simply, and as if he saw nothing in it to wonder at, he tells the fact of his deliverance! ‘My God has sent His angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths.’ He had not been able to say, as the king did before the den was opened, ‘Thy God will deliver thee’; but he had gone down into it, knowing that He was able, and leaving himself in God’s care. So it was no surprise to him that he was safe. Thankfulness, but not astonishment, filled his heart. So faith takes God’s gifts, however great and beyond natural possibility they may be; for the greatest of them are less than the Love which faith knows to move all things, and whatsoever faith receives is just like Him.

Daniel did not say, as Darius did, that he served God continually, but he did declare his own innocency in God’s sight and unimpeachable fidelity to the king. His reference is probably mainly to his official conduct; but the characteristic tone of the Old Testament saint is audible, which ventured on professions of uprightness, accordant with an earlier stage of revelation and religious consciousness, but scarcely congruous with the deeper and more inward sense of sin produced by the full revelation in Christ. But if the tone of the latter part of Daniel 6:22 is somewhat strange to us, the historian’s summary in Daniel 6:23 gives the eternal truth of the matter: ‘No manner of hurt was found upon him, because he had trusted in his God.’ That is the basis of the reference in Hebrews 11:33 : ‘Through faith . . . stopped the mouths of lions.’

Simple trust in God brings His angel to our help, and the deliverance, which is ultimately to be ascribed to His hand muzzling the gaping beasts of prey, may also be ascribed to the faith which sets His hand in motion. The true cause is God, but the indispensable condition without which God will not act, and with which He cannot but act, is our trust. Therefore all the great things which it is said to do are due, not to anything in it, but wholly to that of which it lays hold. A foot or two of lead pipe is worth little, but if it is the channel through which water flows into a city, it is priceless.

Faith may or may not bring external deliverances, such as it brought to Daniel; but the good cheer which this story brings us does not depend on these. When Paul lay in Rome, shortly before his martyrdom, the experience of Daniel was in his mind, as he thankfully wrote to Timothy, ‘I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.’ He adds a hope which contrasts strangely, at first sight, with the clear expectation of a speedy and violent death, expressed a moment or two before {‘I am already being offered, and the time of my departure is come’} when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver me from every evil work’; but he had learned that it was possible to pass through the evil and yet to be delivered from it, and that a man might be thrown to the lions and devoured by them, and yet be truly shielded from all harm from them. So he adds, ‘And will save me unto His heavenly kingdom,’ thereby teaching us that the true deliverance is that which carries us into, or something nearer towards, the eternal home. Thus understood, the miracle of Daniel’s deliverance is continually repeated to all who partake of Daniel’s faith, ‘Thou hast made the Most High thy habitation . . . thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder.’

The savage vengeance on the conspirators and the proclamation of Darius must be left untouched. The one is a ghastly example of retributive judgment, in which, as sometimes is the case even now, men fall into the pit they have digged for others, and it shows the barbarous cruelty of that gorgeous civilisation. The other is an example of how far a man may go in perceiving and acknowledging the truth without its influencing his heart. The decree enforces recognition of Daniel’s God, in language which even prophets do not surpass; but it is all lip-reverence, as evanescent as superficial. It takes more than a fright caused by a miracle to make a man a true servant of the living God.

The final verse of the passage implies Daniel’s restoration to rank, and gives a beautiful, simple picture of the old man’s closing days, which had begun so long before, in such a different world as Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, and closed in Cyrus’s, enriched with all that should accompany old age-honour, obedience, troops of friends. ‘When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.’

 


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Daniel 6:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/daniel-6.html.

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