Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Daniel 1:21, i.e. Daniel's public life with Daniel's preparation, it may be well here to notice what his preparation had been.
1. At home, and the associations of Jerusalem.
2. Knowledge of previous revelations (see Daniel 9:2).
3. Moral victory at a crisis of history.
4. Experience of life at one of its great centres - Babylon - the court.
As indicating the difference between Ezekiel's standpoint and that of Daniel, note Ezekiel dates from the years of the Captivity - for him, in comparative obscurity, the years dragged on wearily - Daniel, by the reigns of kings in whose court he was. Daniel's experience grew with the years, and he became increasingly fit to receive political revelations - revelations as to the rise and fall of empires.
I. THE DISCREPANCY. Between Daniel 1:5 and Daniel 2:1. Occasion might well be taken from this to insist upon one or two wholesome truths in reference to Biblical interpretation.
1. The discrepancy looks at first sight glaring enough; i.e. as to the dates. Still, with our idea of the sacred writings, we should be justified in believing:
2. That some explanation would be forthcoming, if we knew all the loots. Of the propriety of this assumption, we shall have a striking illustration in the recent clearing up of' the special critical difficulty of ch. 5.
3. One might fairly conclude that Daniel is quite as reliable an historian as any other author.
4. The seeming discrepancy is clear evidence that Daniel, and none other, is the writer; for these two dates would never have been admitted in a form apparently contradictory, coming so close to each other as to challenge attention, if the author had been an impostor. Daniel writes straightforwardly the truth, unconscious of the possible misconstruction of his words. This unguardedness of style is a sure sign of the credibility of a living witness, and of the genuineness of any book.
5. There are several explanations forthcoming, one specially credible (see Exposition).
6. Our feeling in relation to discrepancies real or apparent, will doped entirely on our moral attitude in relation to revelation. The believer will treat them lightly; the captious and unbelieving will make the very most of them (see Alford on receipt of one of Colenso's volumes, in 'Alford's Life').
II. THE PREPARATION. There were subjective conditions of the dream which argue a certain nobility in Nebuchadnezzar. Dreams grow out of waking thought; and, though this dream was supernatural, we may well believe it was naturally conditioned. The mood of the king created a certain receptivity for Divine revelation (ver. 29).
1. The cares of empire weighted his soul.
2. His mind projected itself into the far future. (Ver. 29.)
3. Thoughts of present responsibility and visions of the future were enter-rained. To all, such high thoughts come at some time or other; but not all entertain them. We may drown them in frivolity, or quench them by intoxication. When God comes to a soul with thoughts worthy of its nature, it is for the soul to open wide its portals and let the glory in. About this young conqueror there was a certain grasp and elevation of mind.
III. THE DREAM. Here, at present, we ignore its contents; we are supposed, indeed, not to know it: and consider only generally whether, and to what extent, the dream may become the article of Divine communications to man. In a complete, discussion, we should have to cite the following testimonies: Those of:
1. Psychology. The nature and origin of dreams should be elucidated, with the view to a just estimate of the testimonies which follow. Sufficient wilt be found for homiletic purposes in Dr. Smith's 'Bible Dict.,' art. "Dreams."
2. Scripture. These inductions seem valid:
(1) "That Scripture claims the dream, as it does every other action of the human mind, as a medium through which God may speak to man["
(2) "That it lays far greater stress on that Divine influence by which the understanding also is affected. In dream, the imagination is in the ascendant; the reason, dormant.
(3) That dream as a medium of Divine communication is inferior to prophecy.
(4) That dreams, therefore, were granted:
(a) To the heathen rather than to the covenant people of God.
(b) To the latter only during their earliest and most imperfect individual knowledge of him.
(c) Only in the earliest ages, and less frequently as the revelations of prophecy increase.
(d) Almost invariably require an interpreter. These last four points are all illustrated by the dreams in the Book of Daniel.
3. Experience. The reference here is to that modern experience, of which we may be either the subjects or the observers. Even in a Christian civilization like ours, the superstitious regard fur dreams is so common, that the following truths may well be insisted on:
(1) That dreams should never for us stand in the place of revelation.
(2) Should be disregarded entirely, when contravening the truth as it is in Jesus"
(3) That God may see fit by dream to prepare the mind for the future.
(4) That there seems well-authenticated instances in which the coming event has been imaged in dream. Surely he who made the soul can have access to it by night or by day, directly or mediately, as he will In the application of these truths to our own life, the greatest spiritual wisdom will be necessary.
IV. THE SEARCH. We do not agree with Keil, that the king remembered the dream, and was intent on testing the value of the interpretation by making the interpreter tell also the dream itself; nor with the reasons he assigns for that interpretation. We believe that the dream was gone from memory, yet leaving behind such an impression that the king would recognize it on its being described, and also leaving behind an idea of its tremend us import, and a conviction that its origin was Divine. Here note:
1. The mission of oblivion. "God sometimes serves his own purposes by putting things out of men's minds, as well as by putting things into their minds." By the king's forgetfulness Daniel came to be honoured, and in him the God of Daniel.
2. The adaptation of Divine revelations. From Daniel 2:4 to Daniel 7:28 the language of the book is Chaldee; as though God would throw open the revelation through Daniel to the people of Babylonia as well as to the Jew. After ch. 8. the language reverts to Hebrew, for the communications are then chiefly for Israel. This adaptation one instance of what obtains universally.
3. The infirmities of even noble minds. There were many elements of greatness about Nebuchadnezzar; but all shaded by:
(1) Superstition. Seeking for light where no light could be found - from the magi of various grades.
(2) Unreason. Demanding both dream and interpretation. A certain sort of wisdom might interpret; but only the omniscience of God could recover the dream.
(3) Cruelly. Many instances besides that in this chapter.
V. THE FAILURE. (Ver. 11.) Observe:
1. The error into which exalted intellect may fall. "Gods" imply polytheism.
2. The truth which may shine through error. The magi were aware:
(1) Of the omniscience that is essential to Deity.
(2) Of the limitation that belongs to the creature. The flesh is a veil that hides from us much of the spirit-world.
VI. THE DOOM. Cruel as was the edict on the part of the king, there was, nevertheless, a sort of rough justice on the part of God's natural government of the world, in consigning to punishment the practicers of imposition and traders on the superstitious fear, of men. "They sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain suggests how oft the innocent are caught in the consequences of the sin of others. - R
him in moulding public events. Consciously or unconsciously, all conquerors and all captives are working out the purposes of the universal Lord.
I. THE GREAT MONARCH'S DISTRESS.
1. For even kings are not exempt from trouble, Yea, their very elevation exposes them to winds of adversity, from which those escape who dwell in the sequestered vales of private station. As in nature, so in human life, there is a marvellous system of compensation. We look at the external palaces of princes, and are too ready to envy their privileged estate; but could we look within their breasts, we should be prone chiefly to pity them. "The sleep of a labouring man is sweet," but the pillow of royalty is thickly sown with prickly cares.
2. Most probably, outward circumstance combined with inward fear to produce this ominous dream. By admitting a natural element in human events, we do not exclude the supernatural. Both elements are under Divine direction. Everywhere God engrafts the spiritual upon the natural. The laws and processes of nature and of human life God uses so far as they serve his particular purpose, and when they fall short of fitness he introduces the higher element of miracle. If Nebuchadnezzar already saw the development of military strength in other royal courts, it was impossible but this knowledge would make a corresponding impression upon his mind, and it would be wanton blindness on our part to exclude this from our investigation of the truth. It is equally certain that an influence from God moved upon the monarch's mind - arranging (it may be) the materials of the imagery, impressing his imagination with the portentous meaning of the vision, and partly effacing the recollection from his memory.
3. With stupendous condescension, God accommodates himself to the infancy of the race. He who tempers the wind for the shorn lamb, simplifies his lessons to the weakness of our understanding. To the inquiry, "Why should God make known his will to men through dreams?" it is a sufficient reply that he found this method the most suitable to the capacity of man in the childhood of his intelligence. During the hours of sleep, the soul is more free from the disturbance of outward events; the will does not play so dominant a part over the movements of thought; the predilections and propensities of the inner man are unveiled. Men have an intense longing to know the future. We cannot doubt that the same God who has given us a faculty for acquiring all the past could have given us a faculty for foreseeing the future. Some potent reason has prevailed with him to hang an impenetrable veil over our untraversed life. Yet some of the grand outlines of the future have gradually been revealed. Our character forecasts our future fortunes. Practical obedience to the will of God is the best telescope through which we may discern our distant weal. Our real destiny is not wrapt in night. But Nebuchadnezzar was mainly concerned about his dominion and his dynasty; hence his inward distress produced by the midnight vision.
II. THE IMPOTENCE OF HUMAN QUACKS.
1. It must be granted that these Babylonian magicians had attained to knowledge and craft beyond the ordinary attainments of men; but (as is frequently the case) their knowledge fed their vanity; they imposed on themselves the belief that this knowledge gave them access to the secrets of the unseen world, and they sought to impose on others the conviction that they could foretell coming events. Knowledge does not always ripen into wisdom - does not always bear the fruits of humility and truthfulness. These men were deceivers and self-deceived. They made a market out of the ambition and fear of kings.
2. Inflated conceit. They imagined that their skill was the measure of universal attainment. Failing themselves to decipher the problem, they plead, "There's not a man upon the earth that can show the king's matter." The usual plea of weakness: "What I cannot do, no one else can do: let us yield to the inevitable." This is the sophistry of modern sceptics, who prefer to style themselves agnostics. Because they fail to unravel difficulties in nature and in the universe, they rush to the conclusion that the matter itself is inexplicable. "A little child shall lead them."
3. A crucial test. The monarch, unreasonable and unscrupulous as he may seem, brings their boasted knowledge to a real test. Whether these magicians did or did not accurately interpret dreams or forecast the future, the king had never known. He had been compelled to take their pretensions wholly upon trust. The oracular deliverances had been delightfully ambiguous - were capable of wide significance. No guarantee had ever been furnished by these magicians of their honesty. Now a favourable opportunity occurred for testing the skill of these boasted diviners. If their scientific calculations allowed them to descry the future, much more should it enable them to read a page of the recent past, If their popular deities gave them skill to interpret the meaning of a dream, much easier was it for these deities to give their servants power to revive in a man's memory the loss of a dream. If they could not accomplish the lesser task, it was vain to pretend they could perform the greater. It was therefore only just that the king should sharply rebuke them in the words, "Ye have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before me."
III. THE HASTY VERDICT OF THE KING.
1. See the violence of carnal passion. Haste and impatience are always conspicuous signs of weakness. His expectation of escape from mental disquietude had been awakened by the pretentious arts of these magicians, and, this expectation having collapsed, disappointment added another ingredient to his cup of trouble. If he had only given himself time to recover from this mental disturbance, time to reflect upon his responsibility as arbiter of human life, time to perceive his own folly in pandering aforetime to the pretensions of these men, he would have gained a reputation for wisdom, and have rendered the world a service by exposing the hypocrisy of sorcerers.
2. His verdict was excessively severe. The penalty of death was the severest he could inflict upon his subjects, and if this penalty was enforced on every occasion, even when no public injury was done to the state, he confounded all degrees of crime, and encouraged men, who had transgressed in lesser matters, to become desperate inflictors of mischief. When men know that their offence is trivial compared with other forms of guilt, and yet have to endure the heaviest sentence of doom, they will often lend themselves to some desperate project of vengeance.
3. His verdict was indiscriminate, and involved both the righteous and the wicked. Not content with inflicting capital punishment on the offenders, he decrees that their "houses shall be made a dunghill." By such a vindictive deed, innocent women and young children would have been plunged into suffering and disgrace for no fault, and without any advantage to the state. Moreover, the arbitrary decree required "that all the wise men should be slain." This included Daniel and his comrades - yea, all men of intelligence and wisdom, though they had made no pretence to magical art. By a blind act of ungovernable passion, the king would have stripped his court of every ornament, and his government of its best supports. A passionate man usually maims his own face. Nebuchadnezzar would have defeated his own purpose - cut off his only chance of having his dream interpreted - if his vindictive and unscrupulous command had been executed. What vile deeds have royal hands frequently performed l How does the cry of innocent blood from a myriad battle-field rise to heaven against them! - D.
I. IN THE SHADE.
1. The position. Although Daniel had been trained for distinguished services, pronounced by the king to excel all the magi (Daniel 1:20), he was forgotten by the king, ignored by his fellows of the magian college through jealousy, only discovered to share a common ruin. This was a picture of the trials of his whole career. Daniel the eminent had to contend with the jealousy of the mean. This spirit begot the attempt to cast his companions into the burning fiery furnace. Years after it throws him to the lions. So now the captain of the king's guard "sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain.
2. The moral attitude. Daniel was ever animated by a sense of duty, and more by a readiness to serve those who either neglected or opposed him.
3. The providential call. At the critical moment God, in wisdom and love, supervened and intervened; broke the meshes of the confining net; and called the saint out into that ministry for which he was intellectually and spiritually fit, and also morally ready.
II. AT THE KING'S GATE.
1. The calm spirit of Daniel. There was much to exasperate in the whole situation. Cruel death was impending. But Daniel lived high above events in a serene heaven of the soul, and was, therefore, prepared to come down into the incidents of life, and act with the best effect.
2. His use of means. To act well in great emergencies requires the coolness of spiritual wisdom. Daniel:
(1) Had conference with Arioch.
(2) Sent a respectful message to the king. (We understand that Daniel did not go himself, till later, actually into the presence of the king, but sent in the request by the proper officer.)
3. His success. This may be attributed especially to three causes, note specially the last:
(1) The king's remembrance of Daniel.
(2) The awakening of a great hope in the king's breast.
(3) The hearts of men are in the keeping of God.
III. WITH HIS OWN COMPANY.
1. The prayer. Here observe:
(1) Daniel did not delay. He lost no time. He did not go to consult with the magi, whether there was anything in their art, in their books, that might be of use in the matter. With some men prayer is the last resort instead of the first.
(2) Resolved to make the difficulty a matter of prayer.
(3) Fell back into the soul fellowship to which he belonged. (ver. 17).
(4) Seemed the power of united supplication.
In the prayer itself the following specialities are suggestive:
(1) It kept prominent the exalted supremacy of God.
(2) It appealed to his mercies."
(3) It went upon the principle of committing all that troubles us to God.
(4) It concerned a great public interest. But
(5) one in which the private safety of the petitioners was involved.
2. The prevalence. The all-important fact is that the prayer was answered. The answer was revealed either in a dream, or more probably in a waking vision of the night; and the vision was no doubt accompanied by a clear attestation of the truth of it. Can any one doubt the possibility of such revelation, who has realized to himself the nearness of the Eternal to the human mind?
3. The praise. This was:
(1) Instantaneous. Daniel did not wait till he had verified the dream by audience with the king. As soon as ever he received the mercy, he was ready to praise.
(2) Full. Matthew Henry puts it well.
(a) Daniel gives to God the glory of what he is in himself.
(b) Of what he is to the world of mankind.
(c) Of this particular discovery.
(3) Sympathetic. Friends were associated in the praise, as in the prayer.
IV. IN THE KING'S CLOSET. Here we have Daniel, the living representative of what a true prophet should be. He is not only a type of him whom technically we call a prophet, but of every one who is for God the mouthpiece of vital truth to man. Before the king:
1. He sinks himself. (Ver. 30.)
2. He forgives personal adversaries. (Ver. 24.)
3. He is forward to put down all that exalts itself against God. (Ver. 27.)
4. He has a sense of the moment of his message. (Vers. 2:8, 29.)
5. He glorifies God. (Ver. 28.) - R.
conscience and his throne with wanton cruelty, with the waste of life, with the most precious blood that Babylon held.
I. IT WAS A CASE OF REAL EMERGENCY. The terror of the king, caused by his midnight scare, had only an imaginary foundation. Natural cheerfulness was enough to drive that spectre of evil out of the royal chamber. He might have laughed it out of existence. But now a real distress impended over Daniel and all the wise men of Babylon. It was not merely a fear of future disaster; reputation, property, life, were in imminent peril. The royal edict had gone forth for their summary destruction. The executioner was already preparing the murderous weapons. Before another dawn the die might be cast - the deed be beyond recall. Daniel's anxiety was awakened as much for others as himself. With his devout trust in God, death was not to him draped in sable gloom. There were worse evils, in his regard, than violent death. To die in defence of truth; to die in vindication of God's cause, was a noble deed. But others, not so prepared for the tremendous change, were included in the peril. Eternal shame would cover the king. The foundations of the throne might be sapped. The fortunes of God's people might sink into a yet deeper night. Israel's prospects might suffer a blacker eclipse. The mind of Daniel would be impressed with the folly of putting trust in man. The king had, not long before, shown him special favour - had expressed both regard and friendship; yet now, Daniel is condemned to death unheard, unjudged. More fickle than the vernal sunshine is the ephemeral smile of royalty. "Put not your trust in princes."
II. THE TRUE ORACLE SOUGHT. Whether the magicians and sorcerers adopted any measures to avert the approaching calamity, we are not told. Possibly they were paralyzed with fear, and could only hide their heads in cowardly shame. Now the worth and power of true piety emerge into the light. In the darkest hours of trouble, religion shines in brightest colours. There was:
1. An exercise of preventive prudence. However imperative be the duty of prayer, there are other duties which must not be neglected. The want of practical prudence often robs prayer of its efficacious lasses, The wise general will dispose his forces well on the battle-field before he makes an onset. Daniel's first step was to stay the hasty execution of the edict. He calls into exercise his well-disciplined wisdom. He uses his acquired standing in the realm to secure delay. He overlooks no point of precaution. He employs his just influence with the king to gain a temporary respite. He does not attempt to reason with the monarch in his angry mood - that would be a foolish enterprise. He moderates his demand so as to bring it within the compass of a possible success. Prudence is a step towards greater acquisitions.
2. There was united supplication. Daniel's heart was not excited with selfish ambition to secure the honour of a triumph for himself. He solicited the aid of his companions in this holy task, and addresses them by their proper Jewish names, which names reminded them that theirs was an accessible Deity. "Union is strength" in prayer, as much as in toil. The lack of humility, or earnestness, or preseverance, in one may be supplied or may be promoted by another Combined fervour has special promises of success. "If two of you shall agree touching any matter in my kingdom, it shall be granted unto you."
3. There was strong confidence in God. In a spirit of calm and unquestioning confidence, Daniel assured the king "that he would show the king the interpretation." Already Daniel knew that in some way the response would come. Unbelief might have whispered into his car that Jehovah had never yet answered such a request as this. Where, in the range of Jewish history, had it been recorded that the God of heaven had disclosed to one a dream which had lapsed from the memory of another? But faith would reply, "That objection is not to the point. There must be a first occasion, on which God will reveal his will to men on any matter. Let this be the first instance of its kind. The request I make is not in itself wrong or improper. It is not hostile to the purity of God's nature. It does not spring from a selfish or carnal motive. My success will bring honour and homage to the true God. My petition must succeed. Has not Jehovah said, by the mouth of David, our model king, 'Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me'?"
4. There was becoming humility in the posture of their souls. "They desired mercies of the God of heaven." Daniel and his fellow-suppliants presented no claim. They abandoned themselves to the abounding mercy of their God. In a word, they confessed personal unworthiness, and approached the heavenly throne as culprits suing for mercy. This is men's only chance of success. For, wanting all personal merit, they have no opportunity of feigning a false merit in Jehovah's presence. With a glance of his eye he strips the veil of pretence from every suppliant, that while he rewards the contrite, he may dismay the proud and the hypocrite. "He requireth truth in the inward parts." The poor in spirit, he enriches; the boastful rich, he empties.
III. THE ORACULAR RESPONSE OBTAINED. "Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision." In what particular way this desired knowledge was imparted is not said. This is not important. Possibly the dream or vision of the king was reproduced before the imagination of Daniel, with the further disclosure of its signification. But whatever was the modus operandi, it was done. Ascertained fact overrides all pre-assumed difficulties. The same God who permits us to have dreams at all can surely repeat the shadowy spectacle; and if he is the sovereign Lord of men, he can certainly make known to intelligent minds his purposes respecting the future. "With God nothing is impossible."
1. The mode of deliverance resembled, inform, the cause of distress. A dream was the occasion of Nebuchadnezzar's alarm - the occasion of the wise men's peril; a night vision was also the method of relief. Jacob's carnal struggle with Esau was his sin, and also his ground of anxiety; Jacob's midnight struggle with the heavenly stranger was the source of his triumph. Serpents had bitten with death the Hebrews; by gazing on a brazen serpent, they are healed. The fruit of the forbidden tree was the occasion of sin; the fruit "of the tree of life is for the healing of the nations." "By man came death; by man came also the resurrection from the dead."
2. The outcome was gratitude and gladness. "Then," without any lapse of time - "then," while the sense of benefit was fresh, "Daniel blessed the God of heaven." His faith was furnished with an additional proof that Israel's God was a real and living God; that he was accessible to the prayers of men; and that he was a Refuge in every hour of need. It is a blessed necessity that drives us to the throne of grace. As the hosts of winter prepare the soil for a more prolific harvest, so trouble, if rightly used is pregnant with blessing. Now it would be known all through Chaldea, that while the heathen oracles are dumb, the heavenly oracle is ever vocal. The false systems of human invention are covered with shame; the system of God's truth receives new honour. In that hour of anguish, Daniel learnt new lessons in heavenly wisdom - obtained fresh discoveries of the Divine goodness - discovered new methods in the Divine procedure. Now he learns that "God giveth wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding." They that use their capacities shall enlarge them. The man who trades with his ten talents shall gain ten more. He who sows in prayer shall reap in praise. - D.
1. The basis of sacred praise is gratitude. "I thank and praise thee." Inward insensibility of feeling and forgetfulness of past favours are deadly enemies to praise. When gratitude opens the inner fountains of feeling, the crystal waters of praise freely flow. Thankfulness is the parent of song.
2. God the proper Object of praise. God, in his own nature and excellence, is deserving of the best music of the heart. The unchangeableness and faithful love of God are fitting materials for praise. The covenant mercies of God should be celebrated in praise. "God of my fathers."
3. New blessings received are new occasions for praise. No mental possession is of human origination. Our wisdom is a gift from God. Our power to influence others for good is a talent entrusted to us by God. Answers to prayer should be occasions of hearty praise. The pathway to the Divine favour has been found. New revelations of God's will should start afresh our powers of music. "Oh, praise the Lord!" - D.
I. HERE ARE MARKS OF A TRUE PROPHET. "I will show unto the king the interpretation." To prophesy is not merely to foretell remote events: to prophesy is to disclose the unknown - to unveil mysteries. False prophets are a curse; a true prophet is an immeasurable blessing. Guesses at truth are untrustworthy, deceptive, perilous. Real revelation is a safe anchorage for the soul. Science soon reaches the end of her tether; she enjoys a very limited range. Revelation has to do with the infinite and the absolute - with all the secrets in the universe. To unfold the mysteries of human life, one by one, is the mission of God's prophets. "I will show the interpretation."
II. HERE ARE SIGNS OF KINGLY RULE. Nebuchadnezzar "was angry and very furious;" he had lost command over himself. Daniel had learnt the art of self-conquest. Nebuchadnezzar had commanded his officer to slay the wise men. Daniel, though one of the doomed, countermands the order. The magicians supposed that their lives were at the disposal of the monarch. They really were, by God's ordination, at the disposal of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar was a captive to dreadful apprehensions; feared a conspiracy; immured himself in the palace. Daniel walked abroad; breathed the sweet air of liberty; and wielded a power more mysterious than any enchanter's wand. Nebuchadnezzar had said, "Let there be war!" Daniel said, "Peace, be still!" The king had said to Arioch, "Unsheath thy sword, and slay!" Daniel countersaid, "Put up thy sword into its sheath, and spare!" The king had said to the wise men, "Die!" Daniel said instead, "Live I" And the voice of Daniel prevailed.
III. Here we have, in type and emblem, A REAL SAVIOUR. It is easy enough to destroy; it is difficult to save. A child may set a city on fire; ten thousand men may be impotent to save it. A madman has destroyed in five minutes what human genuine had taken years to create. The fiat from Nebuchadnezzar's lips had been, "Destroy destroy all the wise men of Babylon!" But Daniel had issued another mandate, "Destroy not!" and Daniel's word prevailed. A strange foreshadowing this of another event. Five hundred years later Herod commanded the massacre of all the infants in Bethlehem; yet One of the innocent babes was spared to become the Saviour of the world and Herod's Judge. So mercy "rejoices against judgment." - D.
gross, unspiritual state of some populations in Palestine, that even Jesus could not do his mighty works among them. Daniel proceeds to prepare the soil for the seed.
I. PREJUDICE MUST BE DISARMED. The anger of the king had been so greatly excited by the impotence and the imposture of his wise men, that Daniel perceived it best to forego his privilege of entering the monarch's presence at will. It was better to take the circuitous route of a formal introduction, as if he were a stranger. Hence the marshal of the court precedes the Hebrew prophet, secures the monarch's attention, and introduces Daniel, not as one of the royal college of sages, but simply as a Jewish captive. The former credulity of the king had given place to utter scepticism. So men's minds oscillate between the points of easy, groundless belief and obstinate prejudice. No vice so frequently assumes the air of respectable propriety as this vice of prejudice. It serves as a thick fog to shut out from the mind the clear light of heavenly truth. "There's none so blind as those who will not see."
II. INQUIRY MUST BE AWAKENED. "Art thou able to make known the dream?" Inquiry is the natural state of the human mind. It is its sense of hunger - the putting forth of its prehensile organs to obtain food. To the spiritually inert nothing will be revealed. Sincere desire for wisdom will impel us to interrogate every possible teacher, and to say, "Art thou able to add to my stock of knowledge?" The true philosopher or prophet will often appear in very modest garb, as did Daniel; but the spirit of the learner is a spirit of humility - 'tis the spirit of a child. Remote as the antipodes is the temper that asks, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" "Every one that seeketh findeth." We may often find through a dependent - through a despised slave - what we cannot find ourselves. Nebuchadnezzar, with all his royal gifts, could not find an interpreter. Arioch, the captain of his guard, greets him with the news, "I have found him!" A little captive maid in Naaman's kitchen could direct her master where to find a cure for his leprosy.
III. TRUST IN FALSE PROPHETS AND IN FALSE SYSTEMS MUST BE DESTROYED. Side by side with the growth of true faith must proceed the destruction of a false faith. The pompous monarch had rested his faith in the magicians and soothsayers, without sufficient reason. He had very likely prided himself on the superhuman wisdom of his counsellors. Yet what guarantee had he that they had ever spoken truth? Had he ever examined their credentials? ever put to the test their real capacity? If not, he was simply the victim of self-imposed credulity. The institution of sorcery was ancient and time-honoured, but none the less was it false and corrupt. If the king would not take the pains to examine the pretensions of these magicians, he deserved to be deceived. A Heaven-sent teacher is an incalculable treasure; a false prophet is a poisoned cup - a wolf in sheep's clothing "Try the spirits, whether they be of God." No human authority is self-odginative; we must know the source whence it sprang. "Cease from man, whose breath is in his nostrils."
IV. RECOGNITION OF GOD MOST BECOMING IN MEN, ESPECIALLY IN TIMES OF PERPLEXITY. "There is a God in heaven." Nor is that heaven far removed. "In him we live and move and exist." Even the magicians had confessed that there were invisible deities: "The gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh." Why did not the king in secret prostrate himself before these, and entreat their aid? If we believe in God, we shall recognize him, honour him, and use him in seasons of need. The true God does not love to see us grope in darkness; he longs to give us light. Our mental capacities preach to us this truth. He "revealeth secrets." "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." The secrets of nature he reveals to the patient investigator; and if we will inquire at the portals of the heavenly kingdom, we shall know, by gradual disclosures, the secrets of the invisible world. Even our inner solves we do not accurately know, until God unveils to us the mystery. Daniel was sent to the king, that he might know the workings of his own heart.
V. GENUINE HUMILITY IS A MARK OF GOD'S SERVANT. "This secret," said Daniel, "is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have." Natural endowments of intellect often puff men up with vain conceit of themselves; but the enlightening grace of God's Spirit develops their humility. "The meek will he teach his way." Having revealed to suppliants their own nothingness, their absolute dependence on the heavenly source, he unveils to them all truth that ministers to happiness and purity. The mysteries of his kingdom he hides from the boastful wise and prudent, but reveals them unto babes. The messenger of Divine truth will divert the attention of men from himself to his Master. Like John the Baptist, he accounts himself only as a "voice," and announces that One mightier and worthier cometh - the true Light and Life of men. Humility is a pre-requisite for Divine employment.
VI. WE MUST RECOGNIZE THE NEED OF VICARIOUS MERIT. It is noteworthy that Daniel disclosed the reason why God vouchsafed this revelation to the king. It was not done for the sake of the king, nor for the sake of the magicians, nor for the sake of the empire, but for the sake of the Jewish suppliants. It would be galling to our pride sometimes if we knew to what human mediation we were indebted for Divine blessing. The prayer of some bed-ridden saint has brought down the treasures of heavenly rain upon the Church. For the sake of Paul the prisoner, the lives of all on beard the imperilled ship were saved. For Joseph and his brethren's sake, famine was averted from the Egyptians. Yet these are but faint and imperfect types of that grand scheme of mediation which God has provided for the redemption of the world; and for Jesus' sake, mercy flows in a full stream to men; for Jesus' sake, heaven is opened to all believers; for Jesus' sake, prayer is heard and the Holy Ghost is given. We, too, can be mediators for others; and it may yet be said that for our sakes, and in response to our intercessions, dark minds are enlightened, a world is blessed. Christ the High Priest puts a censer into our hands, and asks us to tilt it with the fragrant incense of spiritual prayer. - D.
1. A grand unity loomed before Nebuchadnezzar. "Behold an image, one and grand" (Chaldee, ver. 31). Four empires represented, not by four figures, but one. Symbol of human power at its highest, that of universal empire, but separate from God. Same spirit and genius in all four. A common thing to represent empire by the human figure; e.g. Britannia. The colossal imagery of the dream the reflection of the magnificent scale of objects in Babylon. But:
2. A diversity.
(1) Inform; for after the head, the human form is double, in the toes tenfold.
(2) in substance: gold, silver, etc.; the diversity constitutes a successive deterioration.
3. Destruction For a time the image stands. At length there rushes through the air, self-detached, a stone, as instinct with life; it smites, destroys, pulverizes, and instantly the image is gone-nothing is left on the wide Assyrian plain but the stone, which then grows to be a mountain, a whole mountain region, filling the field of view, grand, beautiful, with its varied vegetation, from that of a tropical clime to the eternal snow. So complete was the displacement.
I. THE WHOLE. Observe respecting the ancient world-power:
1. Its unity. One image. One universal empire. One in alienation from God. This need not have been. Civil government is of God, may be a reflection of Divine government, rooted in Divine principles, administered in the fear of God, directed to the good of humanity, and so to the glory of God. The government of this world may be one in alliance with God.
2. Its majesty. Empire like this has a majesty of its own, even though alienated from God. Just as intellect or genius may. Man was made in the image of God, in this matter of dominion over men and also over nature. Of all forms of dominion, rule over a nation (much mere of nations) is of God.
(1) The idea of civil government is of God. Government must be. It is of the Divine will. Not some particular form, e.g. monarchical, republican, etc.; but government in essence.
(2) So its realization. Government of some kind is an everlasting fact, perpetuated in the providence of God. Empire has then intrinsic majesty. Much more when in alliance with God.
3. Its weakness. All things human deteriorate, unless redeemed from corruption by the saving power of religion. The life of all that lasts is of God. It would be interesting to trace, if that were possible, the gradual deterioration of heathen religiousness, from the purer Chaldee form to the Roman degradation. As life declined, so the strength of empire went down.
II. THE PARTS.
1. The head of gold: Babylon.
(1) The empire itself.
(a) First in order of time (first universal empire).
(b) Possessed certain unity (head).
(c) Characterized by intelligence.
(d) Magnificent (gold). (For illustration, see Rawlinson's 'Manual of Ancient History,' p. 35.)
(2) Its relation to the kingdom of God, Note the pressure of the all-directing hand on these heathen world-kingdoms, Babylon:
(a) Cured, by the Captivity, Israel of idolatry.
(b) Prepared the world for unity under the Roman empire, and so prepared for the Advent.
2. The breast and arms of silver: Medo-Persia.
(1) The empire. Silver less value and power of resistance than gold. So Persia inferior to Babylon. Not in extent; but greatness is never to be confounded with bigness. (For vivid picture of real state of Persia, see Eber's ' Egyptian Princess.')
(2) Relation to Divine kingdom. The Church returned healed from the Captivity. Second temple built. Persia an instrument for raising the dormant energies of Greece, which became, under Alexander, the universal empire, and spread Greek culture, civilization, and speech everywhere, and so prepared the way for the coming of the Lord.
3. The belly and thighs of brass: Greece.
(1) The empire. None other than Greece; for:
(a) Greece succeeded Persia, and, like it, was a universal monarchy.
(b) Is named in the same order (Daniel 8:20, 21).
(c) Brass armour marked the Greeks; their soldiers were the "brazen-coated."
(2) Relation to the Divine kingdom. The service of Greece to Christ's kingdom was vast. Let the following brief sentences and phrases be suggestive: Alexander no vulgar conqueror; a fusion of East and West his object; hence, colonization, intermarriages of races, foundation of seventy cities; the idea, one brotherhood of humanity. Oriental thought blended with Hellenic culture. As a part of this plan, first dispersion of the Jews; and so everywhere a synagogue, the Septuagint, and Hebrew (i.e. true) ideas of God, sin, the Saviour. Influence of the Alexandrian school on early Christianity.
4. The legs of iron: Rome.
(1) The empire. This was indeed Rome, and not the empire of Alexander's successors; for:
(a) To omit Rome frustrates the design of the image to exhibit in succession the great empires which preceded the Advent.
(b) Rome existed at the Advent, not so the empire of Alexander's successors.
(c) Compare fourth beast (Daniel 7:7: et seg.).
(d) The symbolic imagery is strikingly close to the reality of Rome.
(2) Relation to the Divine kingdom and the Advent. Under the shield of the prevalent Roman law, Jesus was born, lived, and was crucified. Hence Gentile with Jew nailed him to the tree. The Crucifixion was marked by publicity. Rome destroyed city and temple, broke up the Jewish Church, and scattered the nation. The most prominent suggestions of this exposition are:
1. The almightiness of God's subordinating power. All things - interests, men, nations, kings - bend before it.
2. The way in which hostile powers serve his purpose. Often unconsciously, and in spite of their own intention.
3. Christ the Centre of history. To him, before the Advent, all things tend; and since, from him all things date. The greatness of the Lord Jesus. Imagine Christ taken out of the history of man! - R.
I. ITS CHARACTERISTICS.
1. The mediatorial action of the Son of God is of the nature of kingly rule.
(1) Over souls, willing or unwilling.
(2) Within the Church.
(3) In the world of men.
(4) Over the spirit-world.
(5) Even over the universe of matter. (See and weigh the meaning well of Ephesians 1:22, 23.)
2. The kingdom was supernatural in its origin. Here may well be discussed the now present doctrine that the Christ was the creation of his time. Set over against it the truth that Christ was a descent and intervention of the supernatural and of the Divine. Not one, nor all combined, of the ordinary secondary causes can account for the establishment, extension, perpetuity of the kingdom. "Without hands." The result of eternal counsel, founded by the Son of God, perpetuated by the Spirit of life.
3. Insignificant in its commencement. The stone is clearly meant to be small - anyway, small compared with the mountain. Note: Humanly speaking, the Lord belonged, indeed, to a royal house, but in decay and obscurity; was poor; hidden for thirty years in a hamlet on the wilds; no powerful friends; no political connections; of no special learning; the character and calibre of his first helpers; slow progress of the kingdom. To human view, in the stone, nothing; to the Divine, all potentiality.
4. Destined to universal prevalance. Notwithstanding 3.
(1) Look at the vision.
(a) The kingdom began by the destruction of the hostile (vers. 34, 35). The world-powers fell before it. Note: The nothingness of the mightiest human power in collision with the kingdom of God.
(b) Goes on by displacement. Man-created universal empires give place to one God-created. Observe: The great empires of antiquity were unconscious prophecies of the universal kingdom of Christ. There has been no universal empire since, nor ever will be. Neither to Great Britain nor to the United States will universal sway be given, but to Christ.
(2) Is the vision true? That the stone will become the earth-filling mountain may be argued from:
(a) The aggressive character of the gospel. (Illustrations on the largest scale, showing how Christ is occupying every part of the earth, may be found in 'The Foreign Missions of Protestantism,' by Christlieb: Nisbet and Co., 2s. 6d.)
(b) Past achievement. The tide recedes, only to advance again. Discouragement is local - at the most temporary.
(c) Prophecy. Think! In olden times a dream. A prophetic interpretation. After the lapse of more than two milleninums we, from our watch-towers, mark the ever-growing fulfilment!
5. Everlasting. The kingdom has stood for nineteen centuries, although every form of hostile force has tried to displace and destroy. Force, physical end intellectual, has done its worst. Philosophy, science, ridicule, persecution. The empire of Jesus is the greatest fact on our planet to-day. Over the highest minds of the noblest races. No empire, political or intellectual, can compare with it. There are great powers on earth, but not one to vie with this, to which they are all subordinated. In this the promise of the future. Time is on its side; the Eternal too (see Philippians 3:21, especially in the Greek).
II. ITS SUGGESTIONS.
1. We ourselves must submit to it. Nearer, closer, than any earthly rule, it presses on us. We can no more evade it than we can the civil government under whose shield we abide; not so effectually. Neutrality impossible - the vainest dream!
2. We shall then share the benedictions of this gracious mediatorial rule.
3. We can, must, labour for its extension. With sword as well as trowel (Nehemiah 4:18).
4. We shall then share the day of the final triumph. (Isaiah 53:11.)
5. And enter with the Lord on that sabbatic repose which follows the long ages of conflict. That eternal sabbath closes the prospect in the sublime, successive relations of God (see George Steward's 'Mediatorial Sovereignty,' vol. 2:520-525). - R.
I. HUMAN SOVEREIGNTY IS DERIVED FROM GOD. If God had so pleased, he might have placed all men on a level. The principle of co-ordination, instead of subordination, was possible. Some genera of animals seem to have the instinct of subordination to rule among them; others, not. This ambition for rule is, in its original and unselfish character, an endowment from God. Strength, influence, will, power, kingly glory, all proceed from God. What have we of any value that we have not received? Fools men are to be inflated with pride, because another has lent them some possessions in trust. As well may a steward of a lordly estate give himself airs while his lord is absent. As well may the horses yoked to a treasure-van arch their necks and shake their manes because they draw behind them costly metals! Earthly honors are not unmistakable evidences of God's, Invent towards us. He sometimes puts a crown on our heads, that it may lacerate us with its hidden thorns - gives us a sceptre, and chastises us therewith.
II. SOVEREIGNTY, IN SOME FORM, IS GIVEN TO EVERY MAN. It was given to every man to have dominion over the beasts of the field and over the fowls of the air. On every man is imposed the duty to rule himself - his appetite, temper, passions, speech. The loftier part of his nature is divinely commissioned to rule the lower. "Better is he that ruleth his own nature, than he that taketh a city." Our wise and successful government of ourselves forms a course of training which shall fit us to govern others. This truth may well be printed in letters of gold, and set up where we can read it daily. According to our present loyalty will be the extent of future award. "Be thou ruler over ten cities;... be thou ruler over five cities."
III. HUMAN SOVEREIGNTY DOES NOT NECESSARILY IMPLY THE POSSESSION OF THE NOBLEST QUALITIES. The Chaldean sovereignty is represented by gold; the Persian, by silver; the Grecian, by brass; the Roman, by iron. One man, though ill-fitted for the post, may reign by virtue of hereditary succession. Another reigns by reason of his superior sagacity. A third reigns by virtue of real strength of character. A fourth reigns by reason of successful intrigue, or as the result of violent and unscrupulous war. Might is often mistaken for right. One throne is based on law; another rests on bayonets. Qualities and principles very inferior intrinsically often come to the surface, and dominate in human affairs. The dross rises to the top; the virgin metal keeps in obscurity. A Herod is on the throne; Jesus dwells in a stable! The silver is preferred to the gold, yea, the brass takes the place of both. Yet this is only a temporary displacement.
IV. SOVEREIGNTY BASED ON HETEROGENEOUS ELEMENTS COLLAPSES. Iron and clay are both useful in their place; but it was never intended that they should be fused into a unity. A short-sighted monarch frequently vacillates between three or four discordant principles, and, though fortune may, for a time, seem to favour him, yet he never succeeds. Now he insists on royal prerogative; then he concedes to selfish prudence. To-day he uses physical power; to-morrow he yields to fear. "A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand." True principle, consistently adhered to, triumphs at last. - D.
these," i.e. Roman, "kings." God had chosen to defer the visible manifestation of his kingdom until men had learnt the folly and the crime of attempting to do without him. We of this age are permitted to see the exact fulfilment of these words. Verily our God is a God of truth.
I. OBSERVE THE FOUNDER OF THIS NEW' KINGDOM. When it was said, in a previous part of this chapter, that the God of heaven had given to Nebuchadnezzar a kingdom, it is not meant that God was the only Person taking part in the elevation of that monarch. Human interests and ambitions exercised their power. Possibly Satan instigated the evil passions of some of the statesmen of that day. But all the events were under the controlling will of God. He allows human and Satanic activity, but only within a limit imposed by his own will. On the other hand, the founding of this new kingdom is exclusively his work. From first conception to final completion; the work is God's. The heavenly principles on which it is founded are of his origination. The God of heaven hath done it: who can withstand? "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed. But he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision."
II. ITS MYSTERIOUS MANIFESTATION. It was a stone cut out of the mountain without hands. The process of founding this empire is new and unprecedented. Into its constitution no form of human policy enters. It was a part of a mountain - a small part - mysteriously detached from the solid whole. By virtue of its own innate energy it grew and spread until it became a mountain also. Herein is symbolized the fact that Christ's kingdom on the earth is a part of heaven itself; it shall gradually grow into the likeness of heaven itself. There shall be a new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness.
III. ITS IMMUTABILITY. "It shall not be left to other people." In other words, no change of dynasty shall occur. Our King Emmanuel shall reign for ever. As he possesses an unchanging priesthood, so he holds an unchanging royalty. No change in its principles, or in its laws, or in its modes of aggression, shall be permitted. They are perfect in design from the very commencement. Nor, in the best sense, shall the true subjects in this kingdom be changed. Christ hates divorcements. "Having loved is own, he will love them to the end." Once Christ's, we are Christ's for ever. In moving us from the visible kingdom on earth, death, as our King's officer, does but convey to the higher province - the metropolis of the kingdom, viz. the invisible.
IV. ITS ALL-CONQUERING POWER. It shall be ravaged by no other kingdom; it shall vanquish all. its victories may be slow, but they are sure. No weapon that is formed against this empire shall prosper. The nation that will not serve King Jesus shall perish. The powers that assail the Church of Christ shall be broken in pieces as a potter's vessel. During the past eighteen centuries this has been the tale of history. The two-edged weapon of Divine truth has triumphed. The testimony of infidel and adversary is this: "The Nazarene has conquered." It is a bloodless warfare, and ends in abiding victory.
V. MARK ITS PERPETUAL DURATION. The elements of which this kingdom is composed are indissoluble and imperishable. They are righteousness, truth, love, peace. The King himself is eternal and immortal, "without beginning of days, and without end of life." To all his subjects he gives immortal youth. "They shall never perish? Hence there is nothing in this empire that is pervious to decay. Once more will God shake heaven and earth, to the end that what is frail may perish, and that the "things which cannot be shaken may remain." This is a kingdom which cannot be moved. "For he must reign, until he hath put all things under his feet." It is a decree growing out of the roots of absolute and eternal necessity. - D.
I. THE MORAL ATTITUDE OF THE KING.
1. Entire cessation from self. No trace of that self-consciousness which was so striking a characteristic of the king. Self had become nothing. Self had been swept out of consciousness by the overwhelming benediction which flooded his soul.
2. Gratitude to the human instruments. To Daniel the king gave:
(a) The vicegerency of a province - Babylon.
(b) The chancellorship of the magi.
To Daniel's friends, administrative offices under Daniel in his province (see the Chaldee, vers. 48, 49).
3. Homage to the Divine. The ideas of the king were of this kind, that there were many gods, but among them the God of the Hebrews was supreme, through Daniel shone his clear manifestations. Accordingly, to Daniel he offered incense, etc. Distinguish here between the false form and that which was true in spirit. Through the polytheistic cloud the king looked in the direction of the true and eternal Sun - God. He did not, could not, rest in mere secondary causes. He attributed the mercy to the Divine cause. Lessons:
1. Some omit all gratitude to men.
2. Others withhold devout thankfulness to God. Let the noble king - noble in all the mist that blinded him - in these things be our teacher.
II. THE DEMEANOUR OF THE PROPHET.
1. A moderate estimate of self. Even as an instrument, the benediction had not come wholly through him; he was mindful of his companions, the common danger, their sympathy, their united prayers.
2. Gratitude go friendly helpers. Pleads to the king for them.
3. A consciousness of a real greatness that only God could give. "The king made Daniel a great man." We may argue from all we know of the elevation of the prophet's character that, whilst not ungrateful for the king's kindness, he estimated that elevation at its true value. He must have known that there was a greatness, not of earth, of the spirit, which only the Lord of spirits could give. Such consciousness quite consistent with humility. "Thy clemency hath made me great." - R.
I. THE PROPHET'S SUCCESS. Daniel had proceeded, with honest fidelity, to declare to the king the truth entrusted to his keeping. He had not flattered Nebuchadnezzar with glittering and delusive hopes. He had held out no prospect that the Chaldean kingdom should be permanent. Nevertheless, the Chaldean king felt that there was an authority and a majesty in the truth, vastly superior to his own. He bowed before it. The previous discovery of the magicians' falseness had prepared his mind to value truth; hence he prostrated himself before the visible representative of heavenly truth, with that abject mode of prostration common in his court. The truth from the prophet's lips had produced that inward sense of personal littleness which accorded with reality. The homage he rendered to God's message was, according to the customs of the age, fitting. There was more of kingly nobleness in Daniel than in Nebuchadnezzar; and the monarch, in his way, foresaw the day when the sons of God shall be manifested in royal power. But it was not fitting that the homage due to the Master should be given to the servant; and, though the narrative leaves Daniel silent here, doubtless he disclaimed all right to such adulation, and directed it to be given to the Divine Author of truth. Publicly did the heathen monarch confess that Jehovah was God above all other gods - King over all other kings. It was no slight change wrought in the convictions and temper of the monarch, when he thus cast obloquy on Chaldea's deities, and confessed the power of Israel's God. This was the success which Daniel had sought.
II. THE PROPHET'S REWARD. Although Daniel declines to accept the homage which was due only to the unseen God, he does not fall therefore in the monarch's esteem: he rises higher still. Then the candid honesty of the man compels him to forego worldly advantage, that he may be loyal to truth and to God. Such a man is worthy of large and implicit trust. The interests of the empire can be entrusted to no better hands. He shall stand next to the king: he shall be king in all but the name! No human sovereign can make Daniel a great man. He was great already, moulded and fashioned into greatness by a Divine hand. Such intrinsic greatness the world could not give nor take away. Outward signs of greatness, however, the king conferred. He gave him riches; he gave him rule; made him prime minister of state. The king had learnt by experience that no expense spent on Daniel had been waste. His nourishment and education of Daniel for three years had proved most remunerative outlay. Amply had he been repaid. And now gratitude and interest alike prompted him to confer all possible power upon this right noble man. Never could the title be better conferred - "most excellent," or "right honourable." He "sat in the gate'" to direct the administration and to dispense justice. This was the "sublime porte" of Babylon
III. THE PROPHET'S SELF-FORGETFUL SPIRIT. He has but one request to make of the king, and this request was not for himself, but for others. Having been highly exalted, be seeks gifts for men. Nowhere does the nobility and magnanimity of the man come more into view than here. His sudden elevation to rank and riches and rule have not spoilt him. In him lurks no ambitious pride. He has no thought of invidious rivalry. He is unwilling to enjoy his honours alone. In that hour of unexpected triumph he does not forget his fellow-captives who had joined their prayers to his in the hour of exigency. It may seem a bold petition: it may imperil his reputation with the king. To ask that the native Chaldeans - the officers who had gained illustrious honour by the conquest of Jerusalem - should be displaced to make room for three obscure and captive Jews: truly, this was a large request. Does not Daniel jeopardize all his gains by this daring proposal? Come what will, he will serve his nation, he will serve his God. And if, by sagacious foresight, he can diminish the oppressions of his countrymen, or pave the path for their return to Palestine, he will do it. The sacred fire aglow in his heart is revealed. Self is obliterated. To do good to Jew and Gentile alike - this is his sweet ambition! O man, "beloved. of God," thy name shall be embalmed in fragrant remembrance. - D.
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