And the king spoke to Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel…
The name and the nature of a king are not always yoked together. Jehoiakim had been professedly a king, but was, in truth, a slave. Daniel and his companions, though led into exile as captives, had within them kingly qualities, which could not be degraded by strangers. As living water from the flinty rock will rise through every kind of strata, and find its way to the surface, so, through all adversities, innate nobleness will assert its imperial power. If a counterfeit king has become a captive, one from among the Jewish captives shall become a real king - a true man, whom all ages shall admire and follow. There is set before us in this passage -
I. A POLICY REALLY ROYAL. This King of Babylon, unlike the majority of Eastern monarchs, did not abandon himself to voluptuous ease. It must have required some force of character to withstand the customs, precedents, and temptations of the luxurious palace. Yet, however stupendous the difficulty, Nebuchadnezzar rose above it. We can easily imagine the formidable array of prejudices which the Chaldean nobles would present to this new policy of the king. Was not such a plan unheard of in the entire history of the empire? Was it not a departure from the path of cautious prudence to introduce foreigners, and foreign captives, into the councils of the court?
1. It was a policy characterized by far-seeing wisdom. Already the Chaldeans had risen out of a state of barbarism, and had begun to appreciate knowledge and intellectual skill. They had learnt to observe with accuracy the motions of the stars. They had attained to considerable skill in architecture and sculpture. They knew something of the science of government. The king was a foremost man in the march of intellect. He knew that, in many respects, the Hebrews excelled his own countrymen. In agriculture, in instrumental music, in historical composition, especially in possessing the gift of prophecy, the Hebrews held the palm. Conscious that the triumphs of peaceful science were nobler and more enduring than martial victories, Nebuchadnezzar sought to strengthen and embellish his reign with all the learning and talent which he could secure, it was the Elizabethan period in Chaldean history. Although the idea had not yet been embodied in aphoristic words, the monarch had a vague feeling that knowledge was power.
2. It was a policy inspired by public spirit. In an age when Oriental sovereigns sought to use the machinery of government for their own personal advantage, Nebuchadnezzar seems to have been primarily concerned for the well-being of his people. When jealous mainly for their high prerogatives, kings have judged it safer to keep their subjects in a condition of ignorance, to the end they might render mechanical and servile obedience. This Chaldean king was a man of broader mind. He identified himself with the nation. His interest and its interest were one. He found his joy, not in personal indulgence and obsequious flattery, but in the advancement of the common weal. While he forgot himself, in his desire to elevate the nation, he was unconsciously sowing the seed of future fame.
3. It was a policy marked by catholic generosity. It was a part of his plan to obliterate the distinctions of nationality among his subjects - to merge all into one. This badge of servitude it was his wish to obliterate. Were net these Hebrews as richly endowed with intellectual capacity as the Chaldeans? Had they not special aptitude for some of the sciences? Would not their gilts and services benefit the state-politic? And would not the entire body of exiles be more content in their lot if their own nobles were honoured with a place at court? This generous policy of Nebuchadnezzar may yet serve as a pattern to our modern rulers. It is paltry meanness and contemptible pride which seek to repress the intellectual energies of men who happen to have been born under other skies.
II. AN IMPERFECT METHOD. The method which the king adopted was partly wise and partly unwise. There was wisdom in the arrangement that a maintenance should be supplied for these young nobles. The sustenance of life must always be the first care of men; and, until the necessities of hunger are met, no time nor energy can be spared for the researches of science or the acquisition of learning. But it was very unwise that the appetites of these young men should be pampered with royal dainties. It was perilous to the morals of these young men that their passions should be excited with royal wine. Very likely this king was a materialist in philosophy, and imagined that artificial excitements of the brain provoked the mind to loftier efforts. This was a perilous error. Frugal fare, simple habits of life, abstemiousness at the table, are most conducive to vigour of intellect and tranquillity of feeling. Long before the stage of intoxication is reached, imperceptible injury is done by stimulants to brain and nerve. More mischief is wrought by want of thought than want of will. Further, these young men were designated by new names. We might have supposed that this was done to obliterate national distinctions, or to allay the prejudice of the Chaldean nobles. But, inasmuch as the former names (at least of those mentioned) had incorporated in them the name of Israel's God, and inasmuch as the new names bore some allusion to Chaldea's idols, it is more likely that religious pride had prescribed these appellations. By conferring on these young men names which honoured their own deities, the Chaldeans supposed that their deities would reciprocate the honour by conferring on the bearers of their names some portion of their spirit, Yet to be labelled "saint' has never served to secure a saintly nature.
III. THE KING'S METHOD SECRETLY MODIFIED. The sum-total of earthly wisdom never resides in one man - not even in a king. No mortal has a monopoly of goodness. Daniel and his companions, though young, had already learnt that self-restraint is the surest path to health and usefulness and joy. One part of our nature is to be cultivated; one part of our nature is to be crucified. Every inclination and tendency which has its terminus in self - in self-pleasing or self-elevation - is to be repressed and curbed. Every disposition and energy which has its terminus in others - especially in God - should be fostered. Besides, it is very likely that the food furnished by the king had, in some way, been associated with idol-worship. On this account, it may be, the royal viands were supposed to possess some special virtue. These loyal servants of Jehovah would not consent to sanction this idolatrous belief. They declined to be partakers in other men's sins. Moreover. God had taken the pains to give to Israel minute directions what animals they might eat, and what flesh they might not eat. The use of blood in food was prohibited. They were not to eat such animals as had been strangled. Hence Daniel and the others were bound by an earlier and a higher allegiance, which they had resolved not to violate. They had not the power of choice left. In religions duty they were bound to the King of heaven. "They were willing to render unto Caesar those things which were Caesar's, but they were determined also to render unto God the things which were God's." We may often obtain by a conciliatory request what we cannot obtain by an imperious demand. Modesty of deportment is a grace peculiarly befitting the young. It is a false estimate of dignity when men suppose they must be self-assertive, arrogant, and unyielding. Persuasive kindness wields the mightiest sceptre. "The meek shall inherit the earth." Sweet amiability in Daniel was blended with firm principle, as luscious dates adorn the stately palm. Very likely Daniel had tacitly resolved not to violate his conscience, whatever the prince of the eunuchs might urge. But he would try gentler measures at first. He would not defeat his own ends by precipitate speech. Words, once uttered, are not easily recalled. The excellences of Daniel had already gained for him a place in the heart of this chamberlain, and the influence over this officer which Daniel had virtuously gained was used for his companions as much as for himself. The fruits of our goodness, others share in. We cannot live wholly for ourselves. The human race is an organic body, the several parts of which are united by ligaments of mutual service and reciprocal interest.
IV. THE OPERATION OF SELFISH FEAR. This palace official seems to us a man mild and placable, but a slave of formal routine. The maxim of his life was this - That which has been from time immemorial must continue world without end. To presume to offer a suggestion to his royal master was an offence bordering on treason. It had never occurred to him to question the wisdom of previous kings and chamberlains. Of course viands coming from the royal larder, and consecrated to the gods, must feed and vitalize human brains. It would be rank impiety to doubt it. So men hand down beliefs and customs from age to age, without bringing them to the test of practical utility. Their business runs daily in some narrow groove, and they become so completely the creatures of habit that all the energies of mind are lulled into inglorious sleep. "Let well alone" is one of their easy-going adages; forgetting that there is a "better" and a "best." This subordinate prince does not attempt to reason on the merits of the case. He is not willing to tolerate in these Hebrew youths the exercise of intelligence, judgment, or conscience. At once, he thinks exclusively of the injurious effect upon himself: "I fear my lord the king." Had he argued that he had a duty to the king, which obligation required him to fulfil, there would have been an element of nobleness in his attitude. Or had he showed anxiety for the risk of loss these young men ran, it would have been commendable. But this fear for himself is mean and despicable. Indeed, the service he had engaged to perform was one beyond his power to carry into effect without the consent of these youths themselves. This chamberlain could have spread the students' table with the prescribed food and wine, but no human power could have compelled these youths to partake. With the spreading of the periodic repast, the chamberlain's duty would properly have terminated; but he was confronted with a difficulty be had not expected, and showed the weakness of his character by giving way at once to selfish fear. If he found that his royal master required of him unreasonable or impossible service, he could surely have requested his sovereign to relieve him from that post, and place him in some other position. A loss of official station is not necessarily a disgrace: it is often an honour. A good man need fear no one save God.
"Fear him, ye saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear."
V. THE EXPERIMENT PROPOSED. Daniel readily proposed a plan which might quiet the chamberlain's fears. He suggests that an experiment be made for ten days only, during which time he and his comrades should diet on vegetable food and water.
1. It was a reasonable suggestion. The question at issue was one that could be brought to the test of practical demonstration, and controversy would be saved by such an appeal. An hour of experiment is more fruitful than years of speculative reasoning. The eye is not always a safe arbitrator. No organ is so easily deceived. But in this case the eye was a competent judge. A competition was instituted between self-indulgence and self-restraint. The virtue of abstemiousness was placed upon its trial, and we do well to note the result.
2. Nor can we close our eyes to the fact that Daniel regarded this self-abstinence as a branch of religious duty. No department of our daily life is beyond the reach of conscience. As each ray of sunshine, and each flake of snow, contributes its quota to the autumnal harvest; so each act in a man's life, even the most trivial, produces its effect upon his interior nature - contributes either to his nobleness or to his degradation. There are occasions when men use this plea of conscience dishonestly. They make conscience a mask wherewith to hide inclination and self-will. But Daniel was a true man. Transparency of motive was a jewel that glittered on his brow.
3. Daniel proposed this ordeal in the exercise of full confidence in God. He had, without doubt, already proved in himself the benefit, bodily and mentally, of simple diet. Never, until now, had he been brought rote the circle of such fascinating temptation; and now it was to be seen whether his faith in God would bear the trial. Yes! his faith was not only food-proof, but even fire-proof. Full sure was he that "man did not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." One wiser than himself, and kinder than any human friend, had, with blended authority and love, decreed what might and what might not be eaten, and Daniel knew that devout obedience would secure a certain blessing. "He that doubteth is condemned if he eat."
VI. OBSERVE THE SUCCESSFUL RESULT. The experiment terminated favourably on their health. They were both "fairer and fatter in flesh" than their competitors. Physical beauty, as well as physical strength, is to be adequately valued. Both are gifts of God; their possession ought to awaken thankfulness. Both may lead to sin. We must distinguish between natural appetites and acquired depraved tastes. To satisfy natural appetite is to do the will of God; to pander to needless cravings is to violate Divine authority. There is a large amount of pleasure arising from robust health, although the quality of this pleasure is none of the highest. To make the development of the body - the attainment of physical perfection - a study, during the growing years of youth, is a religious duty. The possession of perfect health, and the enjoyment arising therefrom, are within the reach of the poorest born. The dainties and effeminacies prevalent in marble palaces hinder, rather than help, the perfection of physical beauty. Daniel's simple pulse had more worth than the king's delicacies. Real hunger furnishes the best condiments.
1. The prizes of virtue are manifold and cumulative. Daniel's frugal diet brought its own inward satisfaction. Ten days' trial showed a perceptible advantage over the self-indulgent. That advantage increased during every succeeding day, until, at the end of three years, the results in health and strength and comeliness were incalculable. Meanwhile, the power of self-control over other inclinations and passions had largely increased, and this brought new delight. The consciousness that their God was right and kind in requiring this discipline of the appetites, increased their reverence and love, made them more resolute in their heavenly allegiance. They felt they were on the ascent to true nobleness and final honour, whatever temporary obscurity might arise. Their knowledge grew. Their wisdom ripened. Even foreigners and rivals rendered them real respect. Conquests over the difficulties of Chaldean learning were daily acquired, and they hailed, with glad anticipation, the approach of a royal test. They held their heads aloft, with a sense of manly greatness, when summoned into the presence of their king. "Better is he that ruleth his own spirit than he who taketh a city."
2. Then over and above this natural success and joy there was a special reward conferred by the hand of God himself. He who constructed the human mind knows well the avenues by which to gain access to all its chambers, and is able to enrich, illumine, and beautify any part. To doubt this would be infidelity, To these four young men God gave "skill in all learning and wisdom;" to Daniel in particular he gave special inspiration, a royal imagination, power to unravel dreams. We are prone to think that in the shadowy, weird territory of dreamland the reign of law is not known. Yet we err. Every wild phantom of the human mind is a link in the chain of cause and effect. Only a poet can fully appreciate true poetry. Only a man o! imaginative genius can resolve the problems of dreams. This is a God-given power - a species of inspiration.
3. The day of public manifestation at length arrived. As there is many a starting-point in human affairs, so there is many a goal. The first presupposes and determines the second. "The king came in to see his Hebrew guests." It was only fitting that he should. Every pert of human life is probation - trial, which has respect to honour or to disgrace. Though the end may seem far distant, yet this is only seeming. The end is really near. Righteous judgment is ever proceeding. This Chaldean monarch was, in this matter, a model prince. In many aspects of this event we have a striking forecast of the final judgment. With marked condescension, the king "communed" with these captive Hebrews, and was so far impartial in his just estimate as to confess publicly their diligent industry and their superior attainments. "He found them ten times better than all the magicians in his realm." Such knowledge as they professed was real. They made no pretensions to what was beyond their power. They did not boast of access to arcana of nature or of Divine providence really closed against them. They admitted the confines of real knowledge; they confessed the limitations of the human mind. Pretended skill is only contemptible. The truly great man is as ready to acknowledge his ignorance as his knowledge. Only a fool is unwilling to give this reply to many inquiries, "I do not know."
4. The eminence which Daniel justly attained was permanent. Real greatness, like the granite rock, is enduring. Suns rose End set, years came and went; kings flourished and fell; changes swept over all the empires of Asia; but Daniel, throughout the allotted period of his life, maintained his power and pre-eminence. Nor did his regal influence disappear with his dying breath; 'twas not interred in his tomb. It lived on: it lives still. The noble qualities of Daniel have reappeared in others, age after age. The tyranny of monarchs, in the East and in the West, have been held in check by him. "Being dead, he yet speaks," yet rules! His name stands on Heaven's beadroll among, the most saintly of his race - with Samuel and with Job. In his own identical person he has lived a continuous and a progressive life in a higher sphere than this. There he occupies a throne; his hand holds a sceptre; his head is surmounted with a diadem. The voice of the Highest has said to him, "Be thou ruler over ten cities." In his own glad consciousness, his prophetic words have been fulfilled, "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever." Evanescence is a quality of what is worthless, Faith is the seed of which the full development is "life everlasting." - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes;