Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 24: Daniel, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
THE PROPHET DANIEL.
John Calvin’s Preface
TO HIS LECTURES ON DANIEL.
The Book of The Prophet Daniel follows these Remarks, and its utility will be better understood as we proceed; since it cannot be conveniently explained all at once. I will, however, just present the Leader with a foretaste to prepare his mind, and render him attentive. But before I do so, I must make a brief Summary Of The Book. We may divide the Book into two part, and this partition will materially help us. For Daniel relates how he acquired influence over the unbelieving. It was necessary for him to be elevated to the prophetic office in some singular and unusual manner. The condition of the Jews, as is well known, was so confused, that it was difficult for any one to determine whether any Prophet existed. At first Jeremiah was alive, and after him Ezekiel. After their return, the Jews had their own Prophets but Jeremiah and Ezekiel had almost fulfilled their office, when Daniel succeeded them. Others too, as we have already seen, as Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah, were created Prophets for the purpose of exhorting the people, and hence their duties were partially restricted. But Daniel would scarcely have been considered a Prophet, had not God, as we have said, appointed him in a remarkable way. We shall perceive at the close of the sixth chapter, that he was divinely endued with remarkable signs, so that the Jews might surely ascertain that he had the gift of prophecy, unless they were basely ungrateful to God. His name was known and respected by the inhabitants of Babylon. If the Jews had despised what even the profane Gentiles admired, was not this purposely to suffocate and trample on the grace of God? Daniel, then, had sure and striking marks by which he could by recognized as God’s Prophet, and his calling be rendered unquestionable.
A Second Part is afterwards added, in which God predicts by his agency the events which were to occur to his elect people. The Visions, then, from the seventh chapter to the end of the Book, relate peculiarly to the Church of God. There God predicts what should happen hereafter. And that admonition is the more necessary, since the trial was severe, when the Jews had to bear an exile of seventy years; but after their return to their country, instead of seventy years, God protracted their full deliverance till seventy weeks of years. So the delay was increased sevenfold. Their spirits might be broken a thousand times, or even utterly fail; for the Prophets speak so magnificently about their redemption, that the Jews expected their state to be especially happy and prosperous, as soon as they were snatched from the Babylonian Captivity. But since they were oppressed with so many afflictions, and that, too, not for a short period, but for more than four hundred years, their redemption might seem illusory since they were but seventy years in exile. there is no doubt, then, that Satan seduced the minds of many to revolt, as if God were mocking them by bringing them out of Chaldea back again to their own country. For these reasons God shews his servant in a Vision what numerous and severe afflictions awaited his elect people. Besides, Daniel, Se prophesies that he describes almost historically events previously hidden. And this was necessary, since in such turbulent convulsions the people would never have tasted that these had been divinely revealed to Daniel, unless the heavenly testimony had been proved by the event. This holy man ought so to speak and to prophesy concerning futurity, as if he were relating what had already happened. But we shall see all these things in their own order.
I return, then, to what I commenced with, that we may see in few words how useful this Book is to the Church of Christ. First of all, the matter itself shews how Daniel did not speak from his own discretion, but whatever he uttered was dictated by the Holy Spirit for whence could he conceive the things which we shall afterwards behold, if he were only endued with human prudence? for instance, that other Monarchies should arise to blot out that Babylonian Empire which then had the greatest authority in all the world? Then, again, how could he divine concerning Alexander the Great and his Successors? for long before Alexander was born, Daniel predicted what he should accomplish. Then he shows that his kingdom should not last, since it is directly divided into four horns. Other events also clearly demonstrate that he spoke by the dictation of the Holy Spirit. But our confidence in this is strengthened by other narratives, where he represents the various miseries to which the Church should be subject between two most cruel enemies, the kings of Syria and Egypt. He first recites their treaties, and then their hostile incursions on both sides, and afterwards so many changes, as if he pointed at the things themselves with his finger; and he so follows through their whole progress, that God appears to speak by his mouth. This, then, is a great step, and we shall not repent of taking it, when we acknowledge Daniel to have been only the organ of the Holy Spirit, and never to have brought anything forward by his own private inclination. The authority, too, which he obtained, and which inspired the Jews with perfect confidence in his teaching, extends to us also. Shameful, indeed, and base would be our ingratitude, if we did not embrace him as God’s Prophet, whom the Chaldeans were compelled to honor — a people whom we know to have been superstitious and full of pride. These two nations, the Egyptians and Chaldeans, placed themselves before all others; for the Chaldeans thought wisdom’s only dwelling-place was with themselves hence they would never have been inclined to receive Daniel’s, unless the reality had compelled them, and the confession of his being a true prophet of God had been extorted from them.
Since Daniel’s authority is thus established, we must now say a few words about the subjects which he treats. Respecting The Interpretation Of The Dreams, the first of; those of Nebuchadnezzar embraces a matter of great importance, as we shall see, namely, how all the splendor and power of the world vanish away, Christ’s kingdom alone remaining stable, and that nothing else is self-enduring. In the Second Dream of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel’s admirable constancy is displayed. Very invidious, indeed, was the office of throwing down the mightiest Monarch of the whole world as he did “Thou excepts thyself from the number of men, and art worshipped like a god; thou shalt hereafter become a beast!” No man of these days would dare thus to address Monarchs; nay, who dares to admonish them even mildly, if they have sinned at all? When, therefore, Daniel intrepidly predicted to King Nebuchadnezzar the disgrace which awaited him, he thus gave a rare and memorable proof of his constancy. And in this way, again, his calling was sealed, since this fortitude sprang from God’s Spirit.
But the Second Part is peculiarly worthy of notice, since we there perceive how God cares for his Church. God’s providence is, indeed, extended to the whole world. For if a sparrow does not fall to the ground without his permission, he, doubtness, is mindful of the human race! (Matthew 10, and Luke 12.) Nothing, therefore, happens to us by chance, but God in this Book affords us light, while we know His Church to be so governed by him, as to be the object. of His peculiar care. If matters ever were so disturbed in the world, that one could suppose God to be asleep in heaven, and to be forgetful of the human race, surely such were the changes of those times, nay, so multiform, so extensive, and so various were they, that even the most daring must be confounded, since there was no end to the wars. Egypt prevailed at one time, while at another there were commotion’s in Syria. Seeing, then, all things turned up-side (town, what judgment could be passed, except that God neglected the world, and the Jews were miserably deceived in their hope? They thought that as God had been their deliverer, so would he have been the perpetual guardian of their safety. Although all nations were then subject in common to various slaughters, yet if the Syrians were victorious over the Egyptians, they abused their power against the Jews, and Jerusalem lay exposed as their prey, and the reward of their victory if, again, the opposite side were the conquerors, they revenged the injury, or sought compensation against rite Jews. Thus on every side those miserable people were fleeced, and their condition was much worse after their return to their country, than if they had always been exiles or strangers in other regions. When, therefore, they were admonished concerning the future, this was the best prop on which they could repose. But the use of the same doctrine is at this day applicable to us. We perceive, as in a glass or picture, how God was anxious about his Church, even when he seemed to cast away all regard for it, hence when the Jews were exposed to the injuries of their enemies, it was but, the accomplishment of his designs.
From the Second Part we recognize their wonderful preservation, and that too, by a. greater and more surprising exercise of God’s power, than if they had lived in peace, and no one had molested them. We learn this from the seventh to the ninth chapters. Now, when Daniel numbers the years till The Advent Of Christ, how clear and distinct is the testimony which we may oppose against. Satan, and all the taunts of the impious! and how certain it is that the Book of Daniel, was familiarly used by men before this event. But when he enumerates The Seventy Weeks, and says, that Christ should then come, all profane men may come, and boast, and swell with increased swaggering, yet they shall fall down convicted, since Christ is that true Redeemer whom God had promised from the beginning of the world. For He was unwilling to make him known without the most certain demonstration, such as ail the mathematicians can never equal. First of all, it is worthy of observation, that Daniel afterwards discoursed on the various calamities of the Church, and prophesied the time at which God pleased to hew his only-begotten Son to the world. His dissertation on the office of Christ is one of the principal supports of our faith. For he not only describes his Advent, but announces the abolition of the shadows of the Law, since the Messiah would bring with him its complete fulfillment. And when he predicts the Death of Christ, he shows for what purpose he should undergo death, namely, to abolish Sin by his sacrifice, and to bring in Eternal Righteousness. Lastly, this also must be noticed, — as he had instructed the people to bear their cross, so also he warns them that the Church’s state would not be tranquil even when the Messiah came. The sons of God should be militant until the end, and not hope for any fruit of their victory until the dead should rise again, and Christ himself should collect us into his own Celestial Kingdom. Now, we comprehend in few words, or rather only taste how useful and fruitful this Book is to us.
I now come to the words themselves, I wished, as I said, just to catch a foretaste of a few things, and the reading of the Book will show us better what advantage we may derive from each of its chapters.