Daniel 4:17

17. This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones; to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.

17. In decreto vigilum verbum, 1 et in sermone sanctorum postulatio, ut cognoscant viventes, quod dominator sit excelsus in regno hominum: et cui voluerit tradet illud, et humilem, 2 hominum 3 eriget super ipsum.


In this verse God confirms what he had shewn to the king of Babylon by means of a dream. He says, then, the king was instructed in a certain thing; since it had been so determined before God and his angels. The full meaning is this,--Nebuchadnezzar must know it to be impossible to escape the punishment whose image he had seen in the dream. There is, however, some ambiguity in the words, since interpreters find great difficulties with the second clause; for they say the angels ask the question, to afford proof to the king of Babylon, and that all men may acknowledge the supreme power of the one God. But this seems to me too forced. As far as the word amgtp, pethegma, is concerned, it signifies "word" in Chaldee; but here I think it properly used for "edict," as in the first chapter of Esther, (Esther 1:20;) and this is a very suitable sense, as the edict was promulgated in the decree so that the "word" or vision might not prove vain and inefficient; since God wished to point out to the king what was already fixed and determined in heaven. We now understand the Prophet's intention. But a new question still remains, because it seems absurd to attribute power and authority to those angels, lest in this way they seem to be equal to God. We know God to be judge alone, and hence it is his proper office to determine what pleases him; and if this is transferred to angels, it seems as if it lessened his supreme authority, because it is not becoming to make them companions of his Majesty. But we know it to be no new thing in Scripture for God to join angels with himself, not as equals but as attendants, and to attribute to them so much honor as to deign to call them into counsel. Hence angels are often called God's counselors. As in this place they are said to decree together with God; and not by their own will or pleasure, as they say, but because they subscribe to God's judgment. Meanwhile, we must remark the double character assigned to them. In the first clause, Daniel makes them subscribe to the decree, and afterwards uses the word demand. And this suits the sense well enough; because the angels urge God by their prayers to humble all mortals and to exalt himself alone. Thus, whatever obscures his glory may be reduced into order. It is right for angels constantly to desire this, since we know them to desire nothing in comparison with the adoration of God by themselves in alliance with all mankind. But when they see God's authority diminished by man's pride and audacity, the object of their demand is that God would reduce under his yoke the proud who erect their crests against him.

We now see why Daniel says, this was declared in, the decree of the watchers, and was demanded in their speech; as if he should. say; "thou hast all angels opposed to thee; for by one consent and with Gale mouth they accuse thee before God, for as far as possible thou obscurest his glory; and God, assenting to their prayers, has determined to cast thee away, and to render thee an object of contempt and reproach before the whole world; and this decree has been signed by all the angels, as if it were common between him and them. For by their subscription and agreement he might prevail[ in confirming the confidence of the profane king. Without doubt God, after his usual manner, accommodated the vision to the understanding of a man who never was taught in his law, but only imbued with a confused notion of his divinity, so that he could not distinguish between God and angels. Meanwhile, this sentiment is true -- the edict was promulgated at the united consent and demand of the whole celestial host; for angels bear with the greatest reluctance whatever detracts from God's glory, and all the folly of mankind when they wish to draw and attract to themselves the peculiar attributes of the only God. This seems to be flute genuine sense. The following sentence flows very suitably, -- mortals must know God to be a ruler in the kingdoms of men. For Daniel marks the end of the demand, since angels desire God's rights to remain entire, and to be quite unaffected by the ingratitude of mankind. But men cannot ascribe even the slightest merit to themselves without detracting from God's praise; hence angels continually seek from God the casting down of all the proud, and that he will not permit himself to be defrauded of his proper rights, but maintain in all its integrity his own sovereign powers. This also must. be diligently observed -- mortals should notice how the Lord reigns in the kingdoms of men. For even the worst of men confess the mighty power of God; they dare not draw him down from his heavenly throne by their blasphemies, but they imagine themselves able to obtain and defend their worldly kingdoms, by either their exertions or their wealth, or by some other means. Unbelievers, therefore, willingly shut up God in heaven, just as Epicurus fancied him to be enjoying his own delights at his ease. Hence Daniel shews God to be deprived of his rights, unless he is recognized as a ruler in the kingdoms of men, that is, on earth to humble all whom he pleases. So also it is said in the Psalms, (Psalm 75:7,) Power springs not from either the east or the west, but; from heaven; and elsewhere, God raises the poor out of the mire, (Psalm 113:6.) Then in the sacred Canticle of the Virgin, he casts down the proud from their seat, and exalts the abject and the humble. (Luke 1:52.) All indeed confess this, but scarcely one in a hundred feels. in his mind the dominion of God over the earth, and that no man can raise himself, or remain in any post of honor, since this is the peculiar gift of God. Because men are persuaded of this with difficulty. Daniel eloquently expresses it, the Lord shall be lofty in the kingdoms of men; that is, shall not; only exercise his power in heaven, but also govern the human race, and assign to every one his own grade and position. He will give it to whom he wills. He speaks of different empires in the singular number; just as if God had said, some: are raised up by God's. will, and others are cast down; and the whole happens according to God's pleasure. The meaning is this -- -every one has his own condition divinely assigned to him; and thus a, man's ambition, or skill, or prudence, or wealth, or the help of others, do not profit men in aspiring to any altitude, unless God raises them by his stretched out hand. Paul also teaches the same thing in other words; there is no power but from God, (Romans 13:1,) and afterwards Daniel often repeats the same sentiment.

He adds, he raises up the humble man above himself. In a change so remarkable as this, God's power shines forth better while he raises from the dust those who were formerly obscure and contemptible, and even sets them above kings. When this happens, profane men say, God is playing with them, and rolls men about like balls in his hand, which are first tossed upwards and then thrown down upon the ground. But they do not consider the reason why God by open proofs wishes to shew how we are under his absolute power, on which our condition entirely depends; when we do not comprehend this of our own accord, examples are necessarily set before us by which we are compelled to perceive what almost all are willingly ignorant of. We now understand the whole intention of the Prophet. Angels seek from God by continual prayers to declare his own power to mortals, and thus to lay prostrate the proud who think to excel by their own power and industry, or else by chance, or by the help of men. To induce God to punish men for their sacrilegious deeds, the angels desire him to prostrate them, and thus to shew himself to be not only the king and ruler of heaven, but also of earth. Now, this not only happens in the case of a single king, but we know history to be full of such proofs. Whence, then, or from what order have kings often been created? And when there was no greater pride in the world than in the Roman empire, we see what happened. For God brought forward certain monsters which caused the greatest astonishment among the Greeks and all the 0rien.tals, the Spaniards, Italians, and Gauls; for nothing was more monstrous than some of the emperors. Then their origin was most base and shameful, and God could not shew more clearly their empires were not transferred by the will of man, nor even acquired by valor, counsel, and powerful troops, but remained under his own hand to bestow upon whomsoever he pleased. Let us go on:

1 Or, edict, for it may be conveniently translated so. -- Calvin.

2 Or, abject. -- Calvin.

3 Or, among men. -- Calvin.


Back to

These files are public domain. This electronic edition was downloaded from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.