2. In those days I Daniel was mourning three full weeks.
2. Diebus illis ego Daniel dedi me luctui tribus hebdomadibus dierum.
3. I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.
3. Panem deliciarum1 non comedi: et caro et vinum non intravit in os meum: et unguendo non fui unctus donec impletae sunt tres hebdomades dierum.
We gather from this passage why the angel appeared to the Prophet in the third year of Cyrus. He says, he was then in the greatest sorrow; and what was the cause of it? At that period we know an interruption of the work of rebuilding the temple and city to have taken place. Cyrus was gone to a distance; he had set out for Asia Minor, and was carrying on war with the Scythians. his son Cambyses was corrupted by his couriers, and forbade the Jews to proceed with the rebuilding of their city and temple. The freedom of the people might then seem in vain. For God had promised the Jews in glowing language a return to their country with their standards unfurled. Besides this, we know the splendid language of the prophets respecting the glory of the second temple. (Isaiah 52:12; Haggai 2:9, and elsewhere.) When thus deprived of all opportunity of rebuilding their temple, what could the Jews determine except that they had been deluded after returning to their country, and God had made a shew of disappointing expectations which had turned out a mere laughing-stock and deception? This was the cause of the grief and anxiety which oppressed the holy Prophet. We now understand why he mentions the third year of Cyrus, as the circumstances of that period, even at this day, point out the reason of his abstinence from all delicacies.
He says, He was in affliction for three weeks of days. The Hebrews often use the phrase weeks or times of days for complete periods. Very possibly, Daniel uses the word "days" here, to prevent a mistake which might easily occur through his so lately speaking of weeks of years. The distinction is thus more clearly marked between the seventy weeks of years previously explained, and these three weeks of days here mentioned. And the angel appears to have dwelt purposely on the completion of these three weeks, as this was the third year of King Cyrus's reign. He says, He did not eat delicate bread, and he abstained from flesh and wine, implying his practice of uniting fasting with mourning. The holy Prophet is here represented as freely using flesh and other food, while the Church of God remained in a state of tranquillity; but when there was danger, lest the few who had returned home should be diminished, and many were still suffering at Babylon those grievous calamities to which they were subject during their exile from neighboring enemies, then the Prophet abstained from all delicacies. In the beginning of this book, he had stated the contentment of himself and his companions with bread, and pulse, and water for meat and drink. This statement is not contrary to the present passage. There is no necessity to fly to that refinement, which allows an old man to use wine, which he never touched in his youth and the flower of his age. This comment is far too frigid. We have shewn, how at the beginning of his exile the only reason for the Prophet's abstaining from the delicacies of the palace, was the desire of preserving himself free from all corruption. For what was the object of the king's designing shrewdness in commanding Daniel and his companions to be treated thus daintily and luxuriously? He wished them to forget their nation by degrees, and to adopt the habits of the Chaldeans, and to be withdrawn by such enticements from the observance of the law, from the worship of God, and from the exercises of piety. When Daniel perceived the artful manner in which he and his companions were treated, he requested to be fed upon pulse, he refused to taste the king's wine, and despised all his dainties. His reason, therefore, concerned the exigencies of the times, as I then pointed out at full length. Meanwhile, we need not hesitate to suppose, that after giving this proof of his constancy, and escaping from these snares of the devil and of the Chaldean monarch, he lived rather freely than frugally, and made use of better bread, and fresh, and wine than before. This passage, then, though it asserts his abstinence from flesh and wine, need not imply actual fasting. Daniel's method of living was clearly after the common practice of the Chaldeans, and by no means implies the rejection of wine, or flesh, or viands of any kind. When he says, he did not eat delicate bread, this was a symbol of sorrow and mourning, like abstinence from flesh and wine. Daniel's object in rejecting delicate bread and wine during those three weeks, was not merely the promotion of temperance, but suppliantly to implore the Almighty not to permit a repetition of those sufferings to his Church under which it had previously labored. But I cannot here treat at any length the object and use of fasting. I have done so elsewhere; even if I wished to do so, I have no time now. To-morrow, perhaps, I may say a few words on the subject, and then proceed with the rest of my observations.
Grant, Almighty God, since thou settest before us so remarkable an example in thy holy Prophet, whom thou didst adorn in so many ways that he wrestled to even extreme old age with various and almost innumerable trials, and yet was never mentally broken down: Grant us to be endowed with the same untiring fortitude. May we proceed in the course of our holy calling without the slightest despondency through whatever may happen. When we see thy Church upon the brink of ruin, and its enemies plotting desperately for its destruction, may we constantly look for that liberty which thou hast promised. May we strive with unbroken courage, until at length we shall be discharged from our warfare, and gathered into that blessed rest which we know to be laid up for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. -- Amen.
We yesterday stated the reason why Daniel abstained from flesh and wine for three weeks. It was the sorrowful and depressed condition of the Church while the Jews were prohibited from building their Temple. We have stated the fallacious views of those who think him to have been always so abstemious in the flower of his age. Though he lived on bread and pulse, it was only for the purpose of remaining pure without any leaning towards the habits of the Chaldees, as it was the king's design to withdraw both himself and his companions from God's people, as if they had originally sprung from Chaldea. That, therefore, was but a temporary reason. But he now states, He had not tasted delicate bread, that is, made of fine flour, and had not tasted either wine or flesh, during the time in which the building of the Temple had been impeded. We must diligently notice this; for many celebrate fasting as if it were a principal part of the worship of God. They think it an act of obedience peculiarly pleasing to God. But this is a gross error, since fasting by itself ought to be treated as a matter unimportant and indifferent. It deserves no praise unless with reference to its object. Now the objects of fasting are various; the principal one is this, to enable the faithful suppliantly to deprecate God's wrath with the solemn testimony of their repentance, and to stimulate each other to more fervor in their prayers. Ordinary daily prayers do not require fasting; but when any great necessity presses upon us, that exercise is added by way of help, to increase the alertness and fervor of our minds in the pouring forth of prayer. For this reason the Scriptures often connect fasting with sorrow, and Daniel here follows the usual practice. We perceive then the reason of his rejecting all delicacies in meat and drink, through his desire to withdraw himself entirely from all hindrances, and to become more intent upon his prayers. I now touch but briefly upon fasting, because I cannot stop on casual passages like these. We should notice, however, how foolishly and absurdly fasting is observed in these days among the Papists, who think they have discharged that duty by eating but once in the day, and abstaining from flesh. The rule of fasting among the Papists is, to avoid flesh and not to partake of either supper or dinner. But real fasting requires something far different from this, namely, perfect abstinence from all delicacies. For Daniel extends this fasting even to bread. He says, He did not taste wine, meaning he abstained from all wine. Then, as to the word "flesh," he does not mean only that of oxen, or calves, or lambs, or fowls, or birds in general, but all food except bread is included under the term flesh. For Daniel did not trifle childishly with God, as the Papists do at this day, who feed without any religious scruple on the best and most exquisite viands, so long as they avoid flesh. This appears more clearly from the statement -- he did not eat pleasant bread, that is, made of fine flour or the very best of the wheat. He was content with plain bread to satisfy his necessities. This abundantly proves the superstition of those who distinguish between flesh, and eggs, and fish. Now, fasting consists in this -- the imposition of a bridle upon men's lusts, eating only sparingly and lightly what is absolutely necessary, and being content with black bread and water. We now understand how fasting in this and similar passages is not taken for that temperance which God recommends to us throughout the whole course of our lives. The faithful ought to be habitually temperate, and by frugality, to observe a continual fast; they ought not to indulge in immoderate food and drink, and in luxurious habits, lest they should debilitate the mind and weaken the body by such indulgences. As a mark of mourning and an exercise of humility, the faithful may impose upon themselves the law of fasting beyond their ordinary habits of sobriety, when they feel any sign of God's wrath, and desire to stimulate themselves to fervor in prayer, according to our former statements, and to confess themselves in the face of the whole world guilty before the tribunal of God. Such was Daniel's intention in not permitting himself to taste pleasant bread, or to drink wine, or to eat flesh. It now follows, --