Handfuls on Purpose
by James Smith, 1943
THE MAN OF PURPOSE. Daniel 1
The book of Daniel has been cast into the critics' den, but, like Daniel, it shall yet escape from the mouths of the lions. Rationalists are rejecting it because of its miracles and prophetic utterances. The Lord Jesus Christ approved of it, for it formed part of the canonical Scriptures in His time. Sir Isaac Newton said that "Christianity itself may be said to be founded on the prophecies of Daniel."
After the siege of Jerusalem (v. 1), Daniel had been taken captive to Babylon, a distance of about eight hundred miles. He was probably about fourteen years of age at that time.
I. His Character. We know nothing of his parents, but judging from his character as a lad, he must have been nurtured in a God-fearing home, for the soundest principles of life had been early formed. One has said: "There is nothing rarer than personality, for there are so many causes that hinder both interior and exterior, so many hostile forces to crush, so many illusions to lead astray." Blessed is that young man who can truly say, "I know in whom I have believed," etc. A personal knowledge of God is the mightiest of all safeguards for city life.
II. His Temptations (vv. 5, 6). Testing times will come. These are needed for our moral and spiritual development. The king's command was to select blameless youths, skillful and wise, to take the honored place of students at the Royal College, and to "stand in the king's palace." It was to be a three years' course, to learn the tongue of the Chaldeans. The Chaldeans were the politicians, philosophers, theologians, and teachers of the nation. What ah opportunity for a young, bright, hopeful man! But how could he eat that meat and drink that wine which had been consecrated to idols, and defile his conscience? The worldly man sees no difficulty, but rather a grand chance to attain honor and earthly glory; but it is very different with the man who is abiding in the fellowship of God.
III. His Purpose. "He purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself" (v. 8). This in our days would be called "narrow-mindedness and puritanical bigotry." In this connection see Paul's advice (Romans 14:21). That man is of little value for God who is not able to stand against popular opinion. The Talmud says: "A myrtle tree remains a myrtle even in the desert." A man of God should act as such in any circumstance. God is not influenced by man-made conditions. A lad of fifteen years was following the plough near the Carse of Gowrie, the horses stopped in the middle of the furrow. At that moment this question came to his mind: "Might I not make more of my life than I am doing?" and straightening himself up, he said, "God helping me, I will be a missionary." That lad was Dr. . James Stewart, of Lovedale. Keep a conscience void of offence.
IV. His Reward. "God made Daniel to find favor" (v. 9, R. V.). This was a great crisis in the life of Daniel. He was found faithful, and God promoted him. Henceforth he is marked as a leader of the people. Faith in God, and plain fare (v. 15), got the victory for both body and soul. "Their countenances were fairer and fatter than all who did eat the king's meat." Godliness is profitable. Why? Because it is the highest type of character and the best possible relationship to God and men. The wisdom that profited Daniel was not found in the" schools of the learned, but in the closet of communion with the God of Heaven. Determine to know nothing among men save Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and the wisdom of God will be in you.
THE MAN OF FAITH. Daniel 2:16-28
The pleasures of the ungodly are easily spoiled. Because of a dream, the king's spirit is greatly troubled. The vision had vanished from his mind, and he demanded of his wise men that they should make it known (v. 5). A thing with them impossible (v. 10), but a new opportunity for the God of Daniel to manifest His wisdom and power.
I. Faith Exercised. It would seem as if the executioners were on their way to carry out the king's mad decree (v. 5), when Daniel "went in and desired of the king that he would give him time and he would show him the interpretation" (v. 16). How did he know that he would succeed in this? He believed that His God knew, all about it, and that by coming into closer touch with Him the wisdom of God would be given him. All things are possible to them that believe. Paul could say: "Be of good cheer for I believe God" (Acts 27:25).
II. Prayer Answered. "Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision" (v. 19). Daniel invited his three companions to a night of prayer. They spread the matter before the God of Heaven, and then was the thing revealed. Prayer does not bring God down to our thoughts and actions, it brings our thoughts and actions up into His. Contact with God means being made like God.
III. Thanks Given. Daniel said, "Blessed be the Name of God forever...He changes the times...He gives wisdom... He reveals the deep and secret things" (vv. 20-23). If we would pray more, we would praise more. The secrets of the Lord are with them that fear Him. Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you.
IV. Testimony Borne. "There is a God in Heaven that reveals secrets... as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have" (vv. 28-30). What a consolation this is. The door into this favor is open to all. The Holy Spirit has been given to guide into truth. He searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.
THE ALMIGHTY STONE. Daniel 2:31-45
Daniel, by living in the fellowship of God, became a man of visions, and the interpreter, of the Divine mind. The vision of the "Great Image" came to the king in a dream, perhaps that Daniel may have the opportunity of revealing the purposes of God in the ages to come. The different parts of the image represent successive kingdoms (vv. 38-40). The Stone is the symbol of Christ, who shall yet dash the nations to pieces like a potter's vessel, when there shall be "no place found for them" (vv. 34, 35, 44). Seven times in Scripture is our Lord Jesus Christ called a Stone, the symbol of strength and durability. We shall note four instances that refer to Israel, the Church, the Nations, and to the World.
I. As a Stone, Israel Stumbled over Christ. He was to them "a Stone of stumbling" because He came in the form of a Servant. As a Stone He was rejected by the Jewish builders (Matthew 21:42), although He had been laid in Zion as the Foundation by Jehovah (Isaiah 28:16). Christ warned them that "Whoever shall fall upon this Stone shall be broken" (Matthew 21:44). They fell on it, and as a nation were broken, and are yet scattered abroad, dashed to pieces like a broken vessel.
II. As a Stone, the Church was built on Christ. When Peter confessed Him as "The Christ, the Son of the Living God," Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build My church" (Matthew 16:16-18). After Pentecost when Peter declared that the lame man had been healed through faith in the Name of Jesus, he also added, "This is the Stone which is set at nothing by you builders, which is become the head corner" (Acts 4:10, 11). We still come to Him as unto a "Living Stone" (1 Peter 2:4). He is the Author of eternal life. Other foundation can no man lay. There is none other Name.
III. As a Stone, Gentile power shall be broken by Christ. "A Stone, cut out without hands, smote the image" (v. 34). In our days "hands" count for much, but this revolution shall be brought about "without hands." The image represents Gentile authority, "the kingdoms of this world." Their end shall come suddenly, like the falling of a stone from Heaven, and upon whom it shall fall it shall grind to powder (Matthew 21:44). The whole image was "broken to pieces." His coming will be like a thief in the night, unexpected by those who are asleep, it will be like "lightning" (Matthew 24:17), unmistakable. No need saying, To here, or To there, when the lightning flash comes, it is self-evident to all. Then the Babel tower of this world's Godless principles will be a heap of ruins, for like them they have brick for stone. This appearing of Christ cannot possibly refer to His first advent. Then the Roman kingdom was not divided like the ten toes. Gentile power was not destroyed at His first appearing. He then came as a Babe, not with the crushing force of a falling stone, taking vengeance on them that knew not God.
IV. As a Stone, the World will yet be filled with the Glory of Christ. His coming is not the end of the world, but the beginning of a new world. The Stone becomes a great Mountain, and fills the whole earth (v. 35). A mountain is the symbol of the Kingdom's strength and stability. When He comes in great power and glory, He who is strong to smite will also be strong to save. To understand this chapter read Psalm. 72. "He shall put down all rule and all authority and power, for He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet" (1 Corinthians 15:24, 25). "Then the kingdoms of this world shall become the Kingdom of our God, and of His Christ." His Name is, and forever will be, above every name. All nations shall yet call Him blessed.
THE NONCONFORMISTS. Daniel 3
These two images in chapters 2 and 3 represent man's rule and man's worship. This "image of gold" to be set up in the plain of Dura was the visible expression of Nebuchadnezzar' s "new theology." It was to be a great affair. But true godly living is a very simple thing. A Revelation is needed. This new popular religion brings a new trial to the servants of God. There was—
I. Their Temptation. A new national idol had been set up (vv. 3-5). Man's unenlightened ingenuity is always setting up some new thing as an object of worship. It is all the more delusive with its grand musical attractions (v. 7). On the king's part it was but another exhibition of despotism and religious intolerance, another form of "man's inhumanity to man." The temptation at this time to Daniel and his three fellow-believers was to—
1. SAVE THEIR SITUATION. They had been "set over the affairs of the province of Babylon" (chapter 2:49). As government officials they held a high social position, and perhaps received a good salary. Demas forsook Paul when worldly advantage was to be gained (2 Timothy 4:10). It was also a temptation to—
2. SACRIFICE THEIR CONSCIENCE. It affected their relationship with God. Of course all that the king demanded was conformity, what all sham religions are satisfied with. James Renwick, the last of the Scottish martyrs, was offered freedom if he would "but let a drop of ink fall on the paper." But, no, when it was to be the sign of the denial of Christ.
II. Their Testimony. "Our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us...We will not serve your gods" (vv. 17, 18). This showed their—
1. FAITH IN THE POWER OF GOD. "If so be our God is able." Those who are serving God daily are not likely to be cast down suddenly. True hearted service gives stability of character in the time of trial.
2. SUBMISSION TO THE WILL OF GOD. "But if not...we will not" (v. 18). They would rather burn than turn. Like Job, they could say, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust" (see Acts 4:19, 20). They were in Babylon, but they were not of it.
III. Their Triumph. They were cast into the furnace because of non-conformity, but "the fire had no power" (vv. 26, 27). The wrath of man is a poor, impotent thing in presence of the power of God. Their sufferings brought them—
1. A NEW SENSE OF FREEDOM. "Lo, I see four men loose walking in the midst of the fire" (v. 25). Liberty to walk in a furnace was a new experience for them. They could truly "glory in their affliction." They were not saved from the fiery furnace, but they were saved in it, which was a much greater deliverance. The peace of God in the heart is an indestructible principle, beyond the reach of any fiery trial. The world cannot take it away.
2. A NEW SOURCE OF FELLOWSHIP. There was a fourth in the fire, "like the Son of God." In being cast out by men, they were brought into sweeter communion with the Son of God. It was so with Paul and Silas (Acts 16). Bunyan, Rutherford, Madam Guyon, and multitudes of others who suffered for Christ.
3. A NEW OPPORTUNITY FOR SERVICE. "The king promoted them" (v. 30). Their sphere of usefulness was enlarged after their deeper experience of the power of God. What a testimony they had to give, as men who had passed from death into life; who were dead, but are now living in the power of a resurrection. Every severe trial borne for Christ's sake will bring a new revelation of Divine possibilities, that we may go back to live with a new force in our being. The Captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering, and the servant is not greater than his Master. By refusing to bow to the image of gold man had set up, the image of God was more firmly set up in their own hearts.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR—RUIN AND REMEDY. Daniel 4:29-37
"All Scripture... is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness." In the experiences recorded in this chapter there is something that might reprove our selfishness, correct our actions, and instruct in the righteousness of God. This personal testimony of Nebuchadnezzar was given as a Royal Edict (v. 1). One may know much about the ways of God and yet be an utter stranger experimentally to His saving grace. Think of—
I. His Privileges. He had been favored with special opportunities. In chapter 2 we see God revealing to him in that "Great Image" the character and history of Gentile rule. He heard Daniel, the man of God, interpreting that vision. He had seen the mighty power and grace of God in saving the three Hebrews from the fiery furnace. He had also publicly, confessed that there was no other God like the God of the Hebrews (chapter 3:29). More than that, he had been solemnly warned of God by this vision of the great tree hewn down (v. 14), and of his heart being changed into a "beast's heart" (v. 16). He was moreover counseled to "break off his sins by righteousness, and his iniquities by showing mercy" (v. 27). How many there are in this day of grace who likewise have been as mercifully dealt with by visions, warnings, and encouragements. Their need, like this king's, is repentance toward God.
II. His Pride. "At the end of twelve months he walked upon the palace of Babylon...and said, Is not this great Babylon that I have built?" etc. (vv. 29, 30). These twelve months were days of grace, but as "all things" seemed to "continue as they were," the warning of God was neglected and forgotten. On the royal palace, about four hundred feet high, he had a full view of "Great Babylon" lying around him, four-square, with a circumference of about sixty miles. There were twenty-five streets intersecting each other—150 feet wide and about 15 miles long. The city had a hundred brazen gates, and was walled about with a massive structure three hundred feet high and eighty feet broad, so that two chariots with four horses abreast could pass easily on the top. This wall was also ornamented with two hundred and fifty towers. The river Euphrates ran slowly through the midst of the city. The great bridge built by the king, and the royal palaces on each side, with the gorgeous temple and the magnificent "hanging gardens," might all be before his eyes when he said, "Is not this great Babylon that I have built...by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?" (v. 30). When the Pharisee said, "I thank God that I am not as other men," he was also glorying in his great Babylon of self-righteousness. Cardinal Wolsey gloried in his Babylon of "worldly honor." All glorifying that is not in the Lord will come to naught.
III. His Downfall. "While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from Heaven saying, The kingdom is departed from you," etc. (vv. 31, 32). Pride goes before a fall. He who was glorying in the grandeur of his own works is now driven out from the presence of men as a raving maniac. The root cause of it was rebellion against the Word of God. Sin, like lunacy, separates and unfits for the fellowship of God.
IV. His Recovery. "At the end...I lifted up mine eyes to Heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me" (v. 34). What an awakening! To find himself living the life of a beast! The beast life is that of eating and drinking, with no knowledge of God. There are multitudes which need just such an awakening. What he wanted was understanding. To cut his hair, clip his nails, and to cast a royal robe over him was not the restoration that he needed. Outward reformation can never stand for an inward apprehension. The eyes of the understanding must be enlightened. It is not a new faculty, but a new vision of guilt and of God. The prodigal made this discovery "when he came to himself." The evidence of his sound conversion was, "Now I praise the King of Heaven" and confess that "those that walk in pride He is able to abase" (v. 37).
BELSHAZZAR'S DOOM; or, Sinning Against Light. Daniel 5:22-31
A heathen genius once made a beautiful goblet, with a serpent coiled up at the bottom, with a pair of gleaming eyes, open mouth, and fang ready to sting, so that when the drinker emptied the cup the fearful thing suddenly appeared. Such are the pleasures of sin. At last they bite like a serpent. Such was the experience of Belshazzar at the end of his great godless feast (v. 1). Inflamed with wine, he demands that the holy vessels of the Lord be brought (v. 2), but in the same hour the hand of judgment appears (v. 5), and terror pierces his proud heart. Belshazzar is a solemn warning to those who are sinning against the light. Look at—
I. His Opportunity. "O Belshazzar...you knew all this" (v. 22). All what? See chapter 4:27-34. He knew all about his father's (or grandfather's) pride and downfall, how he was humbled by God to the degrading life of a beast, and how when he looked up to Heaven his understanding returned again to him. He knew all this, yet went on in his life of sin and godlessness. Many sin in ignorance, but how many today are sinning against the "knowledge of the truth," like the Scribes and Pharisees of old; living the darkness of sinful pleasure, rather than the light of God's salvation.
II. His Guilt. "He lifted himself up against the Lord of Heaven" (v. 23). It is easily seen how this was done. He simply ignored the light and warnings of God, and put material and sinful things in the place of the "Lord of Heaven." The gods of silver, gold, brass, and iron had more influence over him than the "God of Heaven." The present-day form of this is following certain popular opinions and ignoring the revelation of God's will as declared in His Word. Lifting "himself up" by his own thoughts and works, and denying the Lord that bought him.
III. His Failure. "You are weighed in the balances and found wanting" (v. 27). The weighing process may have occupied several years. The Lord is slow to wrath. Character is formed through a course of actions. By Him actions are weighed. Job once uttered this request, "Oh that I were weighed in an even balance." God's balances are always just. While the sinner is thoughtlessly going on in his evil course, God is silently weighing him in His unerring balance. He was found wanting. Wanting in faith, in love, and in submission to His will. Belshazzar was uninfluenced by all God's providential dealings with him. Without any heart response, he "passed on and was punished." Judas, and all like him, will ultimately find "their own place," a place of their own preparing.
IV. His Doom. "That night was Belshazzar...slain" (v. 30). In the night of his greatest glory—the night of his great delusion. While he feasted, the Medes and Persians stealthily entered the city, and an unexpected end suddenly came. Lust, unbelief, and indifference are no protection against the overwhelming power of rejected truth. Those weighed and found wanting by God are destitute of all power of resistance. The thunder cloud of God's judgment may gather slowly, but when the lightning flash comes it will be sudden, irresistible, and fatal. How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?
DANIEL-STEADFAST IN THE FAITH. Daniel 6
Daniel has now been probably sixty-eight years in the city of Babylon. He had lived under the reign of three kings, and was about eighty-five years old. He had had many severe trials and temptations, but he remained faithful to his God, his conscience, and his fellow men. Notice his—
I. Integrity. "We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it concerning the law of his God" (v. 5). His enemies themselves are witnesses to the purity of his life, His character was invulnerable. As a man of prayer and of faith he was faultless, even in the details of his arduous business life. The undercurrent of his nature was as pure as the upper. This was the secret of his moral strength. The daily life is perhaps the severest test of the Christian character, but the pure in heart shall see God, and seeing Him they shall endure.
II. Steadfastness. "When Daniel knew that the writing was signed he went.. .and prayed, and gave thanks before God, as he did aforetime" (v. 10). Their plot was to get the law of the Medes (unalterable) to clash with the law of Daniel and his God. Although he knew that they had succeeded in making and setting a trap for his feet, he trusted in God and went on as aforetime. Circumstances, adverse as they were, had no effect in changing his holy purpose to be true to God, and his own conscience. General Gordon, when in the Sudan, used to lay his handkerchief at the door of his tent each morning while he prayed, and no one dared to enter until the signal was removed. Courage, brother, do not stumble in your prayer life. Be steadfast in your faith and practice.
III. Sufferings. He was doubtless persecuted through envy (v. 3). Their dastardly scheme seemed to succeed. Daniel is condemned to the lions. This was the Persians' mode of capital punishment, as the fiery furnace was that of the Babylonians. This is one strong proof of the authenticity of the book. This was a great crisis in the experience of the prophet. Must all be sacrificed to appease the wrath of these haters of godliness? Every sacrifice we make for God brings for us a fuller enjoyment of the salvation of God.
IV. Deliverance. "My God has shut the lions mouths," etc. (vv. 20-22). This was a new experience of the power of God. While his enemies are rejoicing over his supposed destruction, Daniel is rejoicing in a new salvation. God will vindicate the faith of His own true servant. He is able to do exceedingly above all that we think.
V. Faith. "Because he believed in his God" (v. 23, l.c.). God will not deny Himself. To trust Him is to put Him on His honor. The secret of victory in the Christian life lies deep down in our oneness of life and purpose with Him.
VI. Doom of Enemies. "They were cast into the den and their bones broken in pieces" (v. 24). The triumph of the wicked is short. They dug a pit for the servant of God, and they themselves fell into it, as Haman was hanged on his own gallows. As these enemies of Daniel had to do with Daniel's God, so the enemies of the Gospel of Christ have to do with the Christ of the Gospel. To reject the Word of God is to reject the God of the Word. The wrath of God must abide on the unbeliever (John 3:36). Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.
THE END OF THE MATTER. Daniel 7
"Hitherto is the end of the matter" (v. 28). What has been here referred to is prophetic of the final condition of things in this world. This book is divided into two parts. Chapters 1-7 give the narrative portion unbroken. Chapters 7-12 give the prophetic references unbroken. Chronological order is not adhered to. Daniel, as a man of vision, was a man of action. The visions of God and His truth ought ever to have practical results.
I. The Vision. This revelation and the interpretation are a repetition of the vision of the image in chapter 2. The four parts of the image correspond perfectly with the four "beasts" seen here. As the Stone broke in pieces the image of the Gentile kingdoms, so here the "Son of Man" takes the dominion from the beasts (vv. 12-14). The world-kingdoms are all as "beasts" rising up out of the great sea of humanity. The "beasts" referred to, note, are all beasts of prey—savage, oppressive, ferocious. Not like the ox or the sheep. These powers, represented as strong, unreasonable, brute forces, contain a sorrowful reflection on our boasted civilization. They have been permitted by God to rise up into power and authority for some wise purpose. Even nations may need surgical operations as well as individuals. Part of the vision has been already fulfilled in the downfall of the Babylonian, Persian, Grecian, and Roman kingdoms. The rest will as certainly follow.
II. The Blessed End (v. 28). A new monarchy is coming. The history of the "Beast" kingdoms has been written in tears and blood. The new Kingdom will be the Kingdom of God and of His Christ. What notable events!
1. THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN. "Behold the Son of Man came with the clouds of Heaven" (v. 13). He is the new Head of humanity. The "beasts" are from the earth. He is the Lord from Heaven. Study the parable of the "Nobleman" in Luke 19. See Matthew 24:27 as to the suddenness of His appearing.
2. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE BEASTS' POWER. "They had their dominion taken away" (v. 12). They have had a long rule, but the world has not learned to know God, and never will through beastly government. 'Tis the Man Christ Jesus, now crowned Lord of all, whose right it is to reign. He shall reign, and the uttermost parts of the earth shall become His possession.
3. THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A NEW KINGDOM. "And there was given Him dominion and glory, and a kingdom,... and all nations shall serve Him" (v. 14). This kingdom will be universal—"All people, nations, and languages." It will be everlasting—"An everlasting dominion which shall not pass away." Every tongue shall confess Him Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
4. THE VICTORY OF THE SAINTS. "And the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom" (v. 22). So the promise will be fulfilled: "The saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom" (v. 18). Blessed "end of the matter" this! It is the saints that shall rule, not the sects. Know you not that the saints shall judge the world? (1 Corinthians 6:2). Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Yes, there is a good time coming for the trusting, toiling, suffering servants of God. "If children, then heirs." We must first possess the Divine nature before we can enter into the Divine inheritance. A criminal has no place or say in the state, he is always treated as an alien. Neither can a sin-loving soul have any place in the Kingdom of God, which is righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. "My hope," said a dying saint, "is in the justice of God—the justice of God to Jesus Christ." You are complete in Him.