Break off thy sins by righteousness - Do justice. Thou hast been an oppressive man; show mercy to the poor, many of whom have been made such by thyself: witness the whole nation of the Jews. He was to cease from his sins - repent and bring forth fruits meet for repentance, in order that he might find mercy at the hand of God.
Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee - Daniel was permitted to see not only the fact that this calamity impended over the king, but the cause of it, and as that cause was his proud and sinful heart, he supposed that the judgment might be averted if the king would reform his life. If the “cause” were removed, he inferred, not unreasonably, that there was a hope that the calamity might be avoided. We cannot but admire here the boldness and fidelity of Daniel, who not only gave a fair interpretation of the dream, in the case submitted to him, but who went beyond that in a faithful representation to the most mighty monarch of the age, that this was in consequence of his wicked life.
And break off thy sins by righteousness - By acts of righteousness or justice; by abandoning a wicked course of life. It is fairly to be inferred from this that the life of the monarch had been wicked - a fact which is confirmed everywhere in his history. He had, indeed, some good qualities as a man, but he was proud; he was ambitious; he was arbitrary in his government; he was passionate and revengeful; and he was, doubtless, addicted to such pleasures of life as were commonly found among those of his station. He had a certain kind of respect for religion, whatever was the object of worship, but this was not inconsistent with a wicked life. The word translated “break off” (פרק peraq ) is rendered in the Vulgate redime, “redeem,” and so in the Greek of Theodotion, λύτρωσαι lutrōsai and in the Codex Chisianus. From this use of the word in some of the versions, and from the fact that the word rendered “righteousness” is often employed in the later Hebrew to denote almsgiving (compare the margin in Matthew 6:1, and the Greek text in Tittmann and Hahn where the word δικαιοσύνην dikaiosunēn is used to denote “alms”), the passage here has been adduced in favor of the doctrine of expiatory merits, and the purchase of absolution by almsgiving - a favorite doctrine in the Roman Catholic communion.
But the ordinary and common meaning of the word is not to redeem, but to break, to break off, to abandon. It is the word from which our English word “break” is derived - Germ., “brechen.” Compare Genesis 27:40, “that thou shalt break his yoke;” Exodus 32:2, “Break off the golden ear-rings;” Exodus 32:3, “And all the people brake off the golden ear-rings;” Exodus 32:24, “Whosoever hath any gold let them break it off;” 1 Kings 19:11, “A great and strong wind rent the mountains;” Zechariah 11:16, “And tear their claws in pieces;” Ezekiel 19:12, “her strong rods were broken.” The word is rendered in our common version, “redeem” once Psalm 136:24, “And hath redeemed us from our enemies.” It is translated “rending” in Psalm 7:2, and “deliver” in Lamentations 5:8. It does not elsewhere occur in the Scriptures. The fair meaning of the word is, as in our version, to break off, and the idea of redeeming the soul by acts of charity or almsgiving is not in the passage, and cannot be derived from it. This passage, therefore, cannot be adduced to defend the doctrine that the soul may be redeemed, or that sins may be expiated by acts of charity and almsgiving. It means that the king was to break off his sins by acts of righteousness; or, in other words, he was to show by a righteous life that he had abandoned his evil course. The exhortation is, that he would practice those great duties of justice and charity toward mankind in which he had been so deficient, if, perhaps, God might show mercy, and avert the impending calamity.
And thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor - The peculiar “iniquity” of Nebuchadnezzar may have consisted in his oppressing the poor of his realm in the exorbitant exactions imposed on them in carrying on his public works, and building and beautifying his capital. Life, under an Oriental despot, is regarded as of little value. Sixty thousand men were employed by Mohammed Ali in digging the canal from Cairo to Alexandria, in which work almost no tools were furnished them but their hands. A large portion of them died, and were buried by their fellow-laborers in the earth excavated in digging the canal. Who can estimate the number of men that were recklessly employed under the arbitrary monarch of Egypt on the useless work of building the pyramids? Those structures, doubtless, cost million of lives, and there is no improbability in supposing that Nebuchadnezzar had employed hundreds of thousands of persons without any adequate compensation, and in a hard and oppressive service, in rearing the walls and the palaces of Babylon, and in excavating the canals to water the city and the adjacent country.
No counsel, therefore, could be more appropriate than that he should relieve the poor from those burdens, and do justice to them. There is no intimation that he was to attempt to purchase release from the judgments of God by such acts; but the meaning is, that if he would cease from his acts of oppression, it might be hoped that God would avert the threatened calamity. The duty here enjoined of showing mercy to the poor, is one that is everywhere commanded in the Scriptures, Psalm 41:1; Matthew 19:21; Galatians 2:10, “et saepe.” Its influence in obtaining the Divine favor, or in averting calamity, is also stated. Compare Psalm 41:1, “Blessed is he that considereth the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.” It is a sentiment which occurs frequently in the books of the Apocrypha, and in these books there can be found the progress of the opinion to the point which it reached in the later periods of the Jewish history, and which it has obtained in the Roman Catholic communion, that almsgiving or charity to the poor would be an expiation for sin, and would commend men to God as a ground of righteousness; or, in other words, the progress of the doctrine toward what teaches that works of supererogation may be performed.
Thus in the book of Jonah 3:10; the case of Hezekiah, when his predicted death was averted by his tears and prayers, Isaiah 38:1-5; and Jeremiah 18:7-8, where this principle of the Divine government is fully asserted.
If it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility - Margin, “or, a healing of thine error. “The Greek of Theodotion here is, “Perhaps God will be long-suffering toward thy offences.” The Greek of the Codex Chisianus is, “And thou mayest remain a long time ( πολύημερος γένῃ poluēmeros genē ) upon the throne of thy kingdom.” The Vulgate, “Perhaps he will pardon thy faults.” The Syriac, “Until he may remove from thee thy follies.” The original word rendered “lengthening” (ארכא 'arkâ' ) means, properly, as translated here, a prolongation; a drawing out; a lengthening; and the word is here correctly rendered. It has not the meaning assigned to it in the margin of healing. It would apply properly to a prolongation of anything - as of life, peace, health, prosperity. The word rendered “tranquility” (שׁלוה shelêvâh ) means, properly, security, safety, quiet; and the reference here is to his calm possession of the throne; to his quietness in his palace, and peace in his kingdom. There is nothing in the text to justify the version in the margin.
The power exercised by every ruler on the earth is Heaven-imparted; and upon his use of the power thus bestowed, his success depends. To each the word of the divine Watcher is, “I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me.” Isaiah 45:5. And to each the words spoken to Nebuchadnezzar of old are the lesson of life: “Break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor: if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.” Daniel 4:27. PK 502.1
To understand these things,—to understand that “righteousness exalteth a nation;” that “the throne is established by righteousness,” and “upholden by mercy;” to recognize the outworking of these principles in the manifestation of His power who “removeth kings, and setteth up kings,”—this is to understand the philosophy of history. Proverbs 14:34; 16:12; Proverbs 20:28; Daniel 2:21. PK 502.2
In the word of God only is this clearly set forth. Here it is shown that the strength of nations, as of individuals, is not found in the opportunities or facilities that appear to make them invincible; it is not found in their boasted greatness. It is measured by the fidelity with which they fulfill God's purpose. PK 502.3Read in context »
Belshazzar, awed by this representation of God's power, showing that they had a witness, though they knew it not, had had great opportunities of knowing the works of the living God, and His power, and of doing His will. He had been privileged with much light. His grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, had been warned of his danger in forgetting God and glorifying himself. Belshazzar had a knowledge of his banishment from the society of men, and his association with the beasts of the field; and these facts, which ought to have been a lesson to him, he disregarded, as if they had never occurred; and he went on repeating the sins of his grandfather. He dared to commit the crimes which brought God's judgments upon Nebuchadnezzar. He was condemned, not alone that he himself was doing wickedly, but that he had not availed himself of opportunities and capabilities, if cultivated, of being right. TM 436.1
God will not condemn any at the judgment because they honestly believed a lie, or conscientiously cherished error; but it will be because they neglected the opportunities of making themselves acquainted with truth. The infidel will be condemned, not because he was an infidel, but because he did not take advantage of the means God has placed within his reach to enable him to become a Christian. TM 437.1Read in context »
God has revealed in His law the principles that underlie all true prosperity both of nations and of individuals. “This is your wisdom and your understanding,” Moses declared to the Israelites of the law of God. “It is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life.” Deuteronomy 4:6; 32:47. The blessings thus assured to Israel are, on the same conditions and in the same degree, assured to every nation and every individual under the broad heavens. Ed 174.1
The power exercised by every ruler on the earth is Heaven-imparted; and upon his use of the power thus bestowed, his success depends. To each the word of the divine Watcher is, “I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me.” Isaiah 45:5. And to each the words spoken to Nebuchadnezzar of old are the lesson of life: “Break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility.” Daniel 4:27. Ed 174.2
To understand these things,—to understand that “righteousness exalteth a nation;” that “the throne is established by righteousness” and “upholden by mercy” (Proverbs 14:34; 16:12; Proverbs 20:28); to recognize the outworking of these principles in the manifestation of His power who “removeth kings, and setteth up kings” (Daniel 2:21),—this is to understand the philosophy of history. Ed 175.1Read in context »