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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Dan. 2–3]

NABUCHODONOZOR had a dream which terrified him greatly. He saw a large statue; the head was of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, the legs of iron, and the feet part iron and part clay. Then he noticed a stone rolling from the mountain, which struck the statue on the feet and shattered it; and behold, the stone became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. None of the wise men could interpret the dream. Whereupon the king passed sentence of death upon all the wise men. Then Daniel came to the executioner, saying: Do not kill the wise men, but bring me before the king, and I will tell him the solution of the dream. Daniel first told the king that no one but the God of heaven and earth revealeth mysteries, and then proceeded to explain the dream.

The whole statue signified the great empires of the world that would succeed each other. The head of gold betokened the reign of Nabuchodonozor himself, most glorious among kings; the breast and the arms of silver represented the next empire, that of the Medes and Persians; the belly and the thighs of brass prefigured the dominion of Alexander the Great; the legs and feet of iron signified the great Roman empire which conquered all the others. The stone that fell from the mountain typified a new kingdom that God Himself would found on earth, and which, from a small beginning, would gradually grow strong and overcome all other kingdoms, and would last for ever. The king, hearing the interpretation, said to Daniel: “Verily your God is the God of gods, and Lord of kings, and a revealer of hidden things.” He raised Daniel to a high station and bestowed on him many gifts.

About this time king Nabuchodonozor made a great statue of gold, which he placed on a pillar in the plain of Babylon. All the princes and nobles of his kingdom were invited to assist at the dedication of this statue. Heralds were sent out everywhere to announce to all the people that when they heard the sound of the trumpets and flutes and other instruments of music, they should fall down and adore the golden statue. And it came to pass that no one disobeyed this order except Ananias, Azarias and Misael.


Fig. 56. Bel with lion. Assyrian sculpture.

It was announced to the king that the three young men had refused to worship the golden statue. Then Nabuchodonozor, full of rage, said to them: “Who is the god that shall deliver you out of my hand?” They answered: “Our God, whom we worship, is able to save us from the furnace of burning fire; but if He will not, we will not worship thy god, nor adore the golden statue.” The king then ordered that a furnace should be heated seven times more than ordinarily, and that three of the strongest soldiers of his army should bind the young men and cast them, clothed as they were, into the furnace.

The order was instantly executed. But the angel of the Lord went down with the three holy youths into the furnace, and behold, inside the flames were extinguished, but outside the fires burned and flashed and destroyed the men who had executed the king’s cruel order. They were instantly consumed by the raging fire.

Within the furnace the air was cool and fresh, like to the breeze when the dew is falling. And the three young men, seeing themselves so wonderfully preserved, sang a glorious canticle of praise and thanksgiving, which the Church of God still sings in her divine service.

The king, astonished to hear voices in the furnace singing, rose up and said to his nobles: “Did we not cast three men, bound, into the midst of the fire? I see four men, loose, and walking in the midst of the fire, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

Then going to the door of the furnace, he said: “Ye servants of the Most High God, go ye forth and come.” Thereupon the young men came forth safe and sound: not so much as a hair of their head was burned, nor was the smell of fire on their garments. Seeing this prodigy, Nabuchodonozor blessed God, saying: “Blessed be the God of Ananias, Misael and Azarias, who has sent His angel, and delivered His servants that believed in Him.”

He then decreed that whosoever, in all his kingdom, blasphemed the God whom these young men adored should be put to death, for that there was no other God who had power to save. The three young men were raised to high dignities in Babylon.

The object of the revelation made to Nabuchodonozor. Only an obscure revelation was made directly to the heathen king. This filled him with fear, and made him anxious and ready for its further interpretation, which was to be given by a chosen prophet of God. The object of this revelation was manifold. Its first object was to make known to the king and wise men the greatness and wisdom of God. This object was so far gained that Nabuchodonozor professed himself to be convinced that the God of the Jews was greater and more powerful than the gods of the heathen. Secondly, it was to make known to the proud king, for his humiliation, that his great kingdom would not last for ever, but would fall after his death. Thirdly, it was meant to turn the eyes of the whole world to the Messias, and the everlasting kingdom which He was to found. Such were the chief objects of the revelation made to Daniel. It is essentially a promise of the Messias.

This twelfth promise of the Messias treats of the kingdom of God (i. e. of the Messias) in contradistinction to the kingdoms of this world. The first part of the vision foretold that three great kingdoms would in succession follow Nabuchodonozor’s Babylonian empire. This came to pass. The Medo-Persian empire followed that of Babylon; to that succeeded the Macedonian empire, and to that again the Roman empire. This last was an iron empire, being kept together by the power of the sword; its feet, or foundation, were of iron mixed with earth, and on account of this weakness it fell, first into two separate empires, and finally into many separate states. It would be at this stage of the world’s history, God said, that He Himself would found another kingdom, which would overthrow paganism, and itself remain standing for ever; this kingdom being the kingdom of the Messias. The stone which, without any intervention on the part of man, rolled down the mountain, signifies the Son of God, who came down from heaven, and by the operation of the Holy Ghost became Man. He founded a spiritual kingdom which fills the whole earth, and which will last for ever, namely the Catholic Church. Our Lord calls Himself a stone (Mat. 21:42), and St. Peter calls Him the “stone which is become the head of the corner” (Acts 4:11).

The Church is Catholic. According to Daniel’s prophecy, the kingdom of the Messias, which was to overcome its worldly enemies and last for ever, was to be universal as to time and place, or, in other words, Catholic. The prophecy finds its fulfilment only in the Roman Catholic Church. For she was originally small, but afterwards spread gradually over the whole world, and, in spite of all her enemies, has endured to this day. It follows, therefore, that the Roman Catholic Church is the true Church, the kingdom of God, having its origin in heaven, and promised by God through His prophet Daniel.

God governs the world. This prophecy revealed Almighty God to Nabuchodonozor as the “Lord of kings”, or, in other words, as the Lord and ruler of the world, from whom all power comes (“The God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, and strength and power and glory”, said Daniel); by whom nations are overthrown, and raised up again.

The power of prayer said in common. It was only after Daniel and his three friends had prayed together fervently and confidently that the interpretation of the dream was revealed, and that, thereby, not only Daniel and his friends, but all the other wise men and soothsayers were saved from death. Our Lord has encouraged us to pray in common by giving us the promise: “If two of you shall consent upon earth concerning anything whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 18:19).

Humility. Daniel was humble. He gave the glory to God, declaring to the king that it was from Him that the interpretation came. And because he was humble, God exalted him.

Anger, a capital sin. What induced Nabuchodonozor to issue the cruel edict that all the wise men and diviners in the kingdom were to be killed? He was angry at their not being able to do what he wished, and, in his violent anger, he gave the cruel order.

Despotism and cruelty of pagan kings. The command to kill all the diviners and wise men was unjust and cruel. It shows how despotically pagan kings governed, and how little regard they had for the lives of their subjects. Christianity put an end to that kind of cruelty, for it teaches that all men are equally made to the image of God, and that if kings do not govern according to the law of God, they will have to render an account to Him.

The Power and Mercy of God. The mighty miracle which God wrought in order to save His faithful servants, was a great act of mercy towards the heathen. He thereby revealed His power to the king, and to all the great men of the country, and showed that the very elements obey Him. Everybody could see that Bel, whom the young men despised, was powerless to hurt them, and that the God whom they worshipped was alone Almighty. The king confessed this when he issued the decree that the God of the three youths was the “Most High God, and more mighty than any other god.” He was seized by so great a fear of God, that he forbade any blasphemy against Him, under pain of death.

Fortitude. It is impossible not to admire the fortitude of the three young men, whereby they remained true to their faith, and refused to worship idols in spite of the king’s terrible threats. If they had bowed down before the golden image they would have denied their faith in the true God, and have been guilty of idolatry. But they feared God more than the king, and loved Him more than aught else; so they preferred to be burnt to death rather than offend Him grievously. The abstinence which these noble youths had for so long practised enabled them to attain to heroic fortitude. Their unfailing temperance confirmed them in the fear and love of God, and prepared them for the grace of martyrdom. Finally, their fortitude was rewarded by God saving them from death in a wonderful way.

Resignation to God’s will. The example of the three young men shows us that real confidence in God must be united with an entire resignation to His will. They trusted firmly: “God can save us if He will”, said they, and they also prayed to be saved; but they left it entirely to God whether He would save them or not, and declared that in no case would they worship the idol.

Prayer of praise and thanksgiving. When God saved the three youths from death by means of His angel, they began with a loud voice to praise and thank God. We too ought always to praise and thank Him when we receive benefits, or are saved from danger.

The three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity were most perfectly practised by the three youths.

Denial of faith. In conclusion I will put to you one question: Ought not the three young men to have obeyed the king’s command? Ought they not to have said to themselves: “It would not be right to offend the king, who has been so good to us, and who has entrusted us with important posts. We will, therefore, outwardly conform to his wishes, and prostrate ourselves; but in our hearts we will despise the idol, and worship the true God?” Ought they not to have acted thus? No! for they would have outwardly denied their faith, and have led the pagans to think that they believed in Bel.

APPLICATION. Pray to the Almighty and All-wise God with the deepest reverence. Give yourself confidently over to His wise and good Providence, for He governs the lives of individuals and of nations as He will. Say with St. Paul (Rom. 11:33–36): “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways … For of Him and by Him and in Him are all things; to Him be glory for ever!”

Are you as ready as were Ananias, Misael and Azarias to suffer death rather than offend God? If you are not so decided, then you do not love God above all things. Say to-day three Hail Maries for the increase of your faith, the confirmation of your hope, and the kindling of your love.

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