Some join these verses to the end of the third chapter, but there is no reason for this; and it will clearly appear from the context that the edict is here set forth in the king's name, and other events are inserted. Daniel, therefore, here, speaks in the person of the king; he afterwards narrates what happened to the king, and then returns to his own person. Those who separate these three verses from the context of the fourth chapter, do not seem to have sufficiently considered the intention and words of the Prophet. This passage may seem harsh and rough, when Daniel introduces the king of Babylon as speaking -- then speaks in his own name -- and afterwards returns to the person of the; king. But since this variety does not render the sense either doubtful or obscure, there is no reason why it should trouble us. We now see how all the sentences which we shall explain in their places are mutually united.
The contents of this chapter are as follow: Nebuchadnezzar was sufficiently instructed in the worship of the God of Israel as one God, and was compelled at the time to confess this; yet he did not depart from his own superstitions; his conceptions of the true God were but momentary, and hence he suffered the punishment due to such great ingratitude. But God intended him to become more and more blinded, as he is accustomed to treat the reprobate and even his elect at times. When men add sin to sin, God loosens his reins and allows them to destroy themselves. Afterwards he either extends his hand towards them, or withdraws them by his hidden virtue, or reduces them to order by his rod, and completely humbles them. He treated the king of Babylon in this way. We shall afterwards discuss the dream; but we must here briefly notice the king's admonition, that he might feel himself without excuse when he was so utterly broken down. God indeed might justly punish him as soon as he saw he was not truly converted; but before he inflicted the final chastisement -- as we shall see in its place -- he wished to admonish him, if there were any hope of his repentance. Although he seemed to receive with the greatest modesty what God had manifested by his dream through Daniel's interpretation of it, yet he professed with his mouth what he did not really possess. And he shews this sufficiently, because, when he ought to be afraid and cautious, he does not lay aside his pride, but glories in himself as a king of kings, and in Babylon as the queen of the whole world! Since, then, he spoke so confidently after being admonished by the Prophet, we perceive how little he had profited by his dream. But God wished in this way to render him more inexcusable, and although he did not bring forth fruit immediately, yet a long time afterwards, when God touched his mind, he very properly recognized this punishment to have been divinely inflicted. Hence this dream was a kind of entrance and preparation for repentance, and as seed seems to lie putrid in the earth before it brings forth its fruit, and God sometimes works by gentle processes, and provides for the teaching, which seemed for a long time useless, becoming both efficacious and fruitful.
I now come to the words themselves; the preface to the edict is, Nebuchadnezzar the king to all peoples, nations, and languages, which dwell in the whole earth, namely, under his sway. He does not mean this to be extended to Scythia, or Gaul, or other distant regions; but since his empire extended far and wide, he spoke boastingly. Thus we see the Romans, whose sway did not reach near so far, called Rome itself the seat of the empire of the whole world! Here Nebuchadnezzar now predicts. the magnificence and mightiness of his own monarchy. Hence he sends his edict to all peoples, and nations, and languages, which dwell on the earth He afterwards adds, it seemed to me good to relate the signs and wonders which the mighty God hath wrought with me No doubt he feels himself to have paid the penalty of his ingratitude, since he had so punctiliously ascribed the glory to one true God, and yet had relapsed into his own superstitions, and had never really said farewell to them. We see how often King Nebuchadnezzar was chastised before he profited by the rod of the Almighty. Hence we need not be surprised if God often strikes us with his hand, since the result of experience proves us to be dull, and, to speak truly, utterly slothful. When God, therefore, wishes to lead us to repentance, he is compelled to repeat his blows continually, either because we are not moved when he chastises us with his hand, or we seem roused for the time, and then we return again to our former torpor. He is therefore compelled to redouble his blows. And we perceive this in the narrative before us, as in a glass. But the singular benefit of God was this, Nebuchadnezzar, after God had often chastised him, yielded at length. It is unknown whether or not this confession proceeded front true and genuine repentance: I must leave it in doubt. Yet without the slightest doubt Daniel recited this edict, to shew the king so subdued at length, as to confess the God of Israel to be the only God, and to bear witness to this among all people under his sway.
Meanwhile we must remark, how this edict of the king of Babylon receives the testimony of the Spirit; for Daniel has no other object or purpose in relating the edict, than to shew the fruit of conversion in King Nebuchadnezzar. Hence, without doubt, King Nebuchadnezzar bore witness to his repentance when he celebrated the God of Israel among all people, and when he proclaimed a punishment to all who spoke reproachfully against God. Hence this passage is often cited by Augustine against the Donatists. For they wished to grant an act of impunity to themselves, when they disturbed the Church with rashness and corrupted pure doctrine, and even permitted themselves to attack it like robbers. For some were then discovered to have been slain by them, and others mutilated in their limbs. Since, then, they allowed themselves to act so licentiously and still desired to commit crimes with impunity, yet they held this principle as of first importance. No punishment ought to be inflicted on those who differ from others in religious doctrine; as we see in these days, how some contend far too eagerly about this subject. What they desire is clear enough. If any one carefully observes them, he will find them impious despisers of God; they wish to render everything uncertain in religion, and as far as they can they strive to tear away all the principles of piety. With the view then of vomiting forth their poison, they strive eagerly for freedom from punishment, and deny the right of inflicting punishment on heretics and blasphemers.
Such is that dog Castalio and his companions, and all like him, such also were the Donatists; and hence, as I have mentioned, Augustine cites this testimony in many places, and shews how ashamed Christian princes ought to be of their slothfulness, if they are indulgent to heretics and blasphemers, and do not vindicate God's glory by lawful punishments, since King Nebuchadnezzar who was never truly converted: yet promulgated this decree by a kind of secret instinct. At all events, it ought to be sufficient for men of moderate and quiet tastes to know how King Nebuchadnezzar's edict was praised by the approval of the Holy Spirit. If this be so, it follows that kings are bound to defend the worship of God, and to execute vengeance upon those who profanely despise it, and on those who endeavor to reduce it to nothing, or to adulterate the true doctrine by their errors, and so dissipate the unity of the faith and disturb the Church's peace. This is clear enough from the Prophet's context; for Nebuchadnezzar says at first, it pleases me to relate the signs and wonders which God has prepared for me He had already explained how wonderfully God had treated him; but this had passed away. Now God seizes him a second and even a third time, and then he confesses it to be his boast to explain the wonderful signs of God. He afterwards breaks forth into the exclamation, How mighty are his signs! How remarkable his miracles! His kingdom, is a kingdom of an age, and his dominion is from age to age Without doubt Nebuchadnezzar wished to excite his subjects to the attentive perusal of this edict, and to the acknowledgment of its value, and thus to subject themselves to the true and only God. He calls him The High God, meaning, doubtless, the God of Israel; meanwhile, we do not know whether he cast away his superstitions. I however incline to the opposite conjecture, since he did not put off his errors, but was compelled to give glory to the Most High God. He so acknowledged the God of Israel as to join inferior deities with him as allies and companions, just as all unbelievers, while admitting one supreme deity, imagine a multitude of others. So also Nebuchadnezzar confessed Israel's God to be Most High; yet, he did not correct the idolatry which still flourished under his sway; nay, he mingled and confused the false gods with the God of Israel. Thus he did not leave behind his own corruption's. He celebrates indeed with magnificence the glory of the supreme God, but this is not sufficient without; abolishing all superstitions, and promoting that religion alone which is prescribed by the word of God, and causing his pure and perfect worship to flourish.
In fine, this preface might seem a proof of an important conversion; but we shall directly see how far Nebuchadnezzar was from being entirely purged of his errors. It ought, indeed, to affect us exceedingly to behold the king wrapt up in so many errors, and yet seized with admiration of the Divine virtue, since he cannot express his thoughts, but exclaims, -- His signs how mighty! his wonders how powerful! He added, His kingdom is a perpetual kingdom, and his dominion is from age to age Here he confesses God's power not to be dependent upon man's will, since he had just before said, the statue which he had erected was to be worshipped, because he had chosen so to decree it. Now, however, he remits much of this pride by confessing God's kingdom to be a perpetual one. The narrative now follows. Thus far we have merely a preface, because the edict was diffused among his subjects to render them attentive to the most important subjects.