We stated in the last Lecture, the seriousness of the test by which God proved the faithfulness of his people, in allowing Antiochus such unbounded liberty to pollute the Temple, and to abolish, for a time, all the sacrifices and services. He next set up in the midst of the Temple that abomination which cast down the spirits of the pious; for that prodigy could not be witnessed without the most profound astonishment. No one could suppose it possible, that God would expose his own sanctuary to such dishonor, as it was the only one which he had chosen in the whole world. It now follows, And he shall deceive the transgressors of the covenant with blandishment, but a people knowing their God will retain it firmly and practice it Here Daniel more clearly expresses what he had previously said of the corruption and overthrow of God's worship, as Antiochus should enticingly win over to himself a perfidious portion of those who were nominally, at, least, God's people. He thus repeats what we observed before. These hypocrites were like the arms of Antiochus; for had he captured the city by the force of arms, still he would not have dared to offer these insults to God's Temple, unless he had received assistance from those apostates who rejected all fear of the Almighty, and whom ambition and avarice alone had impelled to unite with that impious tyrant, who was the avowed and professed enemy of their religion. The angel, then, here confirms what he had previously said, shewing how the wicked and impious despisers of the covenant should be tools in the hand of this robber. For the first word of verse 32 is derived from rs reshegn, |to do wickedly,| and refers to that special act of sinfulness, their despising God's covenant. This refers to those intestine enemies who had previously boasted themselves to be sons of Abraham, and who were masked by circumcision, the sign of that covenant. He does not here point out any of the mere dregs of the people, but the impious priests, Menelaus, Jason, and others like them, as the passage has already been explained. He says then, these should be deceived by the blandishments of Antiochus He doubtless offered to the priests and to others what he thought they would value most; one he set over the Temple, another he deceived with vain and fallacious promises for a time, by distributing a variety of gifts among them. In this way he corrupted them all by his flatteries. To these the Prophet opposes the sincere worshippers of God, and the Hebrew copula ought to be understood here as implying this contrast. He had already spoken of many as deceived by vain promises, and had called them transgressors of the covenant: he now adds, But the people who know God shall strengthen themselves and shall do it The angel means that the perfidy of those of whom he had spoken, should not prevail with the pious to lead them into the same alliance of wickedness, and to hurl them headlong into the same snares. Although such was the perfidy of these revolters, yet all who know God, says he, shall strengthen themselves
This passage is specially worthy of notice, as experience teaches how very few stand their ground, when many fall away. The example of one often draws with it a hundred into the same rule; but the constancy of a hundred is scarcely sufficient to retain one in his position. In this case we behold the depth of our natural depravity. For we are not only moved, but shaken by the very slightest breezes, and even when God sets before us a firm resting-place, still we do not cease our vacillation. When an Apostle sets before us the examples of the saints, he says, a cloud of witnesses is ever gazing upon us, with the view of retaining us in the fear of God, and in the pure confession of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1.) But that cloud vanishes too soon from our view. Meanwhile, if any trifler whom we know to be a man of no weight, and whom we have ourselves condemned, -- if such a one should decline even so little from the right way, we think such an example sufficient to excuse us. Wherefore, I had good reason for stating how this passage lays open to us our perverse and malignant disposition. We can scarcely be attracted towards God by a multiplicity of appliances, but we are easily dragged towards the devil to our own destruction. Hence we ought diligently to meditate upon this passage, and continually to reflect upon the Prophet's language. Although apostates may be deceived by flatteries and reject God's worship, betray the Church and throw off all semblance of piety, yet all the pious shall stand fast in the faith. Let no one therefore quote the example of the thoughtless to excuse his fault, if he trait are the perfidious, the double-minded, and the hypocritical. The angel here depicts to us a picture of the Church, by shewing how many should prove backsliders; but this levity, inconsistency, and perfidy ought never to be an obstacle to the foes of God to impede their progress in faith and piety.
We should also notice the epithet which designates the pious. They are called a people knowing their God. The people may be supposed to mean the vulgar, but this is forced. It may also be simply opposed to the profane Gentiles; but I think there is here an implied contrast between the true and genuine sons of Abraham, and the false Israelites, who boasted themselves to be members of the Church when they had nothing but the empty title. For in the prophets as in the writings of Moses, the name |people| is often used in a favorable sense for that elect nation which God had adopted as peculiarly his own. All the Israelites who were descendants of Abraham after the flesh, used to boast with much vanity in their being the elect people, and thus the word was ever on their lips. Wherefore the Prophet reproves the foolish boasting of those who were accustomed to shelter themselves under the name of God, and without having anything real in themselves. Hence the people, meaning God's people, shall strengthen themselves; but, by way of correcting any erroneous view, he adds, who shall know God, as in the 73d Psalm, (Psalm 73:1.) How good is the God of Israel to those who are upright in heart! Here the Prophet restricts the name of Israel to the elect sons of Abraham who cultivate piety seriously and heartily, as it had become a prevalent habit carelessly to misuse this name of God. So here, the people who shall know their God, means his true people -- those whom he acknowledges as his elect. The angel here makes a distinction between the pious sons of Abraham and the pious worshippers of God. It is worthy of careful observation, that the angel assigns their knowledge of God as the cause and foundation of their constancy. How then, we may ask, does it come to pass, that some few are left, when the apostates thus prostitute themselves? Because their knowledge of God shall prevail, and enable them to overcome these attacks, and bravely to repel them, and to become superior to any temptations. We see, then, the source whence our own fortitude is derived -- the knowledge of God. This acknowledgment is no vain and cold imagination, but springs from that faith which spreads its living root in our hearts. Hence it follows, we do not really acknowledge God, unless we boldly contend when we are put to the test, and remain firm and stable, although Satan endeavors, by various machinations, to weaken our faithfulness. And unless we persist in that firmness which is here described, it is quite clear, that God has never been truly and really acknowledged by us. The relation too is not without its weight in the phrase, the people who shall know their God Here is a silent reproof, since God revealed himself to the Israelites as far as was sufficient to retain their allegiance. No one, therefore, could offer any excuse without being guilty of impiety, sacrilege, and perfidy, after being so fully instructed by the Law and the prophets. This instruction must now be applied to our own times.
We observe in these days how many fall off from the Church. Persecution sifts all those who profess to belong to Christ, and thus many are winnowed like chaff, and but a small portion remain steadfast. Their backsliding ought not to overthrow our faithfulness when they so carelessly forsake all piety, either through being enticed by the allurements of Satan, or deceived by the conduct of the ungodly. Let us bear in mind the assertion of the angel, and thus the true knowledge of God will reign supreme in our hearts, and we shall still proceed in the course we have pursued. And to shew how consistently the faithful progress in the teaching of the Law and the Gospel, he says, they shall strengthen themselves and shall do it. Here the word |to do| is taken in the sense of to |execute| -- |exploiter,| as we say in France; meaning, they shall summon their courage to discharge their duty; for the word |to do,| or |to execute,| is referred to the vocation of the pious; they should not be sluggish or slothful in the discharge of their duty, says the Prophet, but should gather courage for these contests. And whence? from the acknowledgment of God. We observe, too, that faith is no idle feeling or cold imagination, lying suffocated in our minds, but an energizing principle. For we may say that from faith springs strength, and from strength execution, and thus we avoid all slothfulness hi our calling. It follows --