In the notes upon the parallel, though supplementary, vision contained in Daniel 2, 7 attention has been directed to each of the four empires which has hitherto governed the world. It has been explained in the notes that these four empires are the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Græco-Macedonian, and the Roman. The fourth empire in each case is succeeded by the kingdom of the Messiah, which in Daniel 2 is symbolised by a stone, but in Daniel 7:27 is described more clearly as the “kingdom of the people of the saints of the Most High.” This view of the four kingdoms is found in the early part of the second century A.D. maintained by the author of the epistle of Barnabas, who speaks of the ten kingdoms (Barn., Ep. iv. 4, 5) foretold by Daniel as then existing, and of the fourth beast as then reigning. The fragments of St. Hippolytus show that the same opinion prevailed in the Church a century later. The longer ecclesiastical commentaries of St. Jerome and Theodoret maintain the same opinion, which has been followed in modern times, with some modifications, by a large number of commentators.
A second view, of great antiquity, is mentioned by Porphyry, who flourished in the third century. His opinion coincided with the interpretation just mentioned up to a certain point. He made the panther, or third beast, represent Alexander the Great; but the fourth beast, according to him, meant the four successors of Alexander. He then enumerated up to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes those kings whom he conceived to have been most remarkable for persecuting God’s people in the times of the Ptolemies and Seleucidæ, and ultimately identified the little horn with Antiochus Epiphanes, in whose time he believed the Book of Daniel to have been written. This view has not been without support in recent times.
A third view, which has antiquity to support it, is due in the first instance to St. Ephraim Syrus, according to whose teaching the four kingdoms are the Babylonian, the Median, the Persian, and the Greek. He is careful, however, to point out that the fulfilment which the prophecy received in the times of the Maccabees is only typical of a further fulfilment to be expected in the last days. It exceeds the limit of a note to trace the origin of this opinion in the Syrian Church, and the development of it in modern times. It is sufficient to observe that, like Porphyry’s interpretation, it limits the horizon of the prophet chiefly to the Greek period.
This view, which, more or less modified, finds many adherents in the present day, rests upon the identification of the little horn in Daniel 7:8, with the little horn in Daniel 8:9. If Antiochus is the horn of Daniel 8, why should he not be hinted at in Daniel 7? and if so, why should not the goat (Daniel 8:5), which is known (Daniel 8:21) to be the kingdom of Greece, be identical with the fourth beast of Daniel 7? It is then argued that the period of persecution hinted at in Daniel 7:25 coincides with that which is mentioned in Daniel 9:27, being half a week, or three days and a half, and that the same measure of time occurs in Daniel 12:7. Is it possible, it is asked, that these similar measures of time represent different events? Again, it is observed that there is no interval mentioned as occurring between the last times and the times of the persecutions mentioned in Daniel 7, 8, 10-12, and also that the words in which Antiochus is predicted (Daniel 8:19) are spoken of as the “last end of indignation” and “the end.” This is stated to support the view that the predictions of Daniel are limited by the times of Antiochus.
On these grounds the persecution mentioned in Daniel 7:25 is supposed to be that of Antiochus. The Greek Empire is represented by the fourth beast, while the second and third beasts represent the Median and the Persian Empires respectively. But here the question arises, Are there any grounds for believing that Daniel intended to speak of a distinct Median Empire? The passages alleged in support are Daniel 5:28; Daniel 5:31; Daniel 6:8; Daniel 6:12; Daniel 6:15. Daniel states of Darius expressly that he was a Mede and of Median descent (Daniel 5:31; Daniel 9:1; Daniel 11:1), and, on the contrary, that Cyrus was a Persian (Daniel 6:28; Daniel 10:1). Also in Daniel 6:28 the writer appears to be contrasting Darius the Mede with Cyrus the Persian, as if each belonged to a different empire. And though the kings of Media and Persia are distinctly mentioned in Daniel 8:20, it is maintained that the unity of the Medo-Persian Empire is not established thereby, because the two horns, and not the body, of the goat are assumed to be the key of the vision. If the brief duration and slight importance of the so-called Median Empire is objected, it is replied that the importance of it to Israel was very great, for in the first year of it the exile terminated, and at that very time Darius was under the special protection of the Angel of the Lord (Daniel 11:1).
Upon this hypothesis the visions in Daniel 2, 7 are explained in the following manner:—The materials of which the feet of the image were formed corresponds to the two divisions of the Greek Empire noticed in Daniel 11, the iron representing the Ptolemies, the clay the Seleucidæ. The mixture of the iron and clay points to such attempts as are mentioned in Daniel 11:8; Daniel 11:17 to unite certain heterogeneous elements in the political world. The silver breasts and arms are the Median Empire, which was inferior to the Babylonian (Daniel 2:39). which, it is asserted, does not hold true of the Persian Empire. Then comes the Persian Empire, which, as Daniel interpreted the vision (Daniel 2:39), “bare rule over all.” Similarly, in Daniel 7, those who maintain the interpretation find no difficulty about the first beast; but the second beast is Darius the Mede; the three ribs are the three satrapies mentioned in Daniel 6:2 (St. Ephraim explains them of the Medes, the Babylonians, and the Persians). The command, “Arise, and devour much flesh,” means that the empire of Darius had a great future prospect, which he would not realise. Then the panther is Cyrus; the four wings are the Persians, Medes, Babylonians, and Egyptians; the four heads are four Persian kings, Cambyses, Smerdis, Darius Hystaspes, and the last, who is either Xerxes or Darius Codemannus. It remains that the fourth beast is the Greek Empire, the first which was of a totally distinct character from the Asiatic empires which had preceded it. The little horn is Antiochus Epiphanes, and the other ten horns are ten kings, who are not supposed to be reigning simultaneously; three of them, however, were contemporaneous with the little horn. The ten kings are assumed to be—(1) Seleucus Nicator, (2) Antiochus Soter, (3) Antiochus Theos, (4) Seleucus Callinicus, (5) Seleucus Ceraunus, (6) Antiochus the Great, (7) Seleucus Philopator, (8) Heliodorus, (9) Demetrius, (10) Ptolemy Philometor. The last three were deposed by Antiochus Epiphanes, the allusion being to Demetrius (Daniel 11:21) and to Ptolemy Philometor (Daniel 11:22-28). It is then alleged that all the events which are explicitly mentioned in Daniel 11 are figuratively expressed by the ten toes of the image and by the ten horns of the fourth beast.
In this interpretation there is much that appears plausible at first sight. It seems to make the whole plan of the book more distinct, and to introduce a symmetry and coherence among the several parts which is wanting to the interpretation given above. But though the truth is simple, everything simple is not true. Grave difficulties will be found, upon closer inspection, to underlie this hypothesis respecting the four kingdoms.
(1) What reason is there for identifying the little horn in Daniel 7:8 with the little horn in Daniel 8:9? In one case it grows up amongst ten, in the other out of four. In one case it destroys three of the other horns, in the other none. Or, to take Daniel’s own interpretation, the “kink of a fierce countenance” (Daniel 8:23) arises while the four horns are still in existence, though “in the latter time of their kingdom.” Bearing in mind that the ten toes of the image correspond to the ten horns of the fourth beast, there appears to be strong primâ facie evidence for supposing that the horizon of Daniel 8 is different from that of Daniel 2, 7, 11.
(2) Further consideration shows that Antiochus Epiphanes does not correspond with the little horn (Daniel 7), or with the king mentioned (Daniel 11:21, &c.). Antiochus is foretold (Daniel 8:9-12; Daniel 8:23-25) as “becoming great toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land, and waxing great even to the host of heaven,” &c.; but the person foretold in Daniel 7:8; Daniel 7:20; Daniel 7:25, “has a mouth speaking proud things,” &c. In no point do these two awful personages agree, except in blaspheming God and in making war against His people. They differ in many important respects.
(3) The measures of time, again, are different in each vision. Antiochus Epiphanes carries on his destructive work for 2,300 (or 1,150) days, but the Antichrist mentioned in Daniel 7:25 has the saints in his power for a “time, times, and the dividing of time.” By no possible calculation can these two measures of time be made identical. Nor can the same measure of time which occurs in Daniel 12:7 be identified either with the 1,290 days, or with the 1,335 days mentioned in Daniel 12:11-12.
(4) Further, in Daniel 8:9 “the last end of indignation” does not mean the end of all things, any more than it means the end of the captivity. It points to the persecution of Antiochus, when, for the last time in Jewish history, the innocent suffered for the guilt of the apostates. This was a persecution of which the adherence of the Jews to their religion was the cause. Politics provoked later persecutions, but in this they were involved in only a secondary manner. The plain question was, would the Jews suffer their religion to be Hellenised, or would they not? This, again, is alien to the thoughts contained in Daniel 7:21; Daniel 7:25.
(5) Nor is it clear that Daniel knew of a Median as distinct from a Persian Empire. If Darius “received the kingdom,” some superior power must have given it to him. If he was “made king,” some higher authority must have invested him with the sovereignty. Nor does history give us any reasons for supposing that there was at this time any broad national distinction between the Medes and Persians.
(6) Lastly, the empire of Alexander the Great does not correspond to the fourth empire, which is described in Daniel 2, 7. None of the elements of iron appear in it. The leading characteristic of it was not “breaking in pieces and bruising” other empires, but rather assimilation. The policy of it was to Hellenise them, to clothe their ideas in Greek forms, to unite widely separated nations which it had subdued, by treating them courteously, adopting their national customs, and by polishing the whole external with Greek culture.
Great and undoubted though the difficulties are which are contained in the interpretation given above in the Notes, they are not so great as those which are involved by the so-called “modern” interpretation just mentioned.
Daniel 2:1And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, wherewith his spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him.II.
(1) The second year.—Nebuchadnezzar was proleptically spoken of as “king of Babylon” in Daniel 1:1, for his father did not die till after the battle of Carchemish. On the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, see Notes on 2 Kings 24:1.)
Dreams.—Spoken of in Daniel 2:3 as “a dream.” The one dream consisted of several parts, and is therefore spoken of in the plural. For the effects of the dream upon the king’s mind, comp. Genesis 41:8.
His sleep brake.—i.e., his sleep finished. A similar use of the word occurs Daniel 6:18; Esther 6:1. The anxiety which the vision caused him prevented him from sleeping again. And no wonder. The battle of Carchemish, which forced Egypt to retire within her ancient frontiers, had indeed made Nebuchadnezzar master of all the district east of the Euphrates; but there was a growing power northward of him, the Median, which he may have dreaded, though at this time he was on good terms with it, and this may have increased his alarm, and led him to feel some presentiment of evil.
Astrologers.—Heb. ashshaphim, a name derived from the whisperings or mutterings made by them while employed in their incantations. They are mentioned by Daniel only.
Sorcerers.—Heb. mekashshaphim; are spoken of in the Pentateuch both as male and female, (e.g. Deuteronomy 18:10). They are mentioned by Isaiah (Isaiah 47:9; Isaiah 47:12) as prevalent in the Babylon of his days. Probably the Chaldæans spoken of in this verse did not form a separate class of magicians, but denoted the priests, such as those mentioned Herod. i. 181, and was contained in the first class of magicians mentioned in the verse. It appears that Daniel excelled (Daniel 1:17) in all classes of magic learning, whether it required a knowledge of “learning, wisdom, or dreams.”
Live for ever.—For this common form of salutation, comp. Daniel 3:9; Daniel 5:10, &c.
Cut in pieces.—This was by no means an uncommon form of punishment: (See Smith’s Assurbanipal, pp. 137, 245.)
Ye have prepared . . . be changed—i.e., “you have made au agreement among yourselves to postpone the matter till a more lucky time for explaining the dream shall come.” On Eastern notions about fortunate days, comp. Esther 3:7 and the standard inscription or Nebuchadnezzar towards the end.
We are not told in so many words that this extension of time was granted, or that Daniel undertook to show more than the interpretation of the dream. A true account of what happened can only be gathered by reading Daniel 2:18; Daniel 2:28 by the side of this verse. It should be remembered that many narratives of scripture are related in a very condensed form, fuller details being added afterwards. (See Daniel 2:24, Note.)
He removeth.—Comp. 1 Samuel 2:8.
Wisdom . . .—Comp. Jeremiah 32:19.
The wise—i.e., wise men generally. Wise men become what they are, not through their own study and natural ability, but by the grace and mercy of God.
He knoweth.—Comp. Psalm 139:12.
The light dwelleth.—Perhaps “illumination” rather than “light” expresses the actual meaning. Man himself requires illumination from an external source. This source is God, the “sun of man’s soul,” in Whom light dwells as if He were a palace, and in “His light do we see light” (Psalm 36:9).
God of my fathers.—Comp. 1 Kings 18:36, Psalms 105 God dealt gloriously with Israel of old. He continues to be faithful to His promises to Israel by blessing Daniel’s education in secular subjects, and finally by the dream. Observe that to Daniel each appears alike supernatural, his proficiency in Chaldean wisdom, and his skill in interpreting dreams.
Destroy not.—Observe Daniel’s humanity towards his heathen teachers. It was owing to his intercession only that the king’s decree was not carried out. (See Ezekiel 14:14.)
Art thou able.—The king does not pretend to be ignorant of the person of Daniel. He had, in fact, only recently (Daniel 1:19-20) examined him in “matters of wisdom and understanding.” What surprises him is, that after the wise and experienced had failed to tell him his dream, one so young and a mere novice should succeed.
Another third.—The metal implies a certain inferiority, but the phrase “shall bear rule over the whole earth” speaks of an empire that extended further than the preceding. This is the Græco-Macedonian Empire (see Exc. E, and comp. Daniel 7:6; Daniel 8:5-7).
Breaketh all things.—Remembering that the comparison is between iron and the fourth empire, this portion of the vision implies that the Roman empire, which is here intended (see Exc. E), will crush out all traces that remain of preceding empires, just as iron is capable of breaking gold, silver, or copper. Of the second and third empires, each borrowed something from that which preceded it. The fourth empire introduces a new system, and a new civilisation.
God of heaven.—(See Daniel 2:18).
Throughout the vision we must notice one great contrast. There is on the one hand the image, which, of course, was weak, by reason of being formed of such incongruous elements, composed of the most precious metals at the top, while the lower parts ended in “miry clay “—in fact, the image was top-heavy. On the other hand, there is the stone, an emblem of strength and solidity, single, notwithstanding the countless atoms which unite in forming it, growing in strength, as it continues its historic course till it becomes a mountain, the type of all that is solid and indestructible. And one further point of contrast must be noted. While one earthly empire passes into another as insensibly as the head yields to the trunk of the body, and as this passes into arms, legs, hands, and feet, without any discontinuity—that is, as empire after empire passes away, while the history of the world remains continuous—such is not the case with the stone. The work that it does is instantaneous. The moment it falls on the feet of the image the whole collapses, or, in other words, the history of the world comes to an end. Such is the relation in which the kingdom of God stands to the kingdoms of this world. They are all transient, in spite of their apparent strength, and their history will cease, as soon as the “stone shall fall and grind them to powder” (Matthew 21:44).
Oblation.—That is, the unbloody offering customary among the Babylonians; some honour different from the present mentioned in Daniel 2:48.
Gate of the king.—Compare Esther 3:2, &c. Daniel was of higher rank than his three friends, and was therefore admitted into the inner part of the palace.