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Daniel 1:4

4. Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.

4. Pueros, quibus nulla esset macula 7474     For I omit the Hebrewism which has already been explained.Calvin. et pulchros aspectu, 7575     Or countenance — Calvin. et intelligente in omni prudentia, 7676     That is, skilled in all wisdom.Calvin. et intelligentes scientia et diserte exprimentes cognitionem, et in quibus vigor, ut starent in palatio regis, et ad docendum ipsos literaturam et linguam Chaldaeorum.

 

In yesterday’s Lecture we saw how the prefect or master of the eunuchs was commanded to bring up some noble youths, the offspring of the king and the elders; and Daniel now describes their qualities, according to Nebuchadnezzar’s order. They were youths, not so young as seven or eight years, but growing up, in whom there was no spot; that is, in whom there was no defect or unsoundness of body. They were also of beautiful aspect, meaning of ingenuous and open countenance, he adds also, skilled in all prudence, and understanding knowledge; and then, expressing their thoughts I think those interpreters right who take this participle actively, otherwise the repetition would be cold and valueless. Their eloquence seems to me pointed out here; because there are some who inwardly understand subjects presented to them, but cannot express to others what they retain in their minds; for all have not the same dexterity in expressing exactly what they think Daniel, therefore, notices both qualifications here — the acquisition of knowledge, and the power of communicating it.

And in whom was vigor for כח, cach, usually signifies fortitude, as in Isaiah. (Isaiah 40:9.) Those who fear God shall change their fortitude, or renew their rigor. Then in Psalm 22, (Psalm 22:15,) my strength or rigor has failed.” He adds, the fortitude or vigor of intelligence, knowledge, and eloquence; or a healthy habit of body, which is the same thing. 7777     It can scarcely be correct to confound bodily with mental endowments. Wintle explains the three clauses very appositely, referring the first to “excellent natural abilities,” the second to “the greatest improvement from cultivation,” and the last to” the communication of our perceptions in the happiest manner to others.” That they might stand in the kings palace, and be taught literature, (I cannot translate the particle ספר, sepher, otherwise, verbally it is a “letter,” but it means learning or discipline,) and the language of the Chaldees We now see how the king regarded not only their rank, when he ordered the most excellent of the royal and noble children to be brought to him; but he exercised his choice that those who were to be his servants should be clever; they were of high birth, as the phrase is; so they ought to prevail in eloquence and give hopeful promise of general excellence in both body and mind. Without doubt he wished them to be held in great estimation, that he might win over other Jews also. Thus, if they afterwards obtained authority, should circumstances allow of it, they might become rulers in Judea, bearing sway over their own people, and yet remain attached to the Babylonian empire. This was the king’s design; it affords no reason why we should praise his liberality, since it is sufficiently apparent that he consulted nothing but his own advantage.

Meanwhile, we observe, that learning and the liberal arts were not then so despised as they are in this age, and in those immediately preceding it. So strongly has barbarism prevailed in the world, that it is almost disgraceful for nobles to be reckoned among the men of education and of letters! The chief boast. of the nobility was to be destitute of scholarship — nay, they gloried in the assertion, that they were “no scholars,” in the language of the day; and if any of their rank were versed in literature, they acquired their attainments for no other purpose than to be made bishops and abbots’ still, as I have said, they generally despised all literature. We perceive the age in which Daniel lived was not so barbarous, for the king wished to have these boys whom he caused to be so instructed, among his own princes, as we have said, to promote his own advantage; still we must remark upon the habit of that age. As to his requiring so much knowledge and skill, it may seem out of place, and more than their tender age admitted, that they should be so accomplished in prudence, knowledge, and experience. But we know that kings require nothing in moderation when they order anything to be prepared, they often ascend beyond the clouds. So Nebuchadnezzar speaks here; and Daniel, who relates his commands, does so in a royal manner. Since the king commanded all the most accomplished to be brought before him, if they really manifested any remarkable qualities, we need not be surprised at their knowledge, skill, and prudence. The king simply wished those boys and youths to be brought to him who were ingenious and dangerous, and adapted to learn with rapidly; and then those who were naturally eloquent and of a healthy constitution of body. For it follows directly, that they might learn, or be taught the literature and language of the Chaldees We perceive that King Nebuchadnezzar did not demand teachers, but boys of high birth, and good talents, and of promising abilities; he wished them to be liberally instructed in the doctrine of the Chaldees he was unwilling to have youths of merely polished and cultivated minds without natural abilities. His desire to have them acquainted with the language of Chaldea arose from his wish to separate them by degrees from their own nation, to introduce them to forget their Jewish birth, and to acquire the Chaldean manners, since language is a singular bond of communication. Respecting their learning, we may ask, whether Daniel and his companions were permitted to learn arts full of imposition, which we know to be the nature of the Chaldean learning. For they professed to know every one’s fate, as in these days there are many impostors in the world, who are called fortune-tellers. They abused an honorable name when they called themselves mathematicians, as if there were no scientific learning separate from those arts and diabolic illusions. And as to the use of the word, the Caesars, in their laws, unite Chaldeans and mathematicians, treating them as synonymous. But the explanation is easy, — the Chaldeans not only pursued that astrology which is called “Judicial,” but were also skilled in the true and genuine knowledge of the stars. The ancients say, that the course of the stars was observed by the Chaldeans, as there was no region of the world so full of them, and none possessed so extensive an horizon on all sides. As the Chaldeans enjoyed this advantage of having the heavens so fully exposed to the contemplation of man, this may have led to their study, and have conduced to the more earnest pursuit of astrology. But as the minds of men are inclined to vain and foolish curiosity, they were not content with legitimate science, but fell into foolish and perverse imaginations. For what fortune-tellers predict of any one’s destiny is merely foolish fanaticism. Daniel, therefore, might have learned these arts; that is, astrology and other liberal sciences, just as Moses is said to have been instructed in all the sciences of Egypt. We know how the Egyptians were infected with similar corruption’s; but it is said both of Moses and of our Prophet, that they were imbued with a knowledge of the stars and of the other liberal sciences. Although it is uncertain whether the king commanded them to proceed far in these studies, yet we must hold that Daniel abstained, as we shall see directly, from the royal food and drink, and was not drawn aside nor involved in these Satanic impostures. Whatever the king’s commandment was, I suppose Daniel to have been content with the pure and genuine knowledge of natural things. As far as the king is concerned, as we have already said, he consulted simply his own interests; wishing Daniel and his companions to pass over into a foreign tribe, and to be drawn away from their own people, as if they had been natives of Chaldea. It now follows —


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