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Daniel 7:17-18

17. These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.

17. Hae bestiae magnae quas vidisti quatuor, sunt quatuor regna, quae exsurgent e terra.

18. But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.

18. Et sortientur, obtinebunt, regmu sancturum excelsorum: et possidebunt regnum usque in seculum, et usque in secular seculorum.


Here the angel answers Daniel concerning the four beasts which had been shewn him in the vision. He says, therefore, Four kingdoms arose, and by the name kingdom he means monarchy; for we know that the Persians had many kings until Alexander transferred to himself the empire of the East. Although Cyrus had seven or eight successors, yet the Persian empire continued through them all. And as we saw before, although whatever Alexander had acquired by his arms was divided among his four successors, yet it still remained the Macedonian kingdom. The same thing must be said concerning the fourth kingdom. Although we know consuls to have been created yearly at Rome, yet that government lasted till Julius Caesar destroyed it, and consumed the strength of the empire, so as to surpass by his power the splendid altitude which had been long and widely conspicuous in the world. Hence the angel replied, By the four beasts four kingdoms are denoted: he says, shall arise; and yet the Chaldean had long ago arisen, and was now verging under Belshazzar to its fall. But it was proposed by the angel to teach the Prophet and all the people that there was no reason why revolutions should disturb them too much. The Israelites then saw themselves lying as if dead, yea, actually buried and concealed under the earth. For exile was to them equivalent to the tomb. For this reason, then, the angel announces the springing up of four kingdoms, while the first was then flourishing; but, as I have already said., this suits very well within the scope and object of the prophecy. He had formerly said from the sea, but the word “sea” is used metaphorically, since the condition of the earth was turbulent through many ages. As, therefore, nothing was stable, God appropriately set forth the whole world under the figure of the sea. He afterwards adds, They will obtain the kingdom of the holy lofty ones Here interpreters vary considerably, because, as I have before explained it, some take this prophecy to relate to the kingdom of Turkey, others to the tyranny of the Pope of Rome, and extend what the Prophet here says to the final judgment. There is nothing surprising, then, in this diversity of opinion shewing itself more fully in the various details. By sacred holy ones some understand angels; but there is still much controversy about the words, for the noun of saints is “in regimen,” as if the Prophet, had said saints of lofty ones, properly speaking. 2323     The Latin here refers to the Hebrew construction. The French translation has expressed Calvin’s meaning without keeping close to the words. Les saincts des souverains is the French reading of the Hebrew regimen. See Dissertations at the end of this volume. — Ed. Similar passages justify those who take it “in the absolute state.” But if we follow the grammatical construction, we cannot explain it otherwise; but the former noun may be put in a state of regimen, as we have said. And I embrace this opinion. Some refer it to the one God, but. I think this a profane way of expression. I have no doubt about the Prophet meaning sons of God by sacred lofty ones, because, though they are pilgrims in the world: yet they raise their minds upwards, and know themselves to be citizens of the heavenly kingdom. Hence by the word עליונין, gnelionin, “lofty ones,” I have no doubt; the Prophet means heavenly powers; that is, whatever we can conceive of divinity, and whatever is exalted above the world. I will1 now give my reasons shortly why I like this sense the best.

If we call the holy lofty ones God himself, what sense can we elicit from the passage? Did the Chaldeans and the rest of the monarchies usurp and transfer to themselves the power of God? There, is some truth in this, because all who domineer without submitting to the one God despoil him of his peculiar honor, and are rather robbers than kings. But the Prophet, in my opinion, understood something else from the angel, namely, that the Church should lose all form and dignity in the world during the flourishing of these four monarchies. We know the sons of God to be heirs of the world; and Paul, when speaking of the promise given to Abraham, says, he was chosen by God as heir of the world. (Romans 4:13; Hebrews 1:2) And this doctrine is sufficiently known — the world was created for the sake of the human race. When Adam fell from his lawful rights, all his posterity became aliens. God deprived them of the inheritance which he had designed for them. Now, therefore, our inheritance must be restored through Christ, for which reason he is called the only heir of the world. Thus it is not surprising if the angel says that tyrants, when they exercise supreme dominion, assume and arrogate to themselves the peculiar property of the sacred lofty ones, meaning the people of God. And this suits very well with the assertions of the present passage concerning the Church being deprived of its dignity, eminence, and visibility in the world. For then God’s people were like a putrid carcass, the limbs of which were separated and dispersed on all sides, without any hope of restoration. Lastly, although by the permission of Darius, and the edict and liberality of Cyrus, some portion of them returned to their country, yet what was that nominal return? They had but a precarious dwelling in the inheritance divinely promised them; they were pressed on all sides by their enemies, and were subject to the lust and injustice of them all. For the Church had no empire under the Persians. After the third change we know how miserably they were afflicted, especially under Antiochus. That nation was always opposed to them, but then they were almost reduced to extremities, when Antiochus endeavored furiously to abolish the whole law and worship of God. Under the Macedonian kingdom the Jews were in constant slavery; but when the Roman army penetrated those regions, they felt the horrible tyranny of the fourth beast, as we have already seen. Lastly, it is sufficiently evident from the continual history of those times, that the sons of God were always under the yoke, and were not only cruelly but ignominiously treated.

Thus this prophecy was fulfilled, namely, The four beasts took upon themselves the empire which properly belonged to the sacred lofty ones; that is, to God’s elect sons, who, though dwellers on earth, are dependent on heaven. In this interpretation I see nothing forced, and whoever prudently weighs the matter will, as I hope, recognize what I have said as the meaning of the Prophet. The latter clause now follows. They shall obtain the kingdom, says he, for ever, and even for ever and ever A difficult question arises here, because by these words Daniel, or the angel addressing him, seems to express a perpetual condition under these four monarchies;. Belshazzar was the last king of the Babylonian dynasty, and at the perform of this vision the overthrow of that monarchy was at hand. With regard to the Persian kings, there were only eight of them besides Cyrus. And concerning Alexander we know a sudden change happened; the terror of him spread abroad like a storm, but it vanished away after it had affected all the people of the East. The Macedonian kingdom also suffered a concussion, when those leaders began to disagree among themselves who had obtained from Alexander authority and rank; and at length the kingdom became fourfold, as we have already stated, and shall mention again. Now if we count the years, the length of those monarchies was not so great as to justify the epithet “perpetual.” I reply, this must be referred to the sensations of the pious, to whom that delay seemed specially tedious, so that they would have pined away in their miseries, had not this prophecy in some way relieved them. We see at the present moment how great is the for your of desire when reference is made to the help of God; and when our minds have been heated with desire, they immediately decline to impatience. It thus happens that the promises of God do not suffice to sustain us, because nothing is more difficult than to bear long delay. For if the Church in our time had been oppressed for a hundred years, what constancy would have been discerned ht us? If a whirlwind arises, we are astonished, and cry out, “What next? what next?” Three or four months will not have elapsed before all men enter upon a strife with God and expostulate with him, because he does not hasten at once to bring assistance to his Church. We are not surprised, then, at the angel here assigning one age, or even an “age of ages,” to tyrants under whom the Church should be oppressed. Although I do not doubt the reference to the fullness of times, as we: know Christ to have been the end of the Law, and as his advent drew nearer, so God admonished the faithful to carry forward their own expectations to the advent of their Redeemer. When, therefore, the angel uses the phrase one age and an age of ages, I have no doubt that he defined the time for the elect, to strengthen them in patiently bearing trouble of all kinds, as this had been divinely decreed; for the four beasts were to reign not only for a few years, but for continual ages; that is, until the time of renovation had arrived for the world, when God completely restored his Church. Let us proceed: —

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