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Daniel 8:2-3

2. And I saw in a vision; and it came to pass, when I saw, that I was at the Shushan in the palace, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in a vision, and I was by the river of Ulai.

2. Vidi in visione: et fuit cum videram, ut ego essem in Susan, 4040     הבירה, hebirah, which some translate citadel, or palace, or royal residence. — Calvin. quae est in Elam provincia. Vidi in visione, et ecce eram super fluvium Ulai.

3. Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last.

3. Et extuli oculos meos, et vidi: et ecce aries unus stabat coram fluvio, 4141     That is, on the river’s bank. — Calvin. et ei cornua duo, et cornua erant excelsa, et unam excelsius altero, et excelsum hoc ascendebat retro.


Without any doubt, the Prophet here recognized a new empire as about to arise, which could not happen without Babylon being reduced to slavery. Hence it would tend in no slight degree to alleviate the cares of the pious, and to mitigate their sorrows, when they saw what they had previously thought incredible, namely, the approaching destruction of that horrible tyranny under which they had been so, cruelly oppressed. And if the liberty of returning to their country was not immediately granted to the people, it would be no small consolation to behold God’s judgment against the Chaldeans as foretold by the prophets. We must now examine the Prophet’s language. I have seen in a vision, says he. This word חזון, chezon, a “vision,” is added to show us that the ram of which mention is made was not seen by the eyes of the body. Hence this was a heavenly oracle, and ought to have raised the beholder above all human sensations, to enable him to discern from lofty watch-tower what was hidden from the rest of mankind. He did not see then what ordinary men might behold, but God showed in a vision things which no mortal senses could apprehend. He next adds, The vision was shewn to me, Daniel, and I happened, says he, when I saw it, to be in Shushan Some think Daniel to be then dwelling in Persia, bug this view is by no means probable; for who could persuade the holy Prophet of God, who had been led captive with the rest and was attached to the king of Babylon, to depart as if he had been entirely his own master, and to go into Persia when the Persians were then open enemies? This is not at all likely; and I wonder what can induce men to adopt this comment, so contrary to all reason. For we need not dispute about a matter by no means obscure if we weigh the Prophet’s words, as he removes all doubt by saying he was in Shushan when he saw, that is, when he was caught up by the prophetic spirit beyond himself and above the world. The Prophet does not say he dwelt in Shushan, or in the neighborhood, but he was there in the vision only. The next verse, too, sufficiently shews him to have then been in Chaldean in the third year, he says, of the reign of King Belshazzar. By naming the king, he clearly expresses that he then dwelt under his power and dominion. It is clearly to be gathered from these words, without the slightest doubt, that the Prophet then dwelt in Chaldea. And perhaps Babylon had been already besieged, as we saw before. He says he was in the palace at Shushan I know not how I ought to translate this word, הבירה, hebireh, as I see no reason for preferring the meaning “palace” to that of” citadel.” We are sure of the nobility and celebrity of the citadel which was afterwards the head of the East, for all nations and tribes received from thence their laws, rights, and judgments. At the same time, I think this citadel was not then built, for its empire over the Persian territory was not firmly established till the successors of Cyrus. We may perhaps distinguish Shushan from Persia at large, yet as it is usually treated as a part of that kingdom, I will not urge the distinction. The country is, however, far milder and more fertile than Persia, as it receives its name from being flowery and abounding in roses. Thus the Prophet says he was there in a vision.

He afterwards repeats this I saw in a vision, and behold I was near the river Ulai The Latin writers mention a river Eulaeus, and as there is a great similitude between the words, I have no hesitation in understanding Daniel’s language of the Eulaeus. The repetition is not superfluous. It adds certainty to the prophecy, because Daniel affirms it; not to have been any vanishing specter, as a vision might be suspected to be, but clearly and certainly a divine revelation, as he will afterwards relate. He says, too, he raised his eyes upwards This attentive attitude has the same meaning, as experience informs us how often men are deceived by wandering in erroneous imaginations. But Daniel here bears witness to his raising his eyes upwards, because he, knew himself to be, divinely called upon to discern future events.

He next subjoins, And behold a ram, stood at the bank of the river, and it had horns He now compares the empire of Persia and Media to a ram. It ought not to seem absurd that God proposed to his servant various similitude’s, because his duty was to teach a rude people in various ways; and[ we know this vision to have been presented before the Prophet, not for his private instruction only, but for the common advantage of the whole people. I do not think we need scrupulously inquire why the Persian kings are called rams. I know of no valid reason, unless perhaps to institute a comparison between them and Alexander of Macedon and his successors. If so, when God, under the image of a ram, exhibits to his Prophet the Persian Empire, he does not illustrate its nature absolutely, but only by comparison with that of Alexander. ‘We are well aware of the opposition between these two empires. The Persian monarchy is called “a ram,” with reference to the Macedonian, which, as we shall afterwards see, bears the name of “he-goat” with respect to its antagonism. And we may gather the best reason for this comparison in the humble origin of the kings of Persia. With great propriety, then, Cyrus, the first ruler of this empire, is here depicted for us under the form or image of a ram. His “horn” produced a concussion through the whole earth, when no one expected anything to spring from a region by no means abounding in anything noble. And as to Alexander, he is called a “he-goat,” with respect to the “ram,” as being far more nimble, and yet more obscure in his origin. For what was Macedon but a mere corner of Greece? But I do not propose to run the parallel between these points; it is sufficient that God wishes to show to his Prophet and to the whole Church, how among the Persians, unknown as they were, and despised by their neighbors, a king should arise to consume the Median power, as we shall soon see, and also to overthrow the Babylonian monarchy. Behold, therefore, says he, a ram stood before the river, or at the bank of the river, since Cyrus subdued both the Medes and his grandfather, as historians inform us. Cyrus then rushed forth from his own mountains and stood at the bank of the river He also says, He had two horns. Here the Prophet puts two horns for two empires, and not by any means for two persons. For although Cyrus married the daughter of Cyaxares his uncle, yet we know the Persian empire to have lasted a long time, and to have supplied historians with a long catalogue of kings. As Cyrus had so many successors, by the two horns God doubtless showed his Prophet those two empires of the Medes and Persians united under one sovereignty. Therefore, when the ram appeared to the Prophet, it represented both kingdoms under one emblem.

The context confirms this by saying, The two horns were lofty, one higher than the other, and this was raised backwards The two horns were lofty; for, though the Persian territory was not rich, and the people rustic and living in woods, spending an austere life and despising all luxuries, yet the nation was always warlike. Wherefore the Prophet says this horn was higher than the other, meaning, than the empire of the Medes. Now Cyrus surpassed his father-in-law Darius in fame, authority, and rank, and still he always permitted Darius to enjoy the royal majesty to the end of his life. As he was an old man, Cyrus might easily concede to him the highest one without any loss to himself. With respect then to the following period, Cyrus was clearly pre-eminent, as he was certainly superior to Darius, whom Xenophon calls Cyaxares. For this reason, then, this horn was higher. But meanwhile the Prophet shews how gradually Cyrus was raised on high. The horn rose backwards; that is, “afterwards” — meaning, although the horn of the Median kingdom was more illustrious and conspicuous, yet the horn which rose afterwards obscured the brightness and glory of the former one. This agrees with the narratives of profane history: for every reader of those narratives will find nothing recorded by Daniel which was not fulfilled by the event. Let us go on: —

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