World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
It is clear that the four monarchies are here depicted. But it is not agreed upon among all writers which monarchy is the last, and which the third. With regard to the first, all agree in understanding’ the vision of the Chaldean Empire, which was joined with the Assyrian, as we saw before. For Nineveh was absorbed by the Chaldeans and Babylonians; but the Prophet discourses at length of the Assyrian and Chaldean Empire, which was then flourishing. No one, however, would have thought it so near its end; and on the very night on which Belshazzar was slain, we saw how securely and proudly he was immersed in his pleasures, and what great and listless security existed throughout the city. This monarchy then ought to be set before us in the first place. As in the second chapter that empire was called the golden head of the statue, so also it is now called a lion; that is, it is compared to a generous animal. It is comprehended under the image of a beast, and its fierceness and atrocity, as I have said, is hereby denoted; but with respect to the other kingdom, some superiority is granted to it, since the world is always growing worse and worse. And although Cyrus was a very prudent prince, yet he did not reach the temperance of former ages; for his ambition, avarice, and cruelty were insatiable. For Isaiah also, when he speaks of the Persians, says, They desire neither silver nor gold, but thirst after human blood. (Isaiah 13:17.)
We perceive then the reason why the Prophet says, The first beast offered to me was like a lion, because greater integrity flourished under the Chaldeans than when all the empires were mixed together, and the Persians subdued both the Chaldeans and the Medes. For it is evident from all histories that they were a barbarous and fierce nation. They were indeed showy in their praise of virtue, since they spent their lives in austerity, and despised all luxuries, and were exceedingly temperate in their living; but their ferocity and brutal cruelty rendered them detestable. The first beast then was like a lion, says he, and had eagle’s wings; that is, although it was a lion, yet it had wings. This refers to its swiftness, since we know in how short a time the Assyrians increased their monarchy, for they had previously subdued the Chaldeans, just like a lion for swiftness. For a lion has force, spirit, and cruelty for committing injuries. Besides, the prophet saw a winged lion, since they not only increased their empire by their own strength, but suddenly extended their wings in every direction. We see, then, how strength and power are denoted on the one hand, and the greatest speed on the other. He afterwards adds, Their wings were dragged or torn off. For when the Chaldeans desired to stretch beyond their bounds, the Lord restrained them within due limits, and checked their continual victories. Their wings were then torn off, when God restrained them by the check of a bridle, lest they should wander as freely as they had formerly done.
The Prophet then adds, This beast was raised from the earth, implying the cessation of the empire. For neither the Chaldeans nor the Assyrians were entirely destroyed; but their glory was completely taken away. The face of the beast no longer appeared, when God transferred that monarchy to the Medes and Persians. Hence the Prophet adds, It stood upon its feet, and the heart of a man was given to it By this form of expression, he means to imply the reduction of the Assyrians and Chaldeans to their ordinary condition, and that they were no longer like a lion, but like private men deprived of their power and strength. Hence the expression, a man’s heart was given to them, is not intended by way of praise, but by “a man” he intends any private person; as if he had said, the aspect of the Chaldeans and Assyrians was no longer terrible, since, while their sway prevailed, all men dreaded their power. Hence God removed from the world the face of that beast, and substituted that of a man, and made them stand upon their feet. Formerly they flew about in the air, and despised the earth as far beneath their feet, but God makes them stand upon their feet; that is, not conduct themselves after their customary and former manner, but simply on the common level, after God had deprived them of their empire. This, in my judgment, is the simple meaning of the Prophet. Should there be any necessity, we shall afterwards confirm the remarks which we now run through but cursorily. It follows: —