5. The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me: if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill.
5. Respondit rex et dixit Chaldaeis, Sermo a me exiit, 1 si non indicaveritis mihi somnium et interpretationem ejus, frusla efficiemini, 2 et domus vestrae ponentur sterquilinium. 3
Here the king requires from the Chaldeans more than they professed to afford him; for although their boasting, as we have said, was foolish in promising to interpret any dream, yet they never claimed the power of narrating to any one his dreams. The king, therefore, seems to me to act unjustly in not regarding what they had hitherto professed, and the limits of their art and science, if indeed they had any science! When he says -- the matter or speech had departed from him, the words admit of a twofold sense, for htlm, millethah, may be taken for all "edict," as we shall afterwards see; and so it might be read, has flowed away; but since the same form of expression will be shortly repeated when it seems to be, used of the dream, (Daniel 2:8,) this explanation is suitable enough, as the king says his dream had vanished so I leave the point undecided. It is worth while noticing again what we said yesterday, that terror was so fastened upon the king as to deprive him of rest, and yet he was not so instructed that the least taste of the revelation remained; just as if an ox, stunned by a severe blow, should toss himself about, and roll over and over. Such is the madness of this wretched king, because God harasses him with dreadful torments; all the while the remembrance of the dream is altogether obliterated from his mind. Hence he confesses -- his dream had escaped him; and although the Magi had prescribed the limits of their science, yet through their boasting themselves to be interpreters of the gods, he did not hesitate to exact of them what they had never professed. This is the just reward of arrogance, when men puffed up with a perverse confidence assume before others more than they ought, and forgetful of all modesty wish to be esteemed angelic spirits. Without the slightest doubt God wished to make a laughingstock of this foolish boasting which was conspicuous among the Chaldees, when the king sharply demanded of them to relate his dream, as well as to offer an exposition of it.
He afterwards adds threats, clearly tyrannical; unless they expound the dream their life is in danger. No common punishment is threatened, but he says they should become "pieces" -- if we take the meaning of the word to signify pieces. If we think it means "blood," the sense will be the same. This wrath of the king is clearly furious, nay, Nebuchadnezzar in this. respect surpassed all the cruelty of wild beasts. What fault could be imputed to the Chaldeans if they did not know the king's dream? -- surely, they had never professed this, as we shall afterwards see; and no, king had ever demanded what was beyond the faculty of man. We perceive how the long manifested a brutal rage when he denounced death and every cruel torture on the Magi and sorcerers. Tyrants, indeed, often give the reins to their lust, and think all things lawful to themselves; whence, also, these words of the tragedian, Whatever he wishes is lawful. And Sophocles says, with evident truth, that any one entering a tyrant's threshold must cast away his liberty; but if we were to collect all examples, we should scarcely find one like this. It follows, then, that the king's mind was impelled by diabolic fury, urging him to punish the Chaldees who, with respect to him, were innocent enough. We know them to have been impostors, and the world to have been deluded by their impositions, which rendered them deserving of death, since by the precepts of the law it was a capital crime for any one to pretend to the power of prophecy by magic arts. (Leviticus 20:6.) But, as far as concerned the king, they could not be charged with any crime. Why, then, did he threaten them with death? because the Lord wished to shew the miracle which we shall afterwards see. For if the king had suffered the Chaldeans to depart, he could have buried directly that anxiety which tortured and excruciated his mind. The subject, too, had been less noticed by the people; hence God tortured the king's mind, till he rushed headlong in his fury, as we have said. Thus, this atrocious and cruel denunciation ought to have aroused all men; for there is no doubt that the greatest and the least trembled together when they heard of such vehemence in the monarch's wrath. This, therefore, is the complete sense, and we must mark the object of God's providence in thus allowing the king's anger to burn without restraint. 4 It follows --