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by Joseph Benson
THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET DANIEL.
DANIEL, the author of this book, was of the tribe of Judah, and probably of royal descent. Josephus says he was of the family of Zedekiah, who was the last king of Judah, before the destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem. He was carried away captive to Babylon when he was very young, probably not more than eighteen years of age, namely, in the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, in the year of the world 3398, before Christ 606. Being possessed of extraordinary endowments, both of body and mind, he was soon noticed and much renowned in Babylon; and on account of his extraordinary wisdom and virtue, and that supernatural illumination God vouchsafed him, which was manifested in his interpreting of dreams, and predicting future events, he was advanced to great authority under Nebuchadnezzar, which he appears to have possessed during all the subsequent period of the Chaldean monarchy. He also held an exalted station, and filled offices of great trust and power, under Darius the Mede, and Cyrus the Persian. His great wisdom and extraordinary piety are celebrated by his fellow-captive Ezekiel, with whom he was cotemporary. For that prophet, when upbraiding the king of Tyre with his self-conceit and pride, asks, Art thou wiser than Daniel? And he mentions Daniel with Noah and Job, as persons who had greater power with God in prayer than any others of the human race: see Ezekiel 28:3; Ezekiel 14:14. Daniel, though probably younger than Ezekiel, yet appears to have begun to prophesy before him. It is likely he first resided in the court at Babylon, and afterward in those of Media and Persia.
Some of the later Jews have shown an inclination to exclude Daniel from the number of the prophets, and their rabbis have accordingly placed his book among the Hagiographa, or holy writings, and not among the books of the prophets. But their dislike to him has evidently proceeded only from hence, that his predictions are so clear and so express, respecting the time of the Messiah’s appearance, the character he should bear, the offices he should sustain, and the violent death he should suffer; and afford such evidence of the truth of Christianity, that they had no other way to avoid conviction than to deny the divine authority of the book from whence that evidence is drawn. But herein they contradict the sense of the more ancient Jews, and particularly of Josephus, who calls him one of the greatest of the prophets, and says that “he not only foretold future things, which was common to him with other prophets, but also fixed a time for their coming to pass.” Antiq., lib. 10. cap. 12. Our Saviour’s authority is decisive in this matter, expressly calling Daniel a prophet, Matthew 24:15; in doing which he likewise declared the sense of the Jews of that time; for, as he spoke the words in the hearing of the Jewish doctors, they certainly would have objected to Daniel’s authority, if they had not believed and allowed his divine inspiration. And if we consider the important subject of some of his prophecies, especially those respecting the Messiah, and the large extent of others of them, predicting the four great monarchies that should arise in succession, and even giving a prophetical history of the church and of the world to nearly the end of time, he may justly be reckoned among the greatest of prophets. As Daniel and St. John had both of them the honour and happiness of being persons greatly beloved of God, (compare Dan 10:11 with John 13:23,) so the latter, in his Revelation, doth little more (as Mr. Mede has observed) than distinctly unfold those events which the former foretels in general terms.
This book is written partly in the Hebrew, and partly in Chaldee; for which singular circumstance we may fairly account, without any imputation on the credit of the book, or the judgment of the author. He had been early taught the language of the Chaldeans, and from his long residence in the country, may be presumed to have been well acquainted with it. And many of the Jews also, during the time of the captivity, doubtless attained a considerable knowledge of that language; and especially those Jews would make it their business to learn it who did not incline to return with their brethren into Judea, but remained in Babylon. And his prophecies were undoubtedly designed for the benefit of all these Jews, and also of the Chaldeans themselves, whose annals might receive confirmation from his work, and be alleged as vouchers of its authenticity. “Now what could be more natural,” says Mr. Wintle, “than that an author, thus circumstanced, should contrive his work in a manner” which he judged would be “the most extensively useful; and with this view should compose a part of it in the language of the country wherein he dwelt, and the other part in the original language of the church of God?”
We learn from St. Jerome, that the famous Porphyry, who flourished in the latter end of the third century after Christ, and wrote fifteen books against the Christian religion, endeavoured in one of them to depreciate the prophecies of Daniel, affirming that the book in which they are contained was not composed by Daniel, whose name it bears, but by somebody who lived in Judea about the time of Antiochus Epiphanes; because all the prophecies which respected events to that time contained true history, but all beyond that were manifestly false. This work of Porphyry is wholly lost, excepting a few fragments and quotations that are preserved in St. Jerome and others of the fathers. But it was completely refuted by Eusebius, Appolinarius, and Methodius, in the answers they gave to it. And, as St. Jerome rightly observes, such a method of opposing the prophecies is the strongest testimony of their truth. For it shows they were fulfilled with such exactness, that to infidels the prophet seemed not to have foretold things future, but to have related things past. That Daniel’s prophecies were not written after the times of Antiochus Epiphanes, appears clearly from hence, that they were translated into Greek a hundred years before his times; and that the translation was in the hands of the Egyptians, who were neither friendly to the Jews nor their religion. Nay, the prophecies of Daniel, foretelling the great successes of Alexander, Daniel 8:5; Daniel 11:3, were shown to Alexander himself by the Jews, who thereupon obtained several privileges from him, as Josephus informs us, Antiq., lib. 2. cap. 8. “Indeed it may be proved, it hath been proved, to a demonstration,” says Bishop Newton, “as much as any thing of this nature can be proved to a demonstration, by all the characters and testimonies, both internal and external, that the prophecies of Daniel were written at the time that the Scripture says they were written.” Add to this, that this book of Daniel was one of the Jewish canon, and continually read in their synagogues; and indeed if it had not been in their canon, and received by them as one of their sacred books, it is impossible Josephus could have made so solemn an appeal to its authenticity as he has done. They who wish for further proof of the genuineness and divine inspiration of Daniel’s prophecies, may receive full satisfaction in Bishop Chandler’s Vindication of his Defence of Christianity, in which he has very largely and learnedly confuted every objection to them, and established upon the firmest foundation their truth and divine authority. The book of Daniel, says Mr. Locke, is divided into two parts; the former, containing the first six chapters, is historical, the latter is prophetical. His style, unlike that of the succeeding prophets, is plain and narrative; on which account, says Bishop Lowth, he is not to be numbered among the poetical writers of Scripture. Among the old prophets he is most distinct in order of time, and easiest to be understood; and therefore in those things which relate to the last times, he is a key to the rest. All his prophecies refer to each other, as if they were several parts or members of the same body. The first is the easiest to be understood; and every successive prophecy adds something new to that which precedes. He writes in Hebrew, where what he delivers is a bare narrative; but he relates in Chaldee the conversations which he had in this language with the wise men and the kings; and in the same language he reports Nebuchadnezzar’s edict, published by him after Daniel had interpreted his dream concerning the great golden image. This shows the great accuracy of our prophet, who relates the very words of those persons whom he introduces as speaking.
It is believed that Daniel died in Chaldea, and that he did not take the advantage of the permission granted by Cyrus to the Jews, of returning to their country: the great employments which he had possessed in the Persian empire probably detained him there. St. Epiphanius says he died at Babylon, and herein he is followed by the generality of historians. See Calmet’s Preface, Bishop Chandler’s Vindication, and Bishop Lowth’s twentieth Prelection.
the First Week of Advent