free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
by Thomas Coke
THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET DANIEL.
I.—AS to the Author: Daniel was of the tribe of of Judah; and of very illustrious, if not of royal descent. Josephus favours the latter opinion, and 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 by Nebuzar-adan, the commander in chief of the Chaldean forces. At the beginning of the captivity he was carried away to Babylon, and was probably at that time not more than eighteen years of age. He was possessed of extraordinary endowments both of body and mind. The comeliness and strength of his person recommended him to the particular notice of the chief chamberlain among the Babylonians; and these qualities were increased by his habitual temperance and abstinence, under the peculiar blessing of God, insomuch that his figure was one of the most graceful of all that were appointed for the immediate attendance on king Nebuchadnezzar.
But still the strength and habits of the mind must form the character; and these in Daniel were of a very superior cast, whether considered as the gifts of nature or of grace, or the acquisitions of well-applied industry. An excellent spirit was in him, which directed him to all the proper means of knowledge, and the right improvement of them; so that he became master of all the literature of the Chaldeans, and was ten times superior to all the Magi or wise men of the East. He was not only renowned for secular wisdom, but peculiarly favoured with divine illuminations; had most extraordinary insight into visions, and discernment in the interpretation of dreams. Qualified with these abilities he was admitted to the special favour of several very powerful monarchs, of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus: and hence he is presumed not only to have resided in the court at Babylon, but occasionally also in those of Media and Persia; thus finely illustrating that judicious aphorism of Solomon, Proverbs 22:29.
Seest thou a man ready at dispatch in his business, He shall be placed before kings, he shall not be placed before the obscure.
Nor was he less distinguished for his virtues and graces, than for the extensive improvement of his understanding. His meekness, humility, and disinterestedness, his attachment to his friends, and ardent affection for his country, his fortitude in speaking the truth to kings, and the dexterity of his address in offering it in the most courteous and pleasing manner, are traits that are discernible upon the first attention to his character. But above all, his eminent piety, like an illustrious radiance, strikes through the whole of his book: and we need not wonder that he should be such an especial favourite of Heaven, who is every where and at all times solicitous to display his gratitude to the God of heaven, and to aspire constantly to the due acknowledgment of that universal Power, whose will is guided by the most bounteous beneficence, and exercised in the most diffusive manifestations of transcendent mercy.
The Scripture has given us but a short and unconnected account of this excellent man; but short and scattered as it is, we find in it some of the strongest lineaments of real character, and the most beautiful marks of finished life. And in particular his great wisdom and exemplary piety are celebrated by his fellow-captive Ezekiel (ch. Ezekiel 14:14; Ezekiel 28:3.) in that simple but bold energy of expression, which characterises the style of that ardent writer. Daniel lived to a good old age, to see the restoration of his captive brethren, and to enjoy the favour of that monarch who restored them to their beloved Zion. Some think that he returned with them to Jerusalem, but neither Ezra nor Nehemiah mention this circumstance, so that the opinion of Josephus is more probable, that he died among the Medes. Such is the example which the Scriptures afford us in the life of this holy man; his character as a prophet will fall more properly under the next point of discussion.
II.—His Book: It is a singular circumstance, that the language of this is of two distinct kinds; which, however, may fairly be accounted for without any imputation on the credit of the book, or the judgment of the author. The people of the Jews, during the time of the captivity, had in a great measure been compelled to a conformity with the manners and customs of Babylon: not only the proper names of several of their most eminent persons were altered, but their language had received into it many new words from the Chaldean; even their letters were changed, and the Chaldee character assumed in their stead. The prophet Daniel had been early taught the language of the Chaldeans, and from a long residence in the country may be presumed to have been well acquainted with it; his book also seems to have been designed not only for the Jews who returned from the captivity, but for those either Jews or Israelites who remained at Babylon, and not without regard to the benefit 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 than that an author thus circumstanced should contrive his work in a manner the most extensively useful; and with this view should compose a part of it in the language of that country wherein he dwelt, and whose character he used, and the other part in the original language of the church of God.
The substance or matter contained in this book has been commonly divided into two classes; the historical in the six former chapters, and the prophetical in the six latter. Not but that there are visions or predictions in the historical part; yet these were not offered to Daniel, but to other persons, the circumstances of which he has recorded.
The well-known objections of Porphyry from the clearness, exact agreement with their completion, and such like peculiar marks of full evidence in these predictions, have been long since refuted by Eusebius, Jerom, and other writers; and however they may have been revived by modern Jews and Infidels in similar forms, and with as deeply rooted prejudices, yet it surely must be an argument of a temper strongly disposed to contention and cavil, to presume that those Scriptures were written after the events which they record, because the Holy Spirit of God had vouchsafed to point them out in so minute a manner. He, to whom all his works are known from the foundation of the world, could certainly foresee every contingency, and foretel every circumstance which would concur in their accomplishment.
Besides, this book in its present form was received into the canon of Scripture most probably from the earliest times; according to Josephus was exhibited to Alexander, in part at least, within 200 years after the death of Daniel; and, together with the other Scriptures, was translated by the LXX many years before the days of Antiochus; which translation was well known in the age of Jerom, and referred to by him, although not come down to us. For as to the edition lately published from a MS. in the
Chigian Library at Rome, though it contains much useful information, yet it has often such evident marks of a paraphrase or other similar production, that it cannot claim the least pretension to a pure and unadulterated translation of the first authority. Since the times of Antiochus, as has been justly observed, it is impossible that such a work as this of Daniel could have been forged. Such a supposition cannot be entertained without the most palpable violation of the faith of history, and without the maintenance of such principles as would equally militate against the whole code of the Old Testament. We must therefore receive the whole book as it now stands, according to the general sense of Jews and Christians, according to the express words of Josephus, who asserts it to be of divine authority, and according to the language of our Blessed Saviour himself, who cites the book of Daniel, and expressly calls the author of it a prophet, (Mark 13:14.)
And if we reflect on the nature of his predictions we shall certainly be inclined to consider him as of the first rank among the prophets. The revelations of this prophetical part are only four, all of which were communicated to Daniel himself, with such an attention to the minuter circumstances or punctualities of place and time, as no other prophet had been favoured with. The former of these is indeed of a more general nature, and being a sort of epitome of the others, and written in Chaldee, may be presumed to have been designed for more general benefit; the second appears to be confined to the Persian and Grecian empires, yet with a distant respect to subsequent matters in later times. The third at chap. 9: is intended chiefly to typify and point out the coming of the Messiah, and its attendant circumstances; part of which Josephus himself applies to the times of the Romans: and the last seems to unfold some of the most distinguishing scenes relating to the church of God, from the full restoration of the Jews after the captivity to the final determination of all things. Thus is the chronological order properly observed in this arrangement; and the whole may be considered as one comprehensive view of things,* worthy the Divine interference, confirmed by the writings of the New Testament, to which the history of God's church has afforded an evident illustration from the commencement of the predictions to the present period, and which we doubt not will receive their finishing completion at that awful crisis, when we shall all, together with the prophet, stand up for the award of our decisive lot at the end of time.
* The prophesies of Daniel are all of them related to one another, as if they were but several parts of one general prophesy, given at several times: every following prophesy adds something new to the former. Sir Is. Newton's Observations on Daniel, p. i. c. 3.
It must be confessed, that in some of these predictions there is an apparent obscurity; but perhaps not greater than in those of other prophets, which look forward to distant and different periods of accomplishment. In all real prophesies the power and attributes of God are so far at least concerned as to be engaged for their truth, or, in other words, they must be true. The light, however, which we now enjoy is progressive and gradually advancing; many of the mists of ignorance and error are already dispersed. It is probable that they will, under the blessing of God, yield more and more to diligent and rational inquiry, that through the exertions of successive labourers new manifestations will continue to be disclosed, and hidden mysteries unfolded.—To say nothing of the rest, the revelation in ch. 9 evidently relates to two very distinguished events, two grand deliverances or redemptions, the one typical of the other. The latter of these had long before appeared to Abraham in the eye of faith, who rejoiced to see the day of its author; and therefore we have the less reason to wonder that Daniel was enabled to calculate the time of his coming. Certain it is, that it was the same Divine Spirit that illumined all the ancient prophets, that spake in times past to the fathers by them all: his communications were made to them at sundry times and in divers manners: but all were united and linked together in one great chain, swelling and enlarging as it approached to its end. The prophesies of Daniel had a very considerable share in this august series, with which the religion of Christ was fundamentally connected, and by the contemplation of which it is still maintained and established. The whole arrangement led on to the Messiah, and in him it finally terminates; so that we have every reason to conclude with the divine author of the Apocalypse, that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophesy.
the First Week of Advent