*Minor differences ignored. Grouped by changes, with first version listed as example.
First, with respect to these names we need not trouble ourselves much, since even the Jews themselves are compelled to guess at them. They are very bold in their definitions and rash in their affirmations, and jet they cannot clearly distinguish how one kind of wise man differed from the others; hence it is sufficient for us to hold that the discourse now concerns those then esteemed "wise men," under the various designations of Magi, Soothsayers, and Astrologers. Now, as to Daniel's answer. He says it was not surprising that the king did not find what he hoped for among the Magi, since God had breathed into him this dream beyond the comprehension of human intellect. I know not whether those interpreters are right who think magical arts here simply condemned; for I rather think a comparison is instituted; between the king's dream and the substance of the science of the Magi. I always exclude superstitions by which they vitiated true and genuine science. But as far as the principles are concerned, we cannot precisely condemn astronomy and whatever belongs to the consideration of the order of nature. This appears to me the whole intention, -- the king's dream was not subjected to human knowledge, for mortals have no such natural skill as to be able to comprehend the meaning of the dream, and God manifests those secrets which need the peculiar revelation of the Spirit. When Daniel says the Magi, Astrologers, and the rest cannot explain to the king his dream, and are not suitable interpreters of it, the true reason is, because the dream was not natural and had nothing in common with human conjectures, but was the peculiar revelation of the Spirit. As when Paul disputes concerning the Gospel, he collects into order every kind of intelligence among men, because those who are endued with any remarkable acuteness or ability think they can accomplish anything. But the doctrine of the Gospel is a heavenly mystery (1-Corinthians 2:4) which cannot be comprehended by the most learned and talented among men. The real sense of Daniel's words is this, -- the Magi, Astrologers, and Soothsayers had no power of expounding the king's dream, since it was neither natural nor human. This is clearly evident from the context, because he adds, There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets For I take vrm, berem, here for the adversative particle. He opposes therefore the revelation of God to the conjectures and interpretations of the Magi, since all human sciences are included, so to speak, within their own bounds and bolts. Daniel, therefore, says that the matter requires the singular gift of the Holy Spirit. The same God also who revealed the king's dream to Daniel, distributes to each of us ability and skill according to his own pleasure. Whence does it arise that some are remarkable for quickness and others for stupidity and sloth? -- that some become proficients in human arts and learning, and others remain utterly ignorant, unless God shews, by this variety, how by his power and will the minds of men become enlightened or remain blunt and stupid? As the Almighty is the supreme origin of all intelligence in the world, What Daniel here says is not generally true; and this contrast, unless we come to particulars, is either cold or superfluous. We understand, therefore, why he said in the former verse that the Magi and Astrologers could not explain the king's dream, since the Almighty had raised King Nebuchadnezzar above the common level for the purpose of explaining futurity to him through his dream. There is then a God in heaven who reveals secrets; he shews to king Nebuchadnezzar what will come to pass. He confirms what I have said, that the king was utterly unable to comprehend the meaning of his own dream. It often happens that men's minds move hither and thither, and thus make clever guesses; but Daniel excludes all human media, and speaks of the dream as proceeding directly from God. He adds, what shall happen at the end or extremity of the days We may inquire what he means by the word "extremity." Interpreters think this ought to be referred to the advent of Christ; but they do not explain why this word signifies Christ's advent. There is no obscurity in the phrase; "the end of the days" signifies the advent of Christ, because it was a kind of renewal to the world. Most. truly, indeed, the world is still in the same state of agitation as it was when Christ was manifest in the flesh; but, as we shall afterwards see, Christ came for the very purpose of renovating the world, and since his Gospel is a kind of perfection of all things, we are said to be "in the last days." Daniel compares the whole period preceding Christ's advent with this extremity of the days. God therefore wished to shew the king of Babylon what should occur after one monarchy had destroyed another, and also that there should be an end of those changes whenever Christ's kingdom should arrive. At present I touch but briefly on this point, since more must; be said upon it by and bye. This, says he, is the dream and vision of thy head upon thy couch It may seem absurd for Daniel here to profess to explain to the king the nature of his dream and its interpretation, and yet to put in something else. But, as he will add nothing out of place, we ought not to question the propriety of his saying, this was the king's vision and his dream; for his object was to rouse the king the more urgently to attend to both the dream and its interpretation. Here we must; take notice how the Prophet persists in this, with the view of persuading the king that God was the author of the dream about. which he inquired of Daniel; for the words would be entirely thrown away unless men were thoroughly persuaded that the explanation given proceeded from God. For many in the present day will hear willingly enough what may be said about the Gospel, but they are not inwardly touched by it, and then all they hear vanishes away and immediately escapes them. Hence reverence is the principle of true and solid understanding. Thus Daniel does not abruptly bring forward either the explanation or the narration of the dream, but prepares the proud king to listen, by shewing him that he neither dreamt at, random nor in accordance with his own thoughts, but was divinely instructed and admonished concerning hidden events. It now follows,-
Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, The secret which the king hath demanded, cannot the wise men show unto the king - Daniel regarded it as a settled and indisputable point that the solution could not be hoped for from the Chaldean sages. The highest talent which the realm could furnish had been applied to, and had failed. It was clear, therefore, that there was no hope that the difficulty would be removed by human skill. Besides this, Daniel would seem also to intimate that the thing, from the necessity of the case, was beyond the compass of the human powers. Alike in reference to the question whether a forgotten dream could be recalled, and to the actual "signification" of a dream so remarkable as this, the whole matter was beyond the ability of man.
The wise men, the astrologers - On these words, see the notes at Daniel 1:20. All these words occur in that verse, except גזרין gâzerı̂yn - rendered "soothsayers." This is derived from גזר gezar - "to cut, to cut off;" and then "to decide, to determine;" and it is thus applied to those who decide or determine the fates or destiny of men; that is, those who "by casting nativities from the place of the stars at one's birth, and by various arts of computing and divining, foretold the fortunes and destinies of individuals." See Gesenius, "Com. z. Isaiah." 2:349-356, Section 4, Von den Chaldern und deren Astrologie. On p. 555, he has given a figure, showing how the heavens were "cut up," or "divided," by astrologers in the practice of their art. Compare the phrase numeri Babylonii, in Hor. "Carm." I. xi. 2. The Greek is γαζαρηνῶν gazarēnōn - the Chaldee word in Greek letters. This is one of the words - not very few in number - which the authors of the Greek version did not attempt to translate. Such words, however, are not useless, as they serve to throw light on the question how the Hebrew and Chaldee were pronounced before the vowel points were affixed to those languages.
Cannot the wise men - Cannot your own able men, aided by your gods, tell you the secret? This question was necessary in order that the king might see the foolishness of depending on the one, or worshipping the other.
The soothsayers - One of our old words: "The tellers of truth:" but גזרין gazerin is the name of another class of those curious artists, unless we suppose it to mean the same as the Chaldeans, Daniel 2:2. They are supposed to be persons who divined by numbers, amulets, etc. There are many conjectures about them, which, whatever learning they show, cast little light upon this place.
Daniel answered in the presence of the king,.... Boldly, and without fear:
and said, the secret which the king hath demanded: so he calls it, to show that it was something divine, which came from God, and could only be revealed by him, and was not to be found out by any art of man:
cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers show unto the king; this he premises to the revelation of the secret, not only to observe the unreasonableness of the king's demand upon them, and the injustice of putting men to death for it; but that the discovery of the whole might appear to be truly divine, and God might have all the glory; it being what no class of men whatever could ever have made known unto him. The last word, rendered "soothsayers" (u), is not used before; the Septuagint version leaves it untranslated, and calls them Gazarenes; and so Saadiah says, it is the name of a nation or people so called; but Jarchi takes them to be a sort of men that had confederacy with devils: the word signifies such that "cut" into parts, as the soothsayers, who cut up creatures, and looked into their entrails, and by them made their judgment of events; or as the astrologers, who cut and divide the heavens into parts, and by them divide future things; or determine, as Jacchiades says, what shall befall men; for the word is used also in the sense of determining or decreeing; hence, Saadiah says, some interpret it of princes, who by their words determine the affairs of kingdoms: by some it is rendered "fatalists" (w), who declare to men what their fate will be; but neither of these could show this secret to the king.
(u) sectores, Cocceius, Gejerus. (w) "Fatidici", Munster, Tigurine version; "qui de homine determinant hoc, vel illo modo ipsi eventurum esse", Jacchiades.
cannot--Daniel, being learned in all the lore of the Chaldeans (Daniel 1:4), could authoritatively declare the impossibility of mere man solving the king's difficulty.
soothsayers--from a root, "to cut off"; referring to their cutting the heavens into divisions, and so guessing at men's destinies from the place of the stars at one's birth.
*More commentary available at chapter level.