This vision is dated in the third year of Cyrus, that is, of his reign after the conquest of Babylon, his third year since Daniel became acquainted with him and a subject to him. Here is,
I. A general idea of this prophecy (Dan. 10:1): The thing was true; every word of God is so; it was true that Daniel had such a vision, and that such and such things were said. This he solemnly attests upon the word of a prophet. Et hoc paratus est verificare—He was prepared to verify it; and, if it was a word spoken from heaven, no doubt it is stedfast and may be depended upon. But the time appointed was long, as long as to the end of the reign of Antiochus, which was 300 years, a long time indeed when it is looked upon as to come. Nay, and because it is usual with the prophets to glance at things spiritual and eternal, there is that in this prophecy which looks in type as far forward as to the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead; and then he might well say, The time appointed was long. It was, however, made as plain to him as if it had been a history rather than a prophecy; he understood the thing; so distinctly was it delivered to him, and received by him, that he could say he had understanding of the vision. It did not so much operate upon his fancy as upon his understanding.
II. An account of Daniel’s mortification of himself before he had this vision, not in expectation of it, nor, when he prayed that solemn prayer Dan. 9:1-27, does it appear that he had any expectation of the vision in answer to it, but purely from a principle of devotion and pious sympathy with the afflicted people of God. He was mourning full three weeks (Dan. 10:2), for his own sins and the sins of his people, and their sorrows. Some think that the particular occasion of his mourning was slothfulness and indifference of many of the Jews, who, though they had liberty to return to their own land, continued still in the land of their captivity, not knowing how to value the privileges offered them; and perhaps it troubled him the more because those that did so justified themselves by the example of Daniel, though they had not that reason to stay behind which he had. Others think that it was because he heard of the obstruction given to the building of the temple by the enemies of the Jews, who hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose (Ezra 4:4, 5), all the days of Cyrus, and gained their point from his son Cambyses, or Artaxerxes, who governed while Cyrus was absent in the Scythian war. Note, Good men cannot but mourn to see how slowly the work of God goes on in the world and what opposition it meets with, how weak its friends are and how active its enemies. During the days of Daniel’s mourning he ate no pleasant bread; he could not live without meat, but he ate little, and very sparingly, and mortified himself in the quality as well as the quantity of what he ate, which may truly be reckoned fasting, and a token of humiliation and sorrow. He did not eat the pleasant bread he used to eat, but that which was course and unpalatable, which he would not be tempted to eat any more of than was just necessary to support nature. As ornaments, so delicacies, are very disagreeable to a day of humiliation. Daniel ate no flesh, drank no wine, nor anointed himself, for those three week’s time, Dan. 10:3. Though he was now a very old man, and might plead that the decay of his nature required what was nourishing, though he was a very great man, and might plead that, being used to dainty meats, he could not do without them, it would prejudice his health if he were, yet, when it was both to testify and to assist his devotion, he could thus deny himself; let this be noted to the shame of many young people in the common ranks of life who cannot persuade themselves thus to deny themselves.
III. A description of that glorious person whom Daniel saw in vision, which, it is generally agreed, could be no other that Christ himself, the eternal Word. He was by the side of the river Hiddekel (Dan. 10:4), probably walking there, not for diversion, but devotion and contemplation, as Isaac walked in the field, to meditate; and, being a person of distinction, he had his servants attending him at some distance. There he looked up, and saw one man Christ Jesus. It must be he, for he appears in the same resemblance wherein he appeared to St. John in the isle of Patmos, Rev. 1:13-15. His dress was priestly, for he is the high priest of our profession, clothed in linen, as the high priest himself was on the day of atonement, that great day; his loins were girded (in St. John’s vision his paps were girded) with a golden girdle of the finest gold, that of Uphaz, for every thing about Christ is the best in its kind. The girding of the loins denotes his ready and diligent application to his work, as his Father’s servant, in the business of our redemption. His shape was amiable, his body like the beryl, a precious stone of a sky-colour. His countenance was awful, and enough to strike a terror on the beholders, for his face was as the appearance of lightning, which dazzles the eyes, both brightens and threatens. His eyes were bright and sparkling, as lamps of fire. His arms and feet shone like polished brass, Dan. 10:6. His voice was loud, and strong, and very piercing, like the voice of a multitude. The vox Dei—voice of God can overpower the vox populi—voice of the people. Thus glorious did Christ appear, and it should engage us, 1. To think highly and honourably of him. Now consider how great this man is, and in all things let him have the pre-eminence. 2. To admire his condescension for us and our salvation. Over all this splendour he drew a veil when he took upon him the form of a servant, and emptied himself.
IV. The wonderful influence that this appearance had upon Daniel and his attendants, and the terror that it struck upon him and them.
1. His attendants saw not the vision; it was not fit that they should be honoured with the sight of it. There is a divine revelation vouchsafed to all, from converse with which none are excluded who do not exclude themselves; but such a vision must be peculiar to Daniel, who was a favourite. Paul’s companions were aware of the light, but saw no man, Acts 9:7; 22:9. Note, It is the honour of those who are beloved of God that, what is hidden from others, is known to them. Christ manifests himself to them, but not to the world, John 14:22. But, though they saw not the vision, they were seized with an unaccountable trembling; either from the voice they heard, or from some strange concussion or vibration of the air they felt, so it was that a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves, probably among the willows that grew by the river’s side. Note, Many have a spirit of bondage to fear who never receive a spirit of adoption, to whom Christ has been, and will be, never otherwise than a terror. Now the fright that Daniel’s attendants were in is a confirmation of the truth of the vision; it could not be Daniel’s fancy, or the product of a heated imagination of his own, or it had a real, powerful, and strange effect upon those about him.
2. He himself saw it, and saw it alone, but he was not able to bear the sight of it. It not only dazzled his eyes, but overwhelmed his spirit, so that there remained no strength in him, Dan. 10:8. He said, as Moses himself, I exceedingly fear and quake. His spirits were all so employed, either in an intense speculation of the glory of this vision or in the fortifying of his heart against the terror of it, that his body was left in a manner lifeless and spiritless. He had no vigour in him, and was but one remove from a dead carcase; he looked as pale as death, his colour was gone, his comeliness in him was turned into corruption, and he retained no strength. Note, the greatest and best of men cannot bear the immediate discoveries of the divine glory; no man can see it and live; it is next to death to see a glimpse of it, as Daniel here; but glorified saints see Christ as he is and can bear the sight. But, though Daniel was thus dispirited with the vision of Christ, yet he heard the voice of his words and knew what he said. Note, We must take heed lest our reverence of God’s glory, by which we should be awakened to hear his voice both in his word and in his providence, should degenerate into such a dread of him as will disable or indispose us to hear it. It should seem that when the vision of Christ terrified Daniel the voice of his words soon pacified and composed him, silenced his fear, and laid him to sleep in a holy security and serenity of mind: When I heard the voice of his words I fell into a slumber, a sweet slumber, on my face, and my face towards the ground. When he saw the vision he threw himself prostrate, into a posture of the most humble adoration, and dropped asleep, not as careless of what he heard and saw, but charmed with it. Note, How dreadful soever Christ may appear to those who are under convictions of sin, and in terror by reason of it, there is enough in his word to quiet their spirits and make them easy, if they will but attend to it and apply it.