5. And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said, Arise, devour much flesh.
5. Et ecce bellua, bestia, posterior altera 1 similis urso (inquit) et surrexit ad latus unum: et tres costae in ore ejus inter dentes ejus: et sic dicebant ei, 2 Surge, comede carnem multam.
Here the Prophet. proclaims how he was instructed by a dream concerning the second beast. If we will only judge by the event, this beast doubtless represented the kingdom of the Medes and Persians, although the Prophet specifies the Persians, as the Medes had long ago submitted to their yoke. Behold, says he, another beast like a bear. We know a bear to be a mean and foul animal, slothful and inert, as well as cruel. In comparing the bear with the lion, its appearance is foul and displeasing, while the lion is remarkable for beauty, although it is formidable. He compares the Persians to a bear, on account of their barbarity, since we have already pronounced that nation fierce and savage. Then, again, the Persians were not civilized like the Assyrians and Chaldeans, who dwelt in the most beautiful region in the whole world, and in a most lovely country like a most noble theater; but the Persians lay hid like wild beasts in their caves. They dwelt among their mountains, and lived like the brutes. Hence the Prophet compares them very appositely to a bear; nay, God showed this form to his Prophet. He afterwards adds, It stood on one side. Some think this to have been added to express the more contracted dominion of the Medes and Persians, but this opinion is unsuitable. We know how extensive was the sway of the Medes before they came under the power of Cyrus and the Persians. By themselves the Medes were most powerful; then the Persians were added, and afterwards Cyrus seized upon the possessions of the Chaldean monarchy. He possessed even the keys of Egypt, reigned in Syria, held Judea, and extended beyond the sea, till at length he was conquered by the Scythians. When, therefore, it is said, he stood on one side, the obscure origin of his kingdom is intended, for the fame of the Persians was included within their mountains until Cyrus acquired for them a name by his exploits. For he was a brave warrior, and deservedly eclipsed the glory of all others. Hence, at first this beast stood on one side; that is, the Persians were without fame or reputation; they had no wealth, and never emerged from their lurking-places. We see how this particular is restricted to their origin in consequence of its obscurity.
The Prophet then adds: Three ribs were in the beast's mouth between its teeth; and it was thus proclaimed, Arise, eat much flesh! Those who understand three definite kingdoms by the three ribs, seem to refine far too minutely. I think the number indefinite, because this beast had bitten by its mouth not one rib but more; because the Persians, as we have said, drew to themselves the power of the Medes, and afterwards subdued the Assyrians and Chaldeans, and Cyrus also subdued many nations, until all Asia Minor acknowledged his authority. When, therefore, the Prophet speaks of three ribs, it implies the insatiable nature of this beast, since it was not content with a single body, but devoured many men together. For, by "many ribs," he meant much prey. This is the whole sense. I do not hesitate to explain the following words, it was said to the beast, of angels, or of God himself. Some prefer to understand this of the stimulus by which Cyrus was instigated to cruelty. But since God exhibits to his Prophet the image of his Providence, what I have lately suggested becomes very probable:. namely, it was said to the beast, Arise, eat much flesh; not; because God was the author of cruelty, but since He governs by His secret counsel the events which men carry on without method, His authority is here deservedly placed be/ore our eyes; for Cyrus would not have penetrated so swiftly into different regions, and have drawn to himself so many empires, and subjugated so many powerful nations, had not God wished to punish the world, and had made Cyrus the instrument of slaughter. As therefore Cyrus executed God's vengeance by shedding so much human blood, the Prophet declares it to have been said to him, Arise, and eat flesh. In one respect God was not pleased by the slaughter of so many nations by Cyrus, and by the increase of one man's power and tyranny through so much human bloodshed; but in another respect God is said to have commanded the conduct of Cyrus, since he wished to punish the world for its ingratitude, to which the most desperate obstinacy and rebellion were added. There was no remedy for these vices; hence God entrusted Cyrus with the duty of executing His judgment,. I am compelled to stop here.
Grant, Almighty God, since thou exposest us to various distresses in this world, for the purpose of exercising our faith and patience: Grant, I say, that we may remain tranquil in our station, through reliance on thy promises. When storms gather around us on all sides, may we never fall away and never despond in our courage, but persevere in our calling. Whatever may happen, may we recognize thee as carrying on the government of the world, not only to punish the ingratitude of the reprobate, but to retain thine own people in thy faith and protection, and preserve them to the end. May we bear patiently whatever changes may happen to us and may we never be disturbed or distressed in our minds, till at length we are gathered into that happy rest, where we shall be free from all warfare and all contests, and enjoy that eternal blessness which thou hast prepared for us in thine only begotten Son. -- Amen.
Lecture Thirty Third.