Children in whom was no blemish,.... Not mere children, but young men of fifteen or twenty years of age; about which age Daniel is by Aben Ezra supposed to be when he was carried captive; and less than this be cannot well be thought to be, since, in a few years after, he was put into posts of the greatest eminence and importance: such were ordered to be selected that had no deformity or defect in any parts of their body, or wanted any, as an eye, or a hand, &c.; or, "in whom was not anything"F8מאום "quidquam quod obstet", Gussetius. ; vicious or immoral, or scandalous in their character:
but well favoured; of a good complexion, a ruddy countenance, and a healthful look. So CurtiusF9Histor. l. 6. c. 5. says, that, in all barbarous or uncivilized countries, the stateliness and size of the body is had in great veneration; nor do they think any capable of great services or actions, to whom nature has not vouchsafed to give a beautiful form and aspect. And AristotleF11Politic. l. 4. c. 4. tom. 2. p. 224. says it was reported, that, in Ethiopia, civil offices of government or magistracy were distributed according to the bulk or beauty of men, the largeness and tallness of their bodies, or the comeliness of them; and not only among them, but this has always been the custom of the eastern nations, to choose such for their principal officers, or to wait on princes and great personages, and continues to this day. Sir Paul RicautF12Present State of the Ottoman Empire, B. 1. c. 5. p. 13. observes,
"that the youths that are designed for the great offices of the Turkish empire must be of admirable features and pleasing looks, well shaped in their bodies, and without any defects of nature; for it is conceived that a corrupt and sordid soul can scarce inhabit in a serene and ingenious aspect; and (says he) I have observed not only in the seraglio, but also in the courts of great men, their personal attendants have been of comely lusty youths well habited, deporting themselves with singular modesty and respect in the presence of their masters: so that when a pascha, aga, spahee, travels, he is always attended with a comely equipage, followed by flourishing youths, well clothed, and mounted in great numbers; that one may guess at the greatness of this empire by the retinue, pomp, and number of servants, which accompany persons of quality in their journeys.'
And no doubt Nebuchadnezzar had some of these ends in view, in ordering such persons to be selected and brought up at his expense; that they might be both for service and usefulness, and for his grandeur and glory.
And skilful in all wisdom: in the wisdom of the Jews, or had a liberal education according to the custom of their country; or were young men of good capacities, capable of being instructed, and of improving themselves in all kind of wisdom:
and cunning in knowledge; or "knowing knowledge"F13וידעי דעת "et scientes scientiam, Pagninus, Montanus, intelligentes scientiam", Calvin. ; having a large share of the knowledge of their own country, customs, and laws, civil and religious: and understanding science; the liberal arts and sciences; or however were persons of a good genius, and of retentive memories; young men of capacity, diligence, industry, and application, and of great docility, and so very promising to make great and useful men:
and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace; not only strength of body, which was requisite to a long waiting there, as sometimes they were obliged to do; but strength of mind, courage, and undauntedness, to stand before the king and his nobles, without showing a rustic fear, and timidity of mind:
and whom they might teach the learning and tongue of the Chaldeans; or, "the book and language of the Chaldeans"F14ספר ולשון "librum et linguam", Jo. Henr. Michaelis. ; book for books; such as contained their literature, history, and philosophy, mathematics, the knowledge of the stars, in which they excelled, as well as architecture and military skill; and it was necessary they should learn the Chaldean language, which differed from the Hebrew chiefly in dialect and pronunciation, that they might be able to read those books of science, and to speak with a good accent, and readily, before the king and his nobles; or rather the sense is, that they might understand the Chaldean language, the manner of reading, writing, and pronouncing it ספר, translated "learning", may signify the letters of the language, the Scripture or manner of writing, as Saadiah and Aben Ezra interpret it; which must be first learned in any language, in order to attain the knowledge of it; so it seems to be used in Isaiah 19:12. "I am not learned, or know not a book or letters" see John 7:15 and לשון, translated "tongue", may signify the rules, idioms, and properties of the language; the nature, genius, and dialect of it, and signification of the words and phrases used in it to be learned, so as to be thorough masters of it, understand it, speak it, and pronounce it well. But here a difficulty arises, since the form and character of the letters of the Chaldee and Hebrew languages now in use are the same; it may seem unnecessary that Hebrew youths should be put to school to learn the Chaldean letters and language, though the dialect and idioms of the two languages might in some things differ; but let it be observed, that it might be, and it is not improbable, that the letters of the Chaldean language were not the same then as they are now; and HottingerF15Smegma Oriental. l. 1. c. 3. p. 35. expressly says, that the ancient Chaldee character is not known; not to say anything of the difference of the Hebrew letters then from what they are now, which some have surmised: besides, it is a clear case that the Chaldee and Syriac languages are the same, as appears from Daniel 2:4, where the Chaldeans are said to speak to the king in Syriac; and yet, what follows is no other than Chaldee, their mother tongue, in which it was most proper and agreeable to speak to the king: and as it is the opinion of many learned men now that these languages are the same, so it was the sense of the ancient Jews. Says R. Samuel Bar NachmanF16Bereshit Rabba, sect. 74. fol. 65. 4. , let not the Syriac language be mean in thine eyes, or lightly esteemed by thee; for in the law, in the prophets, and in the Hagiographa, the holy blessed God has imparted honour to it; in the law, Genesis 31:47, in the prophets, Jeremiah 10:11, in the Hagiographa, Daniel 2:4 in all which places it is the Chaldee language that is used; and that which was spoken in Babylon, the head of the Chaldean empire, is called the Syriac; for Cyrus, when he took that city, ordered a proclamation to be made, by men skilled, συριστι, in the Syriac language, that the inhabitants should keep within doors, and that those that were found without should be slainF17Xenophon. Cyropaedia, l. 7. c. 23. ; which orders were published in that language, that they might be universally understood, being the language of the common people. So Herodotus, speaking of the Assyrians, saysF18Polymnia, sive l. 7. c. 63. , these by the Greeks are called Syrians, and by the barbarians Assyrians, among whom were the Chaldeans: and, as Strabo observesF19Geograph. I. 2. p. 58. , the same language or dialect was used by those without Euphrates, and by those within; that is, by the Syrians, strictly so called, and by the Babylonians or Chaldeans: and elsewhereF20Ibid. l. 16. p. 507. , the name of Syrians reached from Babylon to Sinus Issicus; and, formerly, from thence to the Euxine sea. Now it is certain that the form and character of the letters in the Syriac language are very different from the Hebrew, and difficult to be learned, and might be those which these Hebrew youths were to be taught at school, as well as the rudiments of it; and it is as evident that the language of the Jews, and that of the Syrians, Chaldeans, and Babylonians, were so different, that the common people of the former did not understand the language of the latter when spoke, as appears from 2 Kings 18:26 so that there was an apparent necessity for the one to be taught the language of the other, in order to understand it.