The Persian power, prefigured by the silver shoulders, the bear and the ram, was indeed nigh. The ram had two horns, because two nations were joined together, the Medes, who had revolted from Nineveh, and the Persians. The Medes lived in the slopes towards the Tigris, and had learnt to be luxurious and indolent from their Assyrian neighbours; but the Persians, who lived in the mountains to the eastward, were much more spirited and simpler, and purer in life. They are thought to be sons of Japhet, and their religion had not lost all remains of truth, for they believed in but one God, and had no idols, except that they adored the sun as the emblem of divine power, and kept horses in his honour, because they thought he drove his car of light round the sky. They worshipped fire likewise as the sign of the light-giving and consuming Godhead; and this notion is not entirely gone yet, so that there are many Parsees, or fireworshippers, still in the East. Their priests were called Magi, and their faith was therefore termed Magian. Though it went astray in adoring these created things, yet it did not teach wickedness, as did the religions of the sons of Ham; and the Persians were a brave, upright race, who loved hardy, simple ways, and said the chief things their sons ought to learn were, to ride, to draw the bow, and speak the truth.
Cyrus was the son of a Persian king and Median princess, and had been so well brought up at home, that when as a little boy he visited his grandfather at Echatana, in Media, he was very much shocked to see the court drinking to intoxication, and said wine must be poison, since it made people lose their senses; and he was much puzzled by the hosts of slaves who would not let people do anything for themselves. He thought only those who were old and helpless could like being waited on, and he kept these hardy, simple ways, even after he was a great king over both nations.
When he was about forty years old one of the kings in Asia Minor made war on him, and he not only overthrew this monarch, but won that whole country, which was kept by the Persians for many years. Afterwards, in the year 540, he marched against Assyria, which had insulted him in the time of Evil-Merodach. He beat Belshazzar in battle, and then besieged him in his city; but the Babylonians had no fears; they trusted to their walls and brazen gates, and knew that he could not starve them out, as they had so much corn growing within the walls. For two years they remained in security, and laughed at the Persian army outside; but at last Cyrus devised a new plan, and set his men to dig trenches to draw off the water of the Euphrates, and leave the bed of the river dry. Still there were the great gates upon the river, which he expected to have to break down; but on the very day his trenches were ready, Belshazzar was giving a great feast in his palace, and drinking wine out of the golden vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had brought from the Temple.
Full in the midst of his revelry appeared a strange sight. Near the seven-branched Candlestick that once had burnt in the Holy Place, came forth a bodiless hand, and the fingers wrote upon the wall in characters such as no man knew. The hearts of the revellers failed them for fear, and the king's knees smote together! Then Nitocris, his mother, a brave and wise woman, bethought her of all that Daniel had done in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, and at her advice he was called for. He knew the words; they were in the Hebrew tongue, the language of his own Scriptures, the same in which the Finger of God revealed the Commandments. He read them, and they signified, "God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting. Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians!"
At that moment Cyrus and his Persians were entering by the river gates, which had been left open in that time of careless festivity. One end of the city knew not that the other was taken; and ere the night was past Belshazzar lay dead in his palace, and the Assyrian empire was over for ever.
It was 170 years since, by the mouth of Isaiah, God had called Cyrus by name, had said He would give the nations as dust to his sword, and stubble to his bow; had said of him that he was His anointed and His shepherd, and that he would build up the Holy City and Temple, and let the captives go free without money or price. Moreover, it was seventy years since Daniel himself had been carried away from the pleasant land, and well had he counted the weary days prophesied of by Jeremiah; till now he hoped the time was come, and most earnestly did he pray, looking towards Jerusalem, as Solomon had entreated, when his people should turn to God in the land of their captivity, pleading God's goodness and mercy, though owning that Judah had done wickedly. Even while he was yet speaking came the answer by the mouth of the Angel Gabriel; and not only was it the present deliverance that it announced, but that from the building of the street and wall in troublous times, seventy weeks of years were appointed to bring the Anointed, so long promised, the real Deliverer.
Daniel's prayers had won, and in the first year of Cyrus, 536, forth went the joyful decree that Judah should return, build up the city and Temple, and receive back their sacred vessels and treasure from the king, to aid them in their work. Daniel being nearly ninety years old, did not go with them, but remained to protect them at the court of Babylon. Cyrus set up his uncle, who is commonly called Darius, to be king in Babylon, while he returned to Persia; and Daniel, though so old a man, was made one of the chief rulers under him, one of the three presidents over the hundred and twenty satraps or princes over the provinces of the great Persian empire. The envy of the Medes caused them to persuade Darius by foolish flattery to say that whoever for a month should make request of god or man, save of the king, should be cast into a den of lions, and Daniel, who was not likely in his old age to cease from prayer to his God for any terror of man, endured the penalty, much against the king's will; but only that again God's power might be known among the heathen, and His glory proclaimed by the shutting the mouths of the hungry lions. About the same time he seems to have shown Darius, who, though not an idolater himself, was puzzled by seeing that the victuals daily spread on Bel's golden table always disappeared, that after all, the idol was not the consumer. He spread ashes on the floor at night, and in the morning showed the king the tell-tale footmarks of men, women, and children, the priests and their families, the true devourers of the feast. No wonder that after this, the Persians ruined the Temple of Bel, while decay began in Babylon, and the river never being turned back into its proper bed, spread into unwholesome marshes. Daniel, when at Susa, a Median city on the river Ulai, beheld his last vision, when the Angel Gabriel prophesied to him in detail all the wars of the Persians, and afterwards of the Greek kings of Egypt and Syria, who should make Judea their battlefield, and the afflictions of the Jews under the great Syrian persecutor. He ended with a sure promise to Daniel himself, that he should "stand in his lot" when the end of all things should come; and some time after this blessed assurance, died this "man greatly beloved," a prince, a slave, an exile, and a statesman, perhaps the most wonderful of all the sons of David, except the great Anointed One of whom he spoke. His tomb is still deeply reverenced, and no one is allowed to fish near the part of the river where he is said to have seen his vision.
Cyrus died about seven years after Daniel, much loved by his people, who, for many years, would not believe him dead, but trusted he would yet return to rule over them.