Because he transgresseth by wine - From the present translation, it is not easy to see either reason or meaning in the first clause of this verse. Newcome translates, "Moreover, as a mighty man transgresseth through wine, he is proud, and remaineth not at rest." Houbigant thus: "For he, though he be a despiser, and powerful, and proud, yet shall he not have rest."
Nebuchadnezzar is here represented in his usual character, proud, haughty, and ambitious; inebriated with his successes, and determined on more extensive conquests; and, like the grave, can never have enough: yet, after the subjugation of many peoples and nations, he shall be brought down, and become so despicable that he shall be a proverb of reproach, and be taunted and scorned by all those whom he had before enslaved.
And cannot be satisfied - When he has obtained all that is within his reach, he wishes for more; and becomes miserable, because any limits are opposed to his insatiable ambition. It is said of Alexander: -
Unus Pellaeo juveni non sufficit orbis;
Aestuat infelix angusto limite mundi.
Juv. Sat. 10:168.
One world sufficed not Alexander's mind;
Coop'd up, he seem'd on earth and seas confined.
And the poet justly ridicules him, because at last the sarcophagus was found too large for his body!
This general rule the prophet goes on to apply in words which belong in part to all oppressors and in the first instance to the Chaldaean, in part yet more fully to the end and to antichrist. “Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine” (or better, “Yea, how much more, since wine is a deceiver, as Solomon says, Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whosoever erreth thereby shall not be wise;” and Proverbs 23:32, “In the end it biteth like a serpent and pierceth like an adder;” and Hosea Hosea 4:11, “Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.” As wine at first gladdens, then deprives of all reason, and lays a man open to any deceit, so also pride. And whereas all pride deceives, how much more, when people are either heated and excited by the abuse of God‘s natural gifts, or drunken with prosperity and hurried away, as conquerors are, to all excess of cruelty or lust to fulfill their own will, and neglect the laws of God and man.
Literal drunkenness was a sin of the Babylonians under the Persian rule, so that even a pagan says of Babylon, “Nothing can be more corrupt than the manners of that city, and more provided with all to rouse and entice immoderate pleasures;” and “the Babylonians give themselves wholly to wine, and the things which follow upon drunkenness.” It was when flushed with wine, that Belshazzar, with his princes his wives and his concubines, desecrated the sacred vessels, insulted God in honor of his idols, and in the night of his excess “was slain.” Pride blinded, deceived, destroyed him. It was the general drunkenness of the inhabitants, at that same feast, which enabled Cyrus, with a handful of men, to penetrate, by means of its river, the city which, with its provisions for many years and its impregnable walls, mocked at his siege. He calculated beforehand on its feast and the consequent dissolution of its inhabitants; but for this, in the language of the pagan historian, he would have been caught “as in a trap,” his soldiery drowned.
He is a proud man, neither keepeth at home. - It is difficult to limit the force of the rare Hebrew word rendered “keep at home;” for one may cease to dwell or abide at home either with his will or without it; and, as in the case of invaders, the one may he the result of the other. He who would take away the home of others becomes, by God‘s Providence, himself homeless. The context implies that the primary meaning is the restlessness of ambition; which abides not at home, for his whole pleasure is to go forth to destroy. Yet there sounds, as it were, an undertone, “he would not abide in his home and he shall not.” We could scarcely avoid the further thought, could we translate by a word which does not determine the sense, “he will not home,” “he will not continue at home.” The words have seemed to different minds to mean either; as they may. Such fullness of meaning is the contrary of the ambiguity of pagan oracles; they are not alternative meanings, which might be justified in either case, but cumlative, the one on the other. The ambitious part with present rest for future loss. Nebuchadnezzar lost his kingdom and his reason through pride, received them back when he humbled himself; Belshazzar, being proud and impenitent, lost both his kingdom and life.
Who enlargeth his desire - literally, his soul. The soul becomes like what it loves. The ambitious man is, as we say, “all ambition;” the greedy man, “all appetite;” the cruel man, “all savagery;” the vain-glorious, “all vain glory.” The ruling passion absorbs the whole being. It is his end, the one object of his thoughts, hopes, fears. So, as we speak of “largeness of heart,” which can embrace in its affections all varieties of human interests, whatever affects man, and “largeness of mind” uncramped by narrowing prejudices, the prophet speaks of this “ambitious man widening his soul,” or, as we should speak, “appetite,” so that the whole world is not too large for him to long to grasp or to devour. So the Psalmist prays not to be delivered into the murderous desire of his enemies (Psalm 27:12; Compare Psalm 41:3 (Psalm 41:2 in English); Isaiah 5:14, “Hell hath enlarged her soul, and opened her mouth beyond measure.” It devours, as it were, first in its cravings, then in act.
As hell - which is insatiable Proverbs 30:15. He saith, “enlargeth”; for as hell and the grave are year by year fuller, yet there is no end, the desire “enlargeth” and becometh wider, the more is given to it to satisfy it.
And (he) is (himself) as death - osparing none. Our poetry would speak of a destroyer as being “like the angel of death;” his presence, as the presence of death itself. Where he is, there is death. He is as terrible and as destroying as the death which follows him.
And cannot be satisfied - Even human proverbs say (Juv. Sat. xiv. 139): “The love of money groweth as much as the money itself groweth.” “The avaricious is ever needy.” Ecclesiastes 5:10: “he that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver.” For these fleeting things cannot satisfy the undying soul. It must hunger still; for it has not found what will allay its cravings.
But gathereth - literally, “And hath gathered” - He describes it, for the rapidity with which he completes what he longs for, as though it were already done.
Unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people - One is still the subject of the prophecy, rising up at successive times, fulfilling it and passing away, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, Attila, Timur, Genghizchan, Hunneric, scourges of God, all deceived by pride, all sweeping the earth, all in their ambition and wickedness the unknowing agents and images of the evil One, who seeks to bring the whole world under his rule. But shall it prosper?