by Milton Spenser Terry
Principles Illustrated by Daniel’s Double Revelation of Empires
All interpreters agree that the empires or world powers denoted by the various parts of the great image in Dan. 2:31–45 and by the four beasts from the sea (Dan. 7) are the same. The prophecy is repeated under different symbols, but the interpretation is one. This double revelation, then, will be of special value in illustrating the hermeneutical principles already enunciated. But in no portion of Scripture do we need to exercise greater discrimination and care. These prophecies, in their details, have been variously understood, and the ablest and accomplished exegetes have differed widely in their explanations. And not only in matters of minor detail, but there prevails, even to this day, a notable divergence of opinion regarding three out of the four great kingdoms that occupy so prominent a position in the recorded visions and dreams.
Three Errors of Interpretation
A critical study of the current English literature of Daniel’s prophecies begets the conviction that three serious errors have had much to do in vitiating the process pursued by a large number of expositors. (1) There appears with many an evident desire to make the book itself a contribution to apologetics. When the interpretation of any writing is made subservient to such an ulterior polemical purpose, there is usually more than a probability that the interpreter will be too much governed by considerations outside the purpose of pure exegesis. (2) Some writers, observing a remarkable resemblance between the Book of Daniel and the Apocalypse of John, rush to the conclusion that the similar symbols of both books must refer to the same great events in the history of the world. This fact of similarity has been construed as if it were in itself a proof that the fourth beast of Dan. 7 is identical with the first beast of Rev. 13:1–10, and the little horn of Dan. 7, and the second beast of Rev. 13:11–18 are both alike symbols of the papacy of Rome. (3) There is, further, a singularly persistent presumption that the Book of Daniel and the Apocalypse of John may reasonably be expected to contain an outline history of European politics. Thus, the chronicles of ancient, mediæval, and modern times have been ransacked and even tortured to find the ten kings referred to by the prophet. One is amazed at the amount of imperious dogmatism which often appears in the works of some who follow these erroneous methods.
It must be conceded, therefore, that a faithful exposition of Daniel requires the most painstaking care. All dogmatism must be set aside, and we should endeavor to place ourselves in the very position of the prophet and study with minute attention his language and his symbols. Where such vast differences of opinion have prevailed, we cannot for a moment allow any a priori assumptions of what ought to be found in these prophecies or of what ought not to be found there. All such assumptions are fatal to sound interpretation. The prophet should be permitted, as far as possible, to explain himself, and the interpreter should not be so full of ideas drawn from profane history, or from remote ages and peoples, as to desire to find in Daniel what is not manifestly there. Especially when it is notable that profane history knows nothing of Belshazzar or of Darius the Mede, should we be cautious how far we allow our interpretation of other parts of Daniel to be controlled by such history.
Three Different Interpretations
Three different interpretations of Daniel’s vision of the four world powers have long prevailed. According to the first and oldest of these, the fourth kingdom is the Roman Empire; another identifies it with the mixed dominion of Alexander’s successors, and a third makes it include Alexander and his successors. Those who adopt this last view regard the Median rule of Darius at Babylon (Dan. 5:31) as a distinct dynasty. The four kingdoms, according to these several expositions, may be seen in the following outline:
|1. Babylonian.||1. Babylonian.||1. Babylonian.|
|2. Medo-Persian.||2. Medo-Persian.||2. Median.|
|3. Græco-Macedonian.||3. Alexander.||3. Persian.|
|4. Roman.||4. Alexander’s successors.||4. Græco-Macedonian.|
Any one of these views will suffice to bring out the great ethical and religious lessons of the prophecy. No doctrine, therefore, is affected, whichever interpretation we adopt. The question at issue is purely one of exegetical accuracy and self-consistency: Which view best satisfies all the conditions of prophet, language, and symbol?
Argument in Favor of the Roman Theory
Great stress has been laid by the advocates of the Roman theory upon three considerations: (1) First, they urge that Rome was too important to be left out of sight in such a vision of world-empire. “The Roman kingdom,” says Keil, “was the first universal monarchy in the full sense. Along with the three earlier world-kingdoms, the nations of the world-historical future remained still unsubdued.” But such presumptions cannot properly be allowed to weigh at all. It matters not in the least how great Rome was or how important a place it occupies in universal history. The sole question with the interpreter of Daniel must be, What world powers, great or small, fell within his circle of prophetic vision? This presumption in favor of Rome is more than offset by the consideration that geographically and politically, that later empire had its seat and center of influence far aside from the territory of the Asiatic kingdoms. But the Græco-Macedonian Empire, in all its relations to Israel, and, indeed, in its principal component elements, was an Asiatic, not a European, world power. The prophet, moreover, makes repeated allusion to kings of Greece (יָוָן, Javan), but never mentions Rome.
Iron Strength and Violence
No previous dominion, it is said, was of such an iron nature, breaking all things in pieces. (2) It is further argued that the strong and terrible character of the fourth kingdom is best fulfilled in Rome. Here again we must insist that the question is not so much whether the imagery fits Rome, but whether it may not also appropriately depict some other kingdom. The description of iron strength and violence is, no doubt, appropriate to Rome, but for anyone to aver that the conquests and rule of Alexander and his successors did not “break in pieces and bruise” (Dan. 2:40), and trample with terrible violence the kingdoms of many nations, is to exhibit a marvelous obtuseness in reading the facts of history. The Græco-Macedonian power broke up the older civilizations and trampled in pieces the various elements of the Asiatic monarchies more completely than had ever been done before. Rome never had any such triumph in the Orient, and, indeed, no great Asiatic world-power, comparable for magnitude and power with that of Alexander, ever succeeded his. If now we keep in mind this utter overthrow and destruction of the older dynasties by Alexander and then observe what seems especially to have affected Daniel, namely, the wrath and violence of the “little horn,” and note how, in different forms, this bitter and relentless persecutor is made prominent in this book (chapters 8 and 11), we may safely say that the conquests of Alexander, and the blasphemous fury of Antiochus Epiphanes, in his violence against the chosen people, amply fulfilled the prophecies of the fourth kingdom.
For the Roman Empire, it is urged, ruled Palestine when Christ appeared, and all the other great monarchies had passed away. (3) It is also claimed that the Roman theory is favored by the statement, in chap. 2:44 that the kingdom of God should be set up “in the days of those kings.” but on what ground can it be quietly assumed that “these kings” are Roman kings? If we say that they are kings denoted by the toes of the image, inasmuch as the stone smote the image on the feet (2:34), we involve ourselves in serious confusion. The Christ appeared when Rome was in the meridian of her power and glory. It was three hundred years later when the empire was divided, and much later still when broken in pieces and made to pass away. But the stone smote not the legs of iron, but the feet, which were partly of iron and partly of clay (2:33, 34). When, therefore, it is argued that the Græco-Macedonian power had fallen before the Christ was born, it may on the other hand, be replied with greater force that a much longer time elapsed after the coming of Christ before the power of Rome was broken in pieces.
Subjective Presumptions Must be Set Aside
Evidently, therefore, no satisfactory conclusion can be reached as long as we allow ourselves to be governed by subjective notions of the import of minor features of the symbols, or by assumptions of what the prophet ought to have seen. The advocates of the Roman theory are continually laying stress upon the supposed import of the two arms, and two legs, and ten toes of the image; whereas these are merely the natural parts of a human image, and necessary to complete a coherent outline. The prophet lays no stress upon them in his exposition, and it is nowhere said that the image had ten toes. We must appeal to a closer view of the prophet’s historical standpoint and his outlying field of vision; and especially should we study his visions in the light of his own explanations and historical statements, rather than from the narratives of the Greek historians.
Daniel’s Historical Standpoint; Prominence of the Medes in Scripture
Applying principles already sufficiently emphasized, we first attend to Daniel’s historical position. At his first vision, Nebuchadnezzar was reigning in great splendor (Dan. 2:37, 38). At his second, Belshazzar occupied the throne of Babylon (7:1). This monarch, unknown to the Greek historians, fills an important place in the Book of Daniel. He was slain in the night on which Babylon was taken, and the kingdom passed into the hand of Darius the Mede (5:30, 31). Whatever we may think or say, Daniel recognizes Darius as the representative of a new dynasty upon the throne of Babylon (9:1). The prophet held a high position in his government (6:2, 3), and during his reign was miraculously delivered from the den of lions. Darius the Mede was a monarch with authority to issue proclamations “to all people, nations, and languages that dwelt in all the land” (6:25). From Daniel’s point of view, therefore, the Median domination of Babylon was no such insignificant thing as many expositors, looking more to profane history than to the Bible itself, are wont to pronounce it. Isaiah had foretold that Babylon should fall by the power of the Medes (Isa. 13:17; 21:2), and Jeremiah had repeated the prophecy (Jer. 51:11, 28). Daniel lived to see the kingdom pass into the hands of Cyrus, the Persian, and in the third year of his reign, he received the minute revelation of chapters 10 and 11, touching the kings of Persia and Greece. Already, in the reign of Belshazzar, had he received specific revelations of the kings of Greece who were to succeed the kings of Media and Persia (8:1, 21). But no mention of any world power later than Greece is to be found in the Book of Daniel. The prophetic standpoint of chap. 8 is Shushan, the throne-center of the Medo-Persian dominion, and long after, the Medes had ceased to hold precedence in the kingdom. All these things, bearing on the historical position of this prophet, are to be constantly kept in view.
The Varied but Parallel Descriptions
Having vividly apprehended the historical standpoint of the writer, we should next take up the prophecies which he has himself most clearly explained and reason from what is clear to what is not clear. In the explanation of the great image (2:36–45), and of the four beasts (7:17–27), we find no mention of any of the world powers by name, except Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar (2:38). But the description and explanation of the fourth beast, in 7:17–27, correspond so fully with those of the he-goat in chap. 8 as scarcely to leave any reasonable ground to doubt that they are, but varied portraitures of the same great world-power, and that power is declared in the latter chapter to be the Grecian (8:21). In chap. 11:3 the Grecian power is again taken up, its partly strong and partly brittle character (comp. Dan. 2:42) is exhibited, together with the attempts of the rival kings to strengthen themselves by intermarriage (comp. 2:43 and 11:6), and also the conflicts of these kings, especially those between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids. At verse 21 is introduced the “vile person” (נִבְוֶה, despised or despicable one), and the description through the rest of the chapter of his deceit and cunning, his violence and his sacrilegious impiety, is but a more fully detailed picture of the king denoted by the little horn of chapters 7 and 8. As the repetition of Joseph’s and Pharaoh’s dreams served to impress them more intensely and show that the things were established by God (Gen. 41:32), the repetition of these prophetic visions under different forms and imagery served to emphasize their truth and certainty. There appears to be no good ground to doubt that the little horn of chap. 8, and the vile person of chap. 11:21 denoted Antiochus Epiphanes. We have shown above (pp. 318, 319.) that the reasons commonly alleged to prove that the little horn of chap. 8 denotes a different person from the little horn of chap. 7 are superficial and nugatory. It follows, therefore, that the fourth kingdom described in chapters 2:40 ff., 7:23 ff., is the same as the Grecian kingdom symbolized by the he-goat in chap. 8. The repetitions and varied descriptions of this tremendous power are in perfect accord with other analogies of the style and structure of apocalyptic prophecy.
The Prophet Should be Allowed to Explain Himself
If we have applied our principles fairly thus far, it now follows that we must find the four kingdoms of Daniel between Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great, including these two monarchs. The four kingdoms are, respectively, the Babylonian, the Median, the Persian, and the Græco-Macedonian. We have been able to find but two real arguments against this view, namely, (1) the assumption that the Median rule of Babylon was too insignificant to be thus mentioned, and (2) the statement of chap. 8:20 that the ram denoted the kings of Media and Persia. The first argument should have no force with those who allow Daniel to explain himself. Reasoning and searching from Daniel’s position, and by the light of his own interpretations, we are obliged to adopt the third view named above. He clearly recognizes Darius the Mede as the successor of Belshazzar on the throne of Babylon (5:31). This Darius was “the son of Ahasuerus of the seed of the Medes” (9:1), and though he reigned but two years, that reign was, from the prophet’s standpoint, as truly a new world-power at Babylon as if he had reigned fifty years. Whatever his relation to Cyrus the Persian, he set a hundred and twenty princes over his kingdom (6:1) and assumed to issue decrees for “all people, nations, and languages” (6:25, 26). Most writers have seemed strangely unwilling to allow Daniel’s statements as much weight as those of the Greek historians, who are notably confused and unsatisfactory in their accounts of Cyrus and of his relations to the Medes.
The Prophet’s Point of View in Daniel 8
The other argument, namely, that in chap. 8:20, the two-horned ram denotes “the kings of Media and Persia,” is very properly supposed to show that Daniel himself recognised Medes and Persians as constituting one monarchy. But this argument is set aside by the fact that the position of the prophet in chap. 8 is Shushan (ver. 2), the royal residence and capital of the later Medo-Persian monarchy (Neh. 1:1; Esther 1:2). The standpoint of the vision is manifestly in the last period of the Persian rule and long after the Median power at Babylon had ceased to exist. The Book of Esther, written during this later period, uses the expression “Persia and Media” (Esther 1:3, 14, 18, 19), thus implying that Persia then held the supremacy. The facts, then, according to Daniel, are that a Median world-power succeeded the Babylonian; but that, under Cyrus the Persian, it subsequently lost its earlier precedence, and Media became thoroughly consolidated with Persia into the one great empire known in other history as the Medo-Persian.
The Inner Harmony of All the Visions to Be Sought
With this view, all the prophecies of Daniel readily harmonize. According to chap. 2:39, the second kingdom was inferior to that of Nebuchadnezzar, and in 7:5, it is represented by a bear raised up on one side, and holding three ribs between his teeth. It has no prominence in the interpretation given by the prophet, and nothing could more fitly symbolize the Median rule at Babylon than the image of a bear, sluggish, grasping, and devouring what it has, but getting nothing more than its three ribs, though loudly called on to “arise and devour much flesh.” No ingenuity of critics has ever been able to make these representations of the second kingdom tally with the facts of the Medo-Persian monarchy. Except in golden splendor this latter was in no sense inferior to the Babylonian, for its dominion was every way broader and mightier. It was well represented by the fleet leopard with the four wings and four heads which, like the third kingdom of brass, acquired wide dominion over all the earth (comp. 2:39, and 7:6), but not by the sluggish, half-reclining bear, which merely grasped and held the ribs put in its mouth, but seemed indisposed to arise and seek more prey.
The Diadochoi Theory
Those interpreters who adopt the second view above named, and, distinguishing between Alexander and his successors, make these latter constitute the fourth kingdom, have brought most weighty and controlling arguments against the first or Roman theory, showing that chronologically, geographically, politically, and in relation to the Jewish people, the Roman Empire is excluded from the range of Daniel’s prophecies. “The Roman Empire,” says Cowles, “came into no important relations to the Jews until the Christian era, and never disturbed their repose effectually until A.D. 70.… Rome never was Asiatic, never was oriental; never, therefore, was a legitimate successor of the first three of these great empires.… Rome had the seat of her power and the masses of her population in another and remote part of the world.”
Dominion of Alexander and His Successors, not two Different World Powers
But this second theory is unable to show any sufficient reason for dividing the dominion of Alexander and his successors into two distinct monarchies. According to every proper analogy and implication, the fourth beast with its ten horns and one little horn of chap. 7, and the he-goat with its one great horn and its four succeeding ones, and the little horn out of one of these—as presented in chap. 8:8, 9, 21–23—all represent but one world power. From Daniel’s point of vision, these could not be separated, as the Median domination at Babylon was separated from the Chaldæan on the one side and the later Medo-Persian on the other. It would be an unwarrantable confusion of symbols to make the horns of a beast represent a different kingdom from that denoted by the beast itself. According to chap, the two horns of the Medo-Persian ram are not to be understood, for the Median and Persian elements are. 8:20, symbolized by the whole body, not exclusively by the horns of the ram, and the vision of the prophet is from a standpoint where the Median and Persian powers have become fully consolidated into one great empire. If, in chap. 8:8, 9, we regard the goat and his first horn as denoting one world-power, and the four succeeding horns another and distinct world-power, analogy requires that we should also make the ten horns of the fourth beast (7:7, 8, 24) denote a kingdom different from the beast itself. Then, again, what a confusion of symbols would be introduced in these parallel visions if we make a leopard with four wings and four heads in one vision (7:6) correspond with the one horn of a he-goat in another, and the terrible fourth beast of chap. 7:7, horns and all, correspond merely with the horns of the goat!
Therefore, from every point of view, we are driven by our hermeneutical principles to hold that view of Daniel’s four symbolic beasts, which makes them represent the Babylonian, the Median, the Medo-Persian and the Grecian domination of Western Asia. But the “Ancient of days” (7:9–12) brought them into judgment, and took away their dominion before he enthroned the Son of man in his everlasting kingdom. The penal judgment is represented as a great assize, the books are opened, and countless thousands attend the bidding of the Judge. The blasphemous beast is slain, his body is destroyed and given to burning flames, and his dominion is rent from him and consumed by a gradual destruction (verses 10, 11, 26).
The Seventy Weeks
The prophecy of the seventy weeks (Dan. 9:24–27) affords a remarkable side light to the other revelations of this book. It was a special communication to the prophet in answer to his intercession for Jerusalem “the holy mountain,” “thy sanctuary,” “thy city,” and “thy people” (verses 16, 17, 19), and would, therefore, presumably contain some revelation of God’s purpose respecting the city and sanctuary which had at that time lain desolate about seventy years. The language of the angel is noticeably enigmatical, and several of the expressions have never been satisfactorily explained; but the obvious import of the passage, taken as a whole, is that both city and sanctuary are to be rebuilt, and yet ultimately to be overwhelmed by a fearful desolation. Moreover, a Messianic Prince is to appear and be cut off, and the outcome of all is “a finishing of the transgression, a completing of sins, an expiation for iniquity, a bringing in of everlasting righteousness, a sealing up of vision and prophet, and the anointing of a Holy of holies.” All this strikingly accords with the coming and kingdom of Jesus Christ, the consummation of the Old Testament economy, and the New’s introduction. The seventy weeks are a symbolical number (see page 296 above), conceived as broken into three portions of seven, sixty-two, and one (7+62+1=70). The first seems to refer to the time of rebuilding the city, the second to the period intervening between the restoration and the appearance of Messiah, and the third is the last decisive heptad, in the midst of which a new covenant is confirmed with many, but the end of which is the ruin of city and sanctuary with an unspeakable desolation. The labor of expositors to fix the precise date of the “going forth of a word to return and build Jerusalem” (verse 25) has failed thus far to reach any result that commands general confidence. The proclamation of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1–4), the decree of Artaxerxes given to Ezra (Ezra 7:11–26), and that given to Nehemiah (Neh. 2:5–8) all sufficiently supply the “word to return and build,” but no one of these so signally fulfills the prophecy as to establish its claim to be the only one intended by the angel. There is little probability of ever reaching a satisfactory interpretation so long as we insist on finding mathematical precision in the use of symbolical numbers. If the seventy names in Jacob’s family record are not to be understood with rigid exactness (see on pp. 406–409), much less are the symbolical numbers that make up these seventy weeks.
The Revelation of 11:2–12:3
The final revelation, contained in Dan. 11:2–12:3, is a fuller delineation of that of chapter 8, but the deliverance of God’s people is there shown to include a resurrection from the dead and heavenly beatification. As Isaiah connected the Messianic glorification of Israel with the fall of Assyria (see above, p. 336), overlooking intervening events as if they were hidden between two lofty mountains to which his vision turned, so Daniel makes no note of what other things might follow the fall of the great oppressor, but is told that out of an unspeakable trouble his people shall be delivered, “every one who is found written in the book.” With the coming and kingdom of the Son of man, to which all his visions reached, he sees as in one field of view whatever that kingdom assures to the saints of the Most High.
Thus, the comparative study of the five great prophecies of the Book of Daniel discloses a harmony of scope and general outline, an internal self-consistency, and a profound conception of the kingdom and glory of God. These facts illustrate the methods of apocalyptics and confirm the title of this book to a high place among the biblical revelations.