PRINCIPLES THAT SHOULD GOVERN IN THE
INTERPRETATION OF PROPHECY
Our object in the present series of papers is to bring before our readers some results of recent studies of the prophecy of The Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9), and of the Lord's discourse on Mount Olivet (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), in which He applied and expanded a part of that prophecy.
Writings and addresses on prophecy always excite interest, because they appeal to the element of curiosity which is prominent in human nature. But such writings and addresses are of benefit only so far as they rightly interpret the Scripture. In the case of unfulfilled prophecy this is oftentimes a matter of difficulty; while on the other hand writers on prophetic themes are under constant temptation to indulge in Surmises and speculations, and even in flights of imagination. Much has been put forth as interpretation of prophecy which is utterly unproved, but which could not be disproved except, as in cases where dates have been set for the coming of Christ, by the event itself.
Another fact which has been impressed upon us in this connection is that there has been no progress in the interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy for a good many years. At "prophetic conferences," and in books and magazines, the same things are being repeated today, with little variation, that were said two decades ago. It would seem that, for some reason, the Lord has not been, of late, shedding fresh light upon this part of His precious Word. Our own thought about the matter is that writers on prophecy have gone so far in advancing, and the people of God in accepting, mere conjectures, unproved theories, or at best mere probabilities, as interpretations of the prophetic Scriptures, that there must needs be a surrender of our speculative ideas, and a retracing of some of our steps (which have diverged from the truth), ere there can be any real advance in the understanding of this part of the Word of God.
Having these things in mind, we purpose, in entering upon the present line of studies, to be governed by certain principles which, we believe, should control at all times those who assume to expound the Word of God to their fellow saints.
The first of these controlling principles is, neither to accept nor to give forth as settled interpretation anything that rests upon surmise or mere probability; but only what is supported either by direct proof from Scripture, or by reasonable deduction there from. We maintain that it is far better to have no explanation at all of a difficult passage than to accept one which may turn out to be wrong. For it is not easy to give up an idea when once we have committed ourselves to it.
In fact, that which chiefly stands in the way of the acceptance of fresh light and truth from the Scriptures is the strong (in some cases almost invincible) reluctance of the human mind to surrender, or even to examine the ground of, opinions which possibly were originally accepted upon human authority only, and without any inquiry as to the support which can be found for them in the Word of God.
Another guiding principle is that the proof adduced in support of any interpretation should be taken from the Scripture itself. Our conviction is that, whatever information is essential for the interpretation of any and every passage of Scripture is to be found somewhere in the Bible itself. Were it not so the Holy Scriptures would not be able to make the man of God perfect, that is to say, complete, and thoroughly furnished unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). We must, of course, appeal to history in order to show the fulfillment of prophecy; for it cannot be shown in any other way. But the interpretation of Scripture is another matter.
Furthermore, wherever we offer a statement or opinion to the reader for his acceptance, we feel bound to give along with it the proofs by which we deem it to be established. This should be demanded of every writer. But, most unhappily, there are now in circulation many books dealing with Bible subjects, whose authors deem themselves to be such high "authorities" that they habitually make assertions of the most radical sort without citing in support thereof any proof whatever. We earnestly caution our readers to beware of all such. It is not according to the mind of God that His people should rest upon any human "authorities" whatever. His own Word is the only authority.
These papers are prepared for the benefit of "the common people." What we undertake by the grace of God to do is to make every statement and conclusion so plain, and to support it by such clear proof from the Scriptures alone, that the ordinary reader will be able both to see for himself the meaning of the passage, and also to comprehend perfectly the scriptural evidence by which that meaning is established. Thus he will be entirely independent of all human "authority."
This is an exceedingly important point. For, as matters now stand, it would be difficult or impossible to find any one whose view of the Seventy Weeks prophecy does not rest, as to some one or more essential features thereof, upon mere human authority. In our own case, when we began these studies (about May 1921) our opinion (in regard especially to the Chronology of the prophetic period) had no better basis than that such were the views of certain eminent writers on Bible-topics; and this was most unsatisfactory, because we knew that there were other equally eminent students of the Bible who held an entirely different view. But now we are in no uncertainty. We have solid ground under our feet; for every conclusion rests upon the unshakable rock of God's own testimony. This is as it should be.
We wish particularly to impress upon our readers that the proofs furnished by the Scriptures for our comprehension of this great and marvelous prophecy are not hard to understand or to apply. On the contrary they are quite simple. On a moment's reflection it will be seen that it could not be otherwise. For the Scriptures were written, not for the erudite, but for the simple-minded. Our Lord said, speaking of this very prophecy, "Whoso readeth, let him understand" (Matt. 24:15); and it should not surprise us to find that all the materials needed for our understanding of the matter are contained in the Bible itself.
Bible Chronology. Prior to the publication of Martin Anstey's great work in 1913, all the existing systems of Bible Chronology were dependent, for the period of time embraced by the Seventy Weeks, upon sources of information outside the Bible, and which are, moreover, not only unsupported by proof, but are in conflict with the Scriptures. Anstey's system has the unique merit of being based on the Bible alone. Therefore it is capable of being verified by all Bible readers. But for the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks there is no need to resort to any system of chronology, seeing that the prophecy contains its own chronology. In fact the difficulties and confusion which have arisen in connection with this prophecy are due in large measure to the attempt to make it conform to an incorrect chronology. (1)
A PROPHECY OF TRANSCENDENT INTEREST
The Scripture we are now about to study is one of the most marvelous and most transcendently important in the Word of God. That which is of supreme interest in it is the divinely-revealed time-measure, starting from the return of the Israelites out of Babylonian historical event second in importance only to the Exodus from Egypt- down to the culminating event of all prophecy and all history, even "unto Messiah," and to His being "cut off and having nothing."
The very nature of the things here revealed is a guaranty that, in the Scriptures themselves, will be found everything that is needed for a right and clear understanding thereof; and further that the whole matter lies within the comprehension of ordinary saints. All we ask of our readers is their prayerful attention to the Scriptures to which we shall refer. Upon that sole condition we can confidently promise them that they will be well able to understand every matter advanced, and to see for themselves whether it be supported by the Word of God or not.
Finally we desire to say that the conclusions we have reached involve nothing (unless in respect to some minor details) that has not been pointed out by sound Bible expositors of other days. This, however, we were (in some important particulars) unaware of until our studies were completed; for while they were in progress we consulted no human authorities except Anstey's Bible Chronology, mentioned above.
If any of our readers should find themselves in disagreement as to any of the matters set forth herein, we would ask of such only a patient examination of the proofs advanced, together with that measure of kindly toleration which is to be expected in such cases amongst those who are, with equal sincerity, seeking to know the mind of God.
"DANIEL THE PROPHET" (Matt. 24:15)
The book of Daniel differs in marked particulars from all others. The miraculous element abounds in it; and because of this it has been within recent years an object of venomous attack by the enemies of truth. Furthermore, the communications found in it are not, like other prophecies, in the nature of exhortations and warnings to the people of that time; for Daniel was not (like the other prophets), the messenger of God to the people of Daniel's own day. They are, on the contrary, in the nature of Divine revelations, given to Daniel, either in the form of visions, or of messages direct from heaven. It does not appear that they were communicated to the people of that day. Thus the book is seen to be not for the people of Daniel's own time, but for those of a later period or periods. Here is a very marked difference between the prophecies of Daniel, and all others.
Moreover, the book of Daniel has to do in a very special way with Christ; and to this feature we would call particular attention. Christ Himself is distinctly seen in it, once in earth in the midst of the burning fiery furnace, delivering the men who trusted in their God (3:25); and once in heaven, receiving an everlasting Kingdom (7:13, 14). And beyond all else in interest and importance is the fact that to Daniel was given the exact measure of time from an event clearly marked in his own day- an event for which he had fervently prayed- to the coming of Christ, and to His being "cut off." Moreover, in this connection God revealed to Daniel the marvelous things which were to be accomplished through the crucifixion of Christ, as well as the overwhelming judgments-the "desolations"- far surpassing anything of like nature theretofore- which were to fall upon the City, the Sanctuary and the People, in consequence of their rejection and crucifixion of Christ.
In respect to these remarkable and immensely important features the book of Daniel stands in a class by itself.
Moreover, this book contains, not only predictions that were to be fulfilled at the first coming of Christ, but also predictions relating to the end of the present age. For we have in the vision of the great image of gold, silver, brass, iron and clay, recorded in chapter 2, an outline of the course of human history from Daniel's own time down to the second coming of Christ in power and glory; and the breadth of the prophecy is such that it embraces the chief political changes of the whole world.
It is doubtless because of the unique character and importance of this book that it has been so fiercely attacked within recent times, and that every attempt has been made to raise a doubt as, to its authenticity; for great efforts have been made to convince the people in general that it was not written by Daniel, or in his day. Those attempts have conspicuously failed; but the efforts of the adversary to discredit this book are still to be seen in the crude interpretations, miscalculations, and fantastical views which have been poured forth in this day, now that it has become a matter of importance to "understand" these prophecies.
An intimation of the efforts that would be made to becloud the prophecy of Daniel is found in the words of Christ when, in referring directly to that prophecy, he said, "Whoso readeth let him understand" (Matt. 24:15). But those words may also be taken as an encouragement to seek a right understanding of that wonderful series of prophecies.
The chief interest of our study centers in the revelation given to Daniel in the first year of the Medo-Persian empire, and found in the ninth chapter; and it is to this prophecy of prophecies that we wish to direct attention at the present time. It is generally known as the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks (Dan. 9:24-27).
The setting of this prophecy should first be carefully noted. Daniel had learned, through Jeremiah 25:11, and 29:10, that the period which God had set for the "desolations of Jerusalem" was just seventy years (Dan. 9:1). That period was then about to expire; for the decree, whereby the captivity was ended and the Jews were allowed (and even exhorted) to return to their land and city, was issued by, Cyrus within two years (Ezra 1:1). That this was the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy is certainly known, because it is recorded in Ezra 1:1, that the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to issue that decree, for the express purpose that "the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled." This is surpassingly wonderful and impressive.
The effect upon Daniel of receiving this revelation was to send him to his knees in confession and prayer. His prayer should be carefully examined. It will be seen that it has to do entirely with the city, the sanctuary, and the people of God, with special reference to the "desolations" of the city. It will be seen also that these same subjects are what occupy the prophecy which the angel Gabriel brought to Daniel in response to his prayer. We call special attention to this, and also to the following points of interest:
1. God's response to Daniel's prayer was in the form of a revelation brought to him by the angel Gabriel, who stated, as the first item of information, that the seventy years of captivity were to be followed by a period of seventy sevens (of years). The word here rendered "weeks" is literally "sevens"; so there is no doubt that the period designated in this prophecy is seventy sevens of years- 490 years.
2. The decree which was to bring the captivity to an end by freeing the Jews, granting them liberty to return to their own land and to rebuild the city and sanctuary, was to be also the starting point of the "determined" period of seventy sevens of years. This is clearly seen from the prophecy itself in connection with Ezra 1:1 and other Scriptures hereafter referred to; and it is important- indeed necessary in order to avoid being misled- that we grasp this fact and keep it in mind. So we repeat that the epoch-making decree of Cyrus in the first year of his reign (as sole king), in virtue of which the city and temple were rebuilt under Zerubbabel and Joshua, was both the termination of the 70 years captivity and also the starting point for the prophetic period of 70 sevens, which had been "determined," or measured out, in the councils of heaven, upon the people and the holy city. Where the one period was to end, the other (just seven times as long) was to begin. Again we ask that this point be carefully noted. Full proof of its correctness will be given in our next chapter.
3. Daniel had, in his player, confessed the sins of his people, for which sins God had brought upon them the "desolations" of their city and sanctuary. But, to his intense grief no doubt, the angel Gabriel revealed to him that a far more terrible sin, the very culmination of the sins of the people, was yet to be committed by them. This was to happen within the period "determined" by the prophecy; and moreover, in consequence thereof, a judgment far more severe was to fall upon them, even the utter destruction of the city and sanctuary, the sweeping away of the nation as "with a flood," and "desolations" of age-long duration. No wonder eve find Daniel, in the third year of Cyrus, still mourning and fasting three full weeks, and lamenting that his comeliness was turned in him into corruption (10:2, 3, 8).
Daniel had said in his prayer, "Yea, all Israel have transgressed" (v. 11). An evident response to this is seen in the words of Gabriel, "seventy weeks are determined upon thy people to finish the transgression." With this we may compare the words of Christ, spoken to the leaders of Israel, just before the Olivet discourse: "Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers" (Matt. 23:32). They did so by rejecting and crucifying Him.
4. The most important feature of the revelation brought by Gabriel to Daniel was the precise measure of time (69 sevens, or 483 years) "to Messiah, THE PRINCE"; and the time when Messiah was to be "cut off and have nothing." This is the wonder of wonders, the prophecy of prophecies.
5. The angel Gabriel, who brought these marvelous predictions to Daniel, is the same who announced the approach of the fulfillment of them to Zacharias and to Mary (Lu. 1:11-19; 26).
6. The expression used by Gabriel to Daniel, "thou art greatly beloved," is the exact equivalent of the word addressed by the same messenger to Mary- "thou art highly favoured" (Anstley's Bible Chronology, p. 276). Mr. Anstley says of this expression: "It is used three times to Daniel, and never to anyone else except Mary; and Gabriel is the only angel employed to make known to men the revelation of the mystery of redemption."
7. The revelation embraces two main subjects (a) the coming and cutting off of the Messiah, (b) the destruction and "desolation" of the City and Sanctuary. It is a fact very familiar to all readers of the Bible, that Christ Jesus called this prophecy to the minds of His disciples on the eve of His being "cut off," and definitely announced to them at that time the approaching destruction and "desolation" of Jerusalem and the Temple (Matt. 24:1-22; Lu. 21:20-24).
In these seven points we have the main elements for a right understanding of the prophecy.
1.Anstey's Chronology is unhappily now out of print. But the present writer has published a book, The Wonders of Bible Chronology. (Reiner Publications, $1.50) which gives the important features of Anstey's system.