The Book of Daniel
By Benjamin Wills
(This article is taken from ‘The Investigator,’ 1833-4 and would have been written when Mr Newton was in his mid-twenties. For the sake of simplicity, we have given English lettering to Hebrew and Greek words, and have brought the footnotes into the text and placed them in italics. The reader will do well to remember that the article was written nearly 180 years ago).
It is my intention in the present paper to offer a few brief and general remarks on the Book of Daniel. Although unable to interpret it in detail, I think we may trace the outline and ascertain the right principle of interpretation; and it is this that I would commend to the candid consideration of my Christian brethren.
The ‘times of the Gentiles’ is an expression used by our Lord Himself (Luke 21: 24). It denotes the period during which Jerusalem is punished by subjection to the power of the Gentiles, commencing with Nebuchadnezzar, continuing still, and terminated at the second coming of our Lord. Daniel was raised up at the commencement of this period and was enabled to give a continuous history of the Gentiles throughout it, with the exception of the time during which the Jews cease to exist as a national body in Jerusalem; a time which is ever represented as being a pause in the earthly dispensations of God (Hosea 5: 15; Isaiah 18: 4; Psalm 78: 65).
I believe it will be found that Daniel supplies a brief but continuous history of those Gentile nations by which Jerusalem was trodden down, until the time of her destruction by the Romans; that during the present Jewish dispersion, all continuous history ceases, is not resumed until Jerusalem again assumes a national existence, and is again the object of Gentile violence. For in the Old Testament the Gentile history is only given for the sake of, and in conjunction with that of the Jews. ‘Thou never barest rule over them (the Gentiles); they were not called by Thy name’ (Isaiah 63: 19).
The most comprehensive vision is that of the Tree. It represented Nebuchadnezzar, who, as being the head of the Gentile image (Daniel 2: 37-38) is, I believe, the representative of the Gentile power throughout. But not to press this, we may regard the vision as being simply illustrative. The Tree flourished and was glorious in the eyes of men, but it was a thing against which Heaven watched: it was hewn down but not utterly destroyed. So shall it be with the power of the Gentiles. Men have gloried and are glorying in it; but it shall be smitten to the ground, until after a season of degradation and dishonour it is restored to the worship and favour of God, when ‘Israel shall be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel Mine inheritance’ (Isaiah 19: 24-25).
The present period of Gentile exaltation is remarkably noticed as a time during which the Lord takes His rest and considers in His dwelling place (Isaiah 14: 8). But before the harvest, when the bud is perfect on the Tree of man’s planting, and men are expecting the sour grape to ripen, then shall the Lord cut off the sprigs and cut down the branches. ‘They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains, and to the (wild) beasts of the earth: and the fowls shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them’ (Isaiah 18: 6).
I am not sure whether this description applies to the tree of Gentile glory, or to that which the Jews, when they return to their land in unbelief, will seek to rear under the protection of man and not of God. In either case it would lead me to think that the Tree in Daniel was intended to have a more extended reference than to Nebuchadnezzar, personally: and we draw from it this profitable lesson, that the true position of blessing now is, to be watching the growth of the grain of mustard seed (Matthew 13: 32); instead of resting beneath the shadow, or gathering the fruits of any tree in which the world glories. From John’s time to the present the axe has been laid to the root of the tree, and we know not how soon the blow may be given.*
(*The interpretation of
the seven times of Nebuchadnezzar’s degradation is important with reference to
the question of days or years. If we
interpret them of Nebuchadnezzar personally, they cannot be longer than literal
years - if of the antitype, viz, the Gentile power subjected to punishment by
the Lord at His coming, they cannot be days for years, otherwise the period of
Gentile punishment would almost three times exceed the limits of the
Millennium, (viz. 360 x 7 = 2520). It
appears certain that for three years and a half the Jews will be subjected to
the persecuting power of the Gentiles exercised through the little horn. May
not the period of Gentile punishment be exactly double? and is not this the
meaning of Zechariah 9: 12? ‘I will render double unto thee (that is of vengeance,) when I have raised up thy sons, 0
In the second chapter
we find a brief notice of those Gentile empires, whose history, in their
[*Does not the Hebrew word ‘yarekah’ which is translated ‘thighs’ (verse 32) more properly denote the lower part of the human trunk ‑ In the French version it is rendered ‘les hanches.’ This word is used to denote that part of the candlestick where the main shaft receives the feet (Exodus 25: 31). In ordinary language, when speaking of a statue or man, ‘legs’ is understood to include the thighs].
In the seventh chapter the history of the same four empires is again given in greater detail; but the detail is chiefly confined to the character and actings of the Little Horn which is here mentioned as arising among the ten monarchs who divide the whole Roman earth, and supplanting three. He who is symbolized by the little horn has not yet been manifested, because he continues in the plenitude of his persecuting power until his blasphemies occasion the sitting of that judgment whereby authority is finally taken from the earth and given to the Son of Man, and to the saints and to the people of the saints, i. e. the Jews. ‘The same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; until the Ancient of days came, and (until) judgment was given to the saints of the Most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom’ (Daniel 7: 21-22). Where is there any such persecuting power at present, entirely and completely fulfilling the unambiguous terms of this description? Toleration is one of the things in which Gentile ungodliness chiefly prides itself, and persecution is looked on as the offspring of ancient days of darkness which have passed away. But they have not passed away for ever; for there shall yet arise one who shall persecute and prevail up to the very hour which gives to the saints their kingdom. It is ours to be watching for these things, and to remember that the Apostle of the Gentiles also has definitely foretold them (2 Thessalonians 2: 4-8).
And here again we
remark that the fourth monster symbolizes the whole Roman empire in its utmost
extent after it had absorbed within it most of the territories of the three
mighty sovereignties which had preceded.
The Euphrates therefore and
The object of Daniel’s
great anxiety was his own people, the
Jews. In the seventh chapter, they
appear to be specifically mentioned only once, when they are described, not as
the saints, but as the people of the
saints of the Most High; and it is declared that the greatness of the
kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to them. In the eighth chapter however, their
connection with the actings of this same blasphemous power is described, and
his origin more definitely given. It is
declared that he will arise, not from the west, but from one of the four
divisions of Alexander’s empire, viz, from
The period during which power is given him against ‘the daily’ is 2300 days (Daniel 8: 14); and these, I believe, date from the time of his waxing exceeding great towards the east, and towards the south, and towards the glory. During this period he destroys by peace as well as by violence, until he is himself destroyed without hands. He persecutes not only the holy people, i.e. the Jews, but also the host of the heavens (Daniel 8: 10); which is, I believe, a title prospectively given to the saints as the future occupants of the heavenly places, (epourania) from which Christ and they will together rule.
The next chapter
affords another remarkable instance of the manner in which the present ‘mysterious’ (Romans 11)
The person who confirms the covenant I consider to be, not the Messiah, but the prince who shall come; to whom the pronoun (he) would in natural grammatical construction refer. This prince I believe to be the same with the Little Horn of the preceding chapters. Not only in this place, but also in Psalm 55: 20, he is alluded to as breaking the covenant which he is here said to have confirmed for seven years; in the midst of which he violates it and plants the abomination of desolation.
It is this passage, I think, to which our Saviour refers, when He speaks of the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24) and declares it shall be at a time of unequalled tribulation, which is described in Daniel 12 as continuing for 1260 days (verse 7). If, as appears most probable, the time of the Little Horn’s waxing great towards the glorious land synchronises with his confirmation of the covenant, it follows, that although he makes the covenant for seven years he nevertheless perishes before their end, since the period of his duration is marked as being 2300 days, which is little more than six years. For the last 1260 of these days he openly persecutes; i.e. from the time when he breaks his covenant and plants the abomination of desolation; so that 1040 remain for the first period of his practising, and by peace destroying many (Daniel 8: 24-25).
In the eleventh
chapter the events of these seventy weeks of years are drawn out into minute
detail. The number and actions of the
kings of Persia, the greatness of Alexander, the wars of the kings of Syria and
Egypt, the exploits of Antiochus, are consecutively related until the time of
Jerusalem’s desolation, when consecutive history ceases, at about the 31st verse. In this interval we are told, that they who
understand (probably the apostles and early Jewish Christians), shall instruct
many among the people; but that they (the people) shall fall by the sword, etc
many days. When in this state, they
shall be holpen with a little help; and this I am inclined to think refers to
their future and probably near return to their land in unbelief, under the auspices
of the Gentiles. And now again the same
blasphemous power who has been so often mentioned in former chapters is once
more described with still more definite detail.
He conflicts with the king of the south, i.e.
Though the kings of
the south and of the north shall fiercely ‘push at him,’
yet he shall go forth triumphantly into the countries and into the glorious
land, and finally pitch his tabernacles in
If there are any who
feel mistrustful of this interpretation from its making the prophecy too easy,
I would beg them to remember three things.
First, that every advance that has been lately made in the knowledge of
prophecy has taught us more simplicity in interpreting. Secondly, that Jewish prophecy mainly
contemplates the earthly dispensations of God, and that they all revolve around
In various parts of Scripture I find many intimations of the bitterness of Jewish suffering which precedes their glory, of the instrumentality of the Gentiles in inflicting it, and of the pride and punishment of the Gentile king (Isaiah 24 and 30: 33). I should antecedently expect to see these events described in such a book as Daniel; and accordingly I find there a description given exactly accommodated in character, circumstances, and length of periods; the eras of the dates being gathered from the book itself. The actions of the kings supply the eras of four, as well as their interpretation; for any other computation than days would exceed the limits of an individual’s life, as well is the limits of the time of trouble such as never was, which shall be shortened for the elect’s sake.
Again, the computation of the seventy weeks is taught thus. They may be weeks of days or of years. In Leviticus 12, I know from the connected circumstances that they are weeks of days; in Daniel, the fact of the two eras being fixed, namely, the crucifixion and Nehemiah’s decree, (which was the only one for the restoration of the city of Jerusalem), enables me to measure the period, and determine that they are sevens of years: and no one who lived to the end of the first seven weeks of days from Nehemiah, and found the wall not restored, could doubt that weeks of years were intended, if he did not reject the prophecy. Profane chronology very nearly coincides with the Scripture in this instance; the variation I adjust by the Scripture.
In conclusion, I would remark, that there are two evils which we have carefully to watch against in the study of prophecy. The first is that in which the Church has long slumbered - the belief that the prophecies have been gradually exhausted by the events of the Gentile dispensation. And thus many awful and awakening passages, which refer to a future crisis of evil and of judgment, have been referred to Antiochus or Constantine or Mahomet, and we gladly deceive ourselves into the belief, that to us, they are past for ever. From this fatal error many have been rescued, and they have laboured to shew that the prophecies are not exhausted except by the closing events of the latter day, when man’s iniquity shall be gathered into a mighty aggregate, to be destroyed by the manifestation of the Lord. They cannot be too thankful who have discerned the truth of this. But it is also true, that the attention of some has been so exclusively fixed upon the future aggregate, as to neglect the present working of those same principles of evil, which, though scattered and half developed, may yet practically affect our daily conduct. It is true that THE Antichrist shall come, but even now there are many antichrists. It is for us to watch against, and detect by the light of prophecy, the comparatively disconnected and imperfect principles of evil, whilst they are advancing into that maturity and union, which prophecy represents them as attaining in the latter day; and to beware lest, because our present position appear bright, when contrasted with the coming darkness, we should be tempted to congratulate ourselves on its superiority, and insensibly begin to try ourselves by the standard of man’s greatest iniquity, instead of by the holiness of God. He who knowingly and designedly tolerates partial evil now, has surely no right to conclude that he will be delivered from the desire to tolerate it in its entireness, when ‘the enemy shall come in like a flood.’
It is true - quite true - that the word of prophecy respecting man’s evil, is not exhausted by Popery nor Mahomedanism, nor by any form of human pride which has yet appeared; but in them, nevertheless, and neology and the systems of nominal Christianity, the principles of Antichrist are working, which will end in bringing in a form of evil as awful, as it will be unexpected.
To keep the Lord’s commandment to endure (Revelation 3: 10) is our only safeguard against that hour of temptation, which shall try all the dwellers upon earth. And while the Lord has graciously told us beforehand what is coming to pass, that we may not be taken unawares, the precepts, cautions, and admonitions of the Word applied through the Spirit, will alone enable us to escape those things which are coming upon the earth, and to stand before the Son of Man.