The Book of Daniel


By Benjamin Wills Newton



(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 Zion, against thy sons, 0 Greece).


In the second chapter we find a brief notice of those Gentile empires, whose history, in their connection with Jerusalem, is more fully developed in the subsequent visions.  They are foretold to be four, of which Nebuchadnezzar’s is the first, being that which was first allowed to occupy the place of sovereignty, which properly belonged to and shall finally be restored to the Jews.  The two arms may be understood to denote the combination of the Median and Persian power in the second empire; and the two legs* may symbolize the division of the Roman power into the eastern and western empires.  But however this may be, the point which I press is this: the two legs together denote the whole Roman sovereignty: and therefore the ten kingdoms, (which are here denoted by ten toes, and in the seventh chapter by ten horns), must be found in the eastern AND western divisions of the Roman empire together, and not in either division separately.  The ten kingdoms are in existence at the time when the image is destroyed; therefore they have not yet passed away: for then the Gentile power would have terminated, and the heavens would rule.  And I think no one will say that they exist at present; for then I should be able to point them out with the same certainty with which I can shew that Zion has been ploughed as a field.  Therefore I conclude that this final distribution of Gentile power is still undeveloped.


[*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 Scotland are the limits within which the ten kings are to arise.  It has been already said, that we cannot point them out at present; but it is more than probable that these kingdoms are beginning to be collocated.  The sign of the times is not so much anything that may be occurring in France or Spain or England - but it is this, that those countries which are the direct subjects of prophetic revelation, such as Egypt, Greece, and Palestine are again connecting themselves with the thread of Gentile history, and thus the counsels of man are likely to collide with the revealed purposes of God.  I greatly object to conjectural expositions of the future; but I may be permitted to express my undoubted belief, that the development of the ten kingdoms will be found to synchronize with the re-establishment of the Jews as a nation in Jerusalem, for that is the area at which the connected history of Daniel is resumed.


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 Greece, or from Asia Minor, or the territories of the Seleucidae, or Egypt.  The many changes which Alexander’s broken empire has undergone during the period of Jerusalem’s dissolution are, consistently with the principle already noticed, passed in silence; and it is this which accounts for the extraordinary intervallum between the 22nd and 23rd verses.  At the time of the end’ however, the four divisions shall exist so definitely that the rise of the Little Horn shall be plainly discernable from among them; and although, as has been already said, we must carefully avoid conjectural applications of prophecy, yet, in connection with this subject it is interesting to observe the recent extraordinary restoration both of Egypt and Greece, and the general crumbling of the Turkish empire.  From whichever of these districts he may arise, Jerusalem will heavily feel his power.  He will there find the temple and the daily ordinances restored, for he is expressly described as taking away the daily ordinances and casting down the sanctuary (Daniel 8: 11).  And this sufficiently shows, if proof were needed, that the prophecy cannot refer to Mahomet, nor to any of his successors.


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) period of Jerusalem’s desolation is passed in silence.  The seventy weeks ‘of years’ measure (NOT the period from Nehemiah to the crucifixion, but the period of Nehemiah to the consummation of the desolation, when the Jews shall be restored to the Divine favour), are divided into three parts; but in this period the present season of dispersion is not included.  From Nehemiah’s decree to the completion of Jerusalem, 7 weeks, is 49 years.  From the completion to the crucifixion, 62 weeks, is 434 years. Then ensues a long interval, which has already lasted 1800 years, from the crucifixion to the time when the prince who shall come confirms the covenant.  From the confirmation of the covenant to the end of Jewish tribulation, 1 week, is 7 years.


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. Egypt, and with the king of the north, i.e. Syria, as the representative of the power of the Seleucidae.  So that from what we have seen respecting his origin in the eighth chapter, it follows, that Asia Minor and Greece remain as the places from one of which he is to arise.


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 Zion, the mountain of the glory of holiness (Daniel 11: 40-45, and see also Isaiah 14: 14-15).  And this probably is the time at which he plants the abomination, and ‘he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God’ (see Daniel 12: 11).  But he shall come to his end and none shall help him; for at this time Michael shall arise.  The period of his arising shall be a time of trouble such as never was, which is described in Joel 2, Zechariah 12 and 14, Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 17 and 21.  I translate the passage before us thus – ‘At that time Michael shall stand up; and it (the time of his arising) shall be a time of trouble such as never was.’  This period is again said to be 1260 days, to be dated from the planting of the abomination, which we suppose to be identical with his occupation of the holy mountain; 1260 days from this period terminate his existence; 1290 from the same period bring us to some remarkable event of which the character is not given; and 1335 days carry us to the completion of Israel’s blessedness, when their desolation shall be consummated.


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 Jerusalem as their centre.  I believe that Scripture itself supplies the eras of its dates, and by means of verbal or moral correspondences, becomes its own interpreter; so that any system which requires the study of cycles, or a laborious search into Arabian or Grecian annals, should bring with it its own refutation.


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.