Daniel the Prophet

'"The subject of these Conferences, as publicly announced, is threefold:

  1. the inspiration of Holy Scripture
  2. the Jews
  3. the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ

I am this evening going to take up a part of Scripture that will combine each portion of that subject, I mean the book of the prophet Daniel.  Of course, within the limits of a half-hour's address, my remarks must be desultory, but it will be my aim to suggest thoughts to your minds, and perhaps to set at rest some here who are troubled about this wonderful book.  It has for long centuries been a favourite ground of attack upon Holy Scripture, and we have come upon a time when a very large number of Christians deem it to be indefensible.  And the reason why this book has been such a favourite ground of attack is because that, unlike other portions of Scripture, it is impossible to dispose of it without undermining its authority altogether.  When scepticism comes face to face with other Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, such as the 22nd Psalm, or the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, it is very easy indeed to dismiss them from consideration.  You only require to be unspiritual - and most sceptics are unspiritual - and dogmatic, and nothing is more clear than that these Scriptures have a meaning wholly different to that which the Christian assigns to them.  But here in this book, written at the period to which it is properly assigned, by the great prophet-prince of the captivity, you have prophecies which for all time make it stand out as a witness for God, and it cannot be silenced.  Now the book is attacked upon two principal grounds.

  1. One is the language of it, which we are told stamps it at once as a book of a later day.  I do not attempt to go into that this evening ; first, because I have no personal right to speak on a subject which is a specialty of scholars; and, secondly, because it would occupy a large share of the time allotted to me.  Our ablest scholars utterly repudiate the conclusions at which the higher critics have arrived upon this subject.  One, a great man who is gone - Dr. Pusey, of Oxford - whose magnificent book still stands as the ablest and best defence of the book of Daniel, says that the language of the book is exactly what you would expect at the age in which the book was written.  But there is another very remarkable testimony.  One of our ablest philologists - Professor Margoliouth, of Oxford - has given it as his deliberate opinion that the language of the book of Daniel is inconsistent with the theory that it was written at the late date to which the higher critics assign it.
  2. The other ground of attack is what they call historical difficulties; and here again I would say this, and I do not say it in a corner, but publicly, that the position taken up by higher critics is recognized today as untenable, and men are withdrawing from the ground which was occupied a while ago.  I do not speak of writings such as the recent book of Archdeacon Farrar's, which appeals to "the man in the street."  He has steeped his mind in the writings of the German sceptics and rationalists, who do not even agree with each other, taking in all that they have taught, and giving it out in one undigested mass, with no original contribution whatever, except that amazing rhetoric that so charms and delights the uncultured and uneducated.  You will thus sometimes find two statements on one page of Archdeacon Farrar's book which are altogether contradictory.  All our best scholars recognize that these objections are no longer tenable, except in a modified form; and such men as Professor Driver, of Oxford, who is the author of the book which is now recognized as the standard in higher criticism, puts them forward with reserve, guarding himself by saying that future discoveries of inscriptions may lead us still further to modify our judgment.  As an example of these difficulties, the sceptics appeal to the statement in the fifth chapter about Belshazzar.  You find it in books of admirable repute, and in Archbishop Usher's chronology, which has been placed upon the marginal columns of our Bibles, that Belshazzar was simply a second name of the last king of Babylon; but this was proved absolutely untrue, and so it was urged that this Belshazzar was a myth, and that the whole statement regarding him is a blunder.  Then carne the deciphering of the cuneiform inscriptions by Sir Henry Rawlinson, who died a few weeks ago; and in an inscription of Nabonidus, Belshazzar is mentioned as his son, and as holding a position in the government in Babylon.  Here, of course, is the solution of the whole difficulty.  Nabonidus is absent at the head of the army, his son is left as regent in Babylon.  And this explains the statement in the fifth chapter, that Belshazzar promised that anyone who would interpret the mysterious writing should be the third ruler in the kingdom.  He could not make him second, because he was in that position himself.

There is another subject - Darius the Mede. Any day it is possible we may find some inscriptions that may clear up this difficulty, which in my judgment is the only historical difficulty in regard to Daniel; but the history of that period is in such a state of hopeless confusion, that it is impossible to attempt now to settle it.  Professor Sayce, of Oxford, in a book which has attracted a good deal of notice, quotes an inscription by Cyrus describing his taking Babylon, and this inscription does not name Darius; so Professor Sayce rejects Darius the Mede.  In this inscription, however, there are two great gaps, and no one knows whether Darius the Mede was named on one of the lost portions.  Another point is that obviously all Cyrus said about his capture of Babylon is not to be taken as gospel.  It was his obvious interest, it exactly fitted his purposes to represent himself, not as the conqueror of Babylon, but as the friend of the people and their gods.  But it is the sweet simplicity of a Sunday-school to accept the inscription of a heathen king as if it were the inspired word of the true God!

It will be impossible for me to take in detail the numerous other questions connected with this book.  For example, we are told that the name Nebuchadnezzar is misspelt, there being an "n" where there ought to be an "r," in the middle of it; so also "Abednego" should be "Abednebo," and so on with other names.  They tell us that there are Persian words which could not have found their place there until after the Persian supremacy; and the same with Greek words, of which there are two.  In regard to these foreign words we are simply reasoning in the dark.  There is no book of Scripture, and certainly no book apart from Scripture, that can be compared with Daniel.  The books of Jeremiah and, Ezekiel are, in a sense, contemporary - the prophet in Jerusalem and the priest-prophet in captivity; but Daniel was a man of higher culture, a ruler and statesman.  There is no reasonable doubt that he was a scholar.  How natural then that he should have words at hand that the others had not.  The Jewish tradition of the Talmud testifies that the book was edited by the men of the Great Synagogue.  There is no reason whatever to doubt the truth of that tradition; and their object in editing the book was to make it suitable for the Jews of Palestine at the time that they were about to place it in their hands, some centuries after it was written.  Here is an explanation of all the difficulties.  Of course they would alter the spelling of the words according to the orthography of their own time.  How natural that if they found strange and uncouth words, just as we should if we were editing Chaucer, they should substitute for them other words more, familiar to the people.  There is no one of these difficulties that may not be thus explained.

The time allotted to me precludes my going through the Book chapter by chapter.  But let us turn to the ninth chapter, as I want to give you the explanation of the great prophecy of the seventy weeks.  The beginning of the chapter states that the vision was in the first year of Darius the Mede, after the capture of Babylon.  The old man Daniel had been well-nigh threescore years and ten in captivity, and most of that time in a position of great authority and influence in Babylon; but still, to the very last of his old age, his heart was fresh in desires for his people, and in yearnings over God's glory in connection with His people.  And now one of the great eras in connection with the captivity was about to run out.  But of the era of servitude a year yet remained, and Daniel looked for light in some direction that would give ground of hope that his people were about to be restored to their inheritance, but all was absolutely dark.  And then he seems to have come for the first time to understand the meaning of that further judgment of the desolations, so hopelessly muddled by Archdeacon Farrar.  You have the era of the servitude which began in the war of Jehoiakim, you have the era of the captivity which began at the commencement of the reign of Jehoiachin his son, and then you have the era of the desolations which dated from the last year of the reign of Zedekiah.  He seems for the first time to have realised the meaning of the judgment of the desolations; and he is led to pray an earnest prayer that God would give light as to His purposes for His people.  In answer to this prayer God sent the angel messenger with this wonderful message. Archdeacon Farrar would tell, you that Gabriel was a myth, invented by the writer of this, "novel," as he calls this book of Daniel.  It was that same Gabriel who in after years God sent to tell those who were waiting for the redemption of Israel that the time had come, and that the Saviour was to be born in Bethlehem.  He sent Gabriel to him with this message (Luke 1:11-20, 26-38).

And now I want you to look at the 24th verse, and try for a moment to forget everything you have ever heard upon the subject, and just let us approach it as level-headed people, with the intelligence of our knowledge of God's earthly people and God's promises.  Could anything be more certain or more clear than the message which God gives His servant that seventy weeks were to be meted out as the period to intervene before Daniel's city and people were to be brought into full Messianic blessing?  He speaks of seventy years in his prayer, and the message in answer is, "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon the holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy."  The term "most Holy" is never used of a person in Scripture, only of a place, the holiest of all in the temple.

Now let me repeat what I said.  These words were not fulfilled in the death of Christ, or what we call His first coming.  They imply the absolute realisation of full Messianic blessing for his people and city.  From the next verse is derived this period of sixty-nine weeks: "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times (Daniel 9:25)."  Here is a statement than which nothing can be more definite.

I often wish, on an occasion like this, I could get an honest Parsee or Hindoo, who knows absolutely nothing about our prophecies, and ask him a question on a point like this; for while the book of Daniel has suffered but little at the hands of its assailants, it has suffered grievously at the hands of its exponents.  I would ask the Parsee this question, Was Jerusalem ever restored or rebuilt? Yes, he would say.  Under what circumstances, and at what time?  He would reply by a firman or commandment by Artaxerxes in the 20th year of his reign. This is a matter of history; it is not a matter with any question about it.  You will find it in the 2nd chapter of Nehemiah.

Well, from the going forth of the commandment was to be seven times 69, or 483 years.  And here in this verse the period was described as "unto Messiah the Prince."  Nothing can be plainer than that Messiah the Prince should be manifested at the close of this period.  The only question arises is to the length of the year in question.  It may seem to us strange and unreasonable to raise such a question, but at the period of this prophecy the year in common use was 360 days, not 365.  If we can find what the period of the desolations was we can get the period of the weeks.  The desolations began on the tenth day of the tenth month in the ninth year of Zedekiah (2 Kings xxv. i). It was the day on which the armies of .Nebuchadnezzar invested Jerusalem - from that day all agricultural pursuits were suspended in the land; and the close of the era is mentioned in the book of Haggai.  Look at the last chapter, and the 15th verse:

"Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid, consider it. Is the seed yet in the barn? yea, as yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth : from this day will I bless you."  This was in the second year of Darius, and now we can measure this period of the desolations.  We know exactly how the Jewish year was arranged.  It was the year beginning with the new moon of the vernal equinox.  If then you measure out the days between these two periods, from the 1510 March in the year 589 to the 1st April in the year 520, you will find the interval was 25,200 days; and that is exactly, to the very day, seventy years of 360 days.  So also in regard to the prophetic period, we have simply to measure out the years from the date of the first day of the Jewish new year in the 20th reign of Artaxerxes, 445 b.c; and I was so extremely careful to have it right, that I wrote to the Astronomer-Royal to ask him to give me the date, so that there is no manner of question about it.  From that day you calculate 483 prophetic years (173,889 days), and what date do you think they will bring you to?  They will bring you to that day in the Lord's ministry on earth when He allowed His disciples to proclaim Him as the Messiah, the Son of David, as he entered into Jerusalem in mock triumph, in fulfilment of Zechariah's prophecy.  And as He wept over Jerusalem; not as when He wept at the grave of Lazarus, the silent tears falling from His eyes, but with an outburst of grief He said, "If thou hadst known, even thou, in this day, the things.which belong to thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes." (Luke xix. 28-44.) It seemed that though He had been despised and rejected, still up to this time the way of repentance was open; but this day their decision was to be final and irrevocable, and so He uttered these sad and solemn words.

Now here is something which sets up for us the book of Daniel, and raises it above all the doubts that criticism can cast upon it. I do not care where you fix the date of the book; it thus contains a prophecy which reaches down to the days of our blessed Lord, a prophecy which was fulfilled with a definiteness and accuracy which renders it absolutely impossible and preposterous to suppose that it was a mere coincidence.  Remember also, as you read the book of Daniel, and consider the doubts that are cast upon it, that it is inseparably connected with the book of the Revelation, that book which we prize, and justly prize, as the end of the Canon of Holy Scripture.  All the dropped threads of promise and prophecy are there gathered up, and a sequence and cohesion given to the whole.  The apocalypse of the Old Testament and the apocalypse of the New Testament must stand or fall together.  I spoke to you of Gabriel, and his appearance in the gospel.  Michael, whom you read of in the 12th chapter of Daniel as "the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people," appears again in the 12th chapter of Revelation as making war on behalf of God's people on the earth.  But there is something more important even than this.  In the 24th chapter of St. Matthew's gospel our Lord Himself refers to the Book of Daniel. I t is a book for all time, and His people shall read it in days to come when you and I are passed from the scene; and when they are gathered at Jerusalem they will take it up to learn God's mind about them, and what their course is to be in the difficulties and trials of that awful period. The Lord gives this definite note of warning: "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet ..."  Our Lord's words adopt that prophecy, and it is from His hands that we receive the book.  Let us be careful then not to trifle with doubts and difficulties, which endanger the foundation on which our faith rests.  God grant that Christians may realize that this is God's book, not a novel nor a mere history, but that there is a responsibility and a blessing connected with it.  Let us rise to the responsibility, and let us see that we do not lose the blessing.