The Times of the Gentiles
We are indebted to the executors of the estate of our deceased brother C. W. Ross for these important papers on the TIMES OF THE GENTILES. Although published in 1933, their relevance to the present urged the family to have them reprinted. It is an honour to comply in this, and we trust that the careful perusal of each article will quicken in hearts the living hope of the imminent return of the Lord.
We are sorry that the chart which accompanies these articles will not be ready until next month. Watch for your copy.
This expression, “The times of the Gentiles”, is found only once in the Bible, that is in Luke 21:24. It is the Lord’s own term for the period when Israel is under the heel of foreign powers and her capital city in alien hands. When did this period commence? And when will it end? These are important questions and we propose to consider them with the aid of the Word of God. Frequently one thinks by way of contrasts, and here this principle would lead us to ask, When were the times of the Jews? If the times of the Gentiles are distinguished by the prostration of Jerusalem under their heel, then naturally when Jerusalem was the metropolis of the kingdom of Israel, and the seat of royal power, we may think those were the times of the Jews. And rightly so, for God gave to Israel a king, David by name, and promised to him and his dynasty the throne forever, and Jerusalem became the place where was set what is called in 1 Chronicles 29:23, “the throne of the Lord.” But David’s family behaved so badly in this place of responsibility that the time came when God could no longer suffer them to occupy the throne or wear the crown, although He bore with them for centuries and sought in patience and mercy to awaken in them a sense of their sin. Only now and again did one of the family turn to the Lord, but these occasional flares of faithfulness merely served to deepen the darkness of the general history, until there was no remedy and He brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who swept them away, carrying some of the people to Babylon, making captive the king and burning the city and the temple of God which was its glory. So ended the times of the Jews.
The story of Israel’s kingdom is told out in detail in the books of Kings and Chronicles and the end of it is given in a most affecting way in the last chapter of the second book of Chronicles. It is affecting because of the manifest reluctance of God to give up His people to the destroyer and permit their complete overthrow. But “there was no remedy,” and so the blow must fall. Let us suppose ourselves reading continuously this history to the end, what question would naturally arise in our minds? Would it not be, what will God do now? Will He after a season of captivity allow the family of David to return to the throne and again bear rule for Him? Or is this the end of that dynasty? If so, what will He do? Is this catastrophe the prelude to a radical change in His ways among men? Now here is where the Book of Daniel fills a very important place in the canon of Scripture, for in it these questions are all answered. God is going to make a change. The old order is not to be re-established but a new system is to be set up. The Jews are to remain under the power of strangers whatever favours may be granted to them by way of return to Jerusalem, and regal power will not be again in their hand, but in the hand of the Gentiles. This is the beginning of “the times of the Gentiles.”
But how admirable are the ways of God in announcing this change. When one reflects on this crisis he feels that if a change is to be made, there are two parties to be apprised of it. First of all, the people who have been dismissed from this place of privilege should be informed of what has occurred, and then the people to whom is now to be committed the responsibility of taking this place should be told in no uncertain terms of this mighty change, which meant so much to the world. And this is what is done in such a way as to call forth the wonder of the reader to the story. How marvelously does God arrange circumstances so as to bring about both of these ends in one striking scene, told out in its details in the Book of Daniel, chapter II. The first chapter of this book is introductory in character and brings before us the shaping of conditions that were necessary for the scene to be enacted in the next chapter. Daniel and his fellow-Jews are, after a period of training, given a place among the wise men of Babylon attached to the person of King Nebuchadnezzar.
Then follows the remarkable series of events that brings to light the purposes of God. The first thing is that the king has a dream in the night which he forgot entirely in the morning. Apparently, however, it made a vivid impression on his mind and led to his summoning his wise men and counsellors and making a demand on them that they repeat to him the forgotten dream and then interpret it for him. Naturally enough they expostulate with the king about the unreasonableness of his request, offering to interpret it if he would only tell them what he had dreamed, But he is an Oriental despot and in a flame of fury threatens them with death if they do not within a very little while comply with his demand. This edict of the king involves the four pious Jews who are reckoned among the wise men and they ask for a little time to pray to their God, who, they believe, will give them that which no wisdom of man can give. A little respite is granted and they turn to the living God, the God of Israel, and ask from Him mercies as to this matter. He hears their cry and to one of them, Daniel, He gives the dream with its interpretation. Immediately he is brought before the angry king and quietly and confidently unfolds his forgotten dream and its meaning. The dream itself is represented on the chart as the image with the head of gold, the arms and breasts of silver, the belly and thighs of brass and the legs of iron. This is the dream and the interpretation we give in the exact language of Daniel.
He says: “Thou, O king, art a king of kings; for the God of Heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power and strength and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of heaven hath He given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. THOU ART THIS HEAD OF GOLD.
“And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee and another kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.
“And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces, and subdueth all things; and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.
“And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes part of potters’ clay and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men; but they shall not cleave one to another even as iron is not mixed with clay.
“And in the days of these kingdoms shall the God of Heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms and it shall stand forever.
“Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.”
How much the king was impressed with this message, we have no means of knowing. Probably it flattered his pride to be saluted as the head of the wonderful image he had dreamed of and one would fear from subsequent events that that was all. But God had made known His purposes and caused this poor heathen ruler to know that He had committed to him an empire of vast extent, and one would naturally expect that this would lead him to a sense of the responsibility now devolving upon him. But before following up this line, let us look again at the chart. It will be preceived that running up and down parallel with the image is a series of beasts. That is to say, on a level with the head of gold is a winged lion; next comes a bear; then follows a four-headed leopard, and last of all beside the legs of iron, a nondescript beast, dreadful and terrible to look upon. Now in order to understand why we have these in parallel lines we must explain a little about the Book of Daniel, or at least point out some things that are helpful in grasping the contents of the Book. The first thing, then, that we notice is this: The Book divides itself naturally into two parts of six chapters each. The first six chapters give us the story of the visions and experiences of the king; the last six give the visions of the prophet himself and his experiences. Now in keeping with this we find in the seventh chapter the first vision of the prophet and it is this vision that in the chart is paralleled with the vision of the king. And they are paralleled in the chart because they tell of the very same kingdoms and their inglorious end as the king sees in his vision of the night.
There is this very great difference, however, that what the king sees as a splendid image, the man of God sees as a succession of wild beasts. That is to say, the head of gold is a winged lion, the breast and arms of silver are a voracious bear, the belly and thighs of brass are a four-winged leopard and the iron legs are represented as a wild beast, dreadful and terrible and strong exceedingly. And the end of all these kingdoms is shown to be their complete overthrow, to be superseded by the power and dominion being given to the Son of Man. To make this clear and definite in the mind of the reader, let us point out one or two things in which the links between this vision and that of Nebuchadnezzar are quite marked. The head of gold is seen by Daniel as a winged lion and as the prophet gazes the wings are plucked up and a human heart is given to the lion. Can it be doubted that the allusion here is to the experience of Nebuchadezzar when he was humbled by God and made to know that God ruled in the heavens? Read the story as told in the fourth chapter of this Book. Then in the vision of Daniel the last beast is seen as strong and with ten horns, and this is what the king saw as legs of iron with ten toes on its feet. Other resemblances might be pointed out but there is only one more we notice, and that is the intervention of Divine power at the end to set up a kingdom which will displace all that have been before, and which will have no successor. In the dream of the king this is seen as a stone cut out of the mountain without hands and in the vision of the prophet it is a Son of Man who takes the kingdom, a man evidently in contrast with the beasts as God reckons the kings who have gone before. It is hardly necessary to say that both the stone cut out without hands and the Son of Man point to our Blessed Lord.
There is a third parallel line running up and down the chart but it is only partial and our object in placing it on the chart is to call attention to the fact that not only is the first Kingdom identified for us but at least the next two are clearly marked out in the Book of Daniel. The second empire, that is the breast and arms of silver or the bear, is on the scene even in Daniel’s lifetime, and the third one is clearly indicated in the eighth chapter, which furnishes us with the two beasts on the third parallel line running up and down, the ram with the two horns and the he-goat with the notable horn between its eyes. To sum up, then, the head of gold and the winged lion bring before us the Babylonian kingdom; the breast and arms of silver and the bear and the ram with two horns bring before us the Medo-Persian kingdom; and the belly and thighs of brass and the leopard and the one-horned goat all tell of the Grecian Empire which succeeded the MedoPersian. So we are not under obligation to the histories of men to discover the meaning of these visions, the Book that gives the visions gives also their interpretation. When we turn to the New Testament, we find the fourth empire, the nondescript beast, on the scene, the Roman empire in all its characteristics as seen in the visions of Daniel, cruel and terrible exceedingly.
The question may be asked here, were there not other mighty empires in the world besides these four? Undoubtedly, but the significance of these four is that they were the empires, one after another, that ruled over the land of Canaan and held captive the people of God, the children of Israel. It was God who gave His people into their hand and this it is that gives them such a place in these Divine records. All Scripture bears witness to the fact that God’s centre for the world is Jerusalem, and the nations that have held Jerusalem during the years included within the prophetic scope are of importance because of this fact.
(Part Two to follow next month)