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THE PROPHETIC MEANING OF “A TIME.”
It is important to determine accurately the meaning of this and similar phrases. The word “time” is, as Calvin remarks, naturally indefinite, while its use in this Prophet leads to the conclusion that it means “years.” The passage in Daniel 4:16, “Seven times,” is usually understood to mean seven years, although nothing can fairly rest upon this interpretation. The phrase of this verse is usually taken to mean half of seven times, and is used again in Daniel 12:7. The other passages which refer to periods of time are expressed more definitely, for instance, 2300 “evenings and mornings,” Daniel 8:14-26; the seventy weeks or seven, Daniel 9:24; the 1290 “days,” Daniel 12:11, and the 1335 days, Daniel 12:12. “The terms in the first four instances,” says Bickersteth, in his Practical Guide to the Prophecies, edit. sixth, 1839, page 184, “are in themselves quite ambiguous and general. There is nothing to determine, respecting the number 2300, and the seventy weeks, whether years or days be intended; but analogy would lead us to suppose that all were to be interpreted on a common principle.” He goes on to say, “It appears from Daniel 12:7, that the close of the three times and a half is closely connected with the gathering of the Jews; and from Zechariah 1:18-21, that the power of the four Gentile monarchies is then broken; and this confirms the extended meaning of both. God looks at the whole course of this world’s history as but a few days. Daniel, when he heard the period of the times and a half announced by the angel, understood not, and on inquiry received the answer, The words are sealed to the time of the end; and an intimation is given, that even when unsealed, only the wise would understand. We thus learn that the meaning couched under this expression was purposely concealed for a time, but was afterwards to be unfolded to the wise. The promise is not of a fresh revelation, but of an explanation of a period already given. And there seems to have been a wise end in this veiling of the time, as it would have been staggering to the faith, and deadening to the hopes of the Israelites, if the whole of the interval had been openly and explicitly declared,” page 186. This excellent man was an advocate of the symbolizing sense of chronological expressions; thus on the “seven times,” he says; “this seems plainly to denote the season during which the Gentile dominion of the four monarchies should be corrupt and worldly, as afterwards exhibited in the four beasts coming up from the sea.” Again, “the seven times” would then answer to “the times of the Gentiles” mentioned by our Lord. He also makes the following statements — “The time, times, and half a time, the forty-two months and 1260 days, are the same interval; the time, times, and half, of Daniel and the Revelation are the same period; a prophetic day is a natural year; the three and a half times are the half of seven times, the whole season of Gentile power, and the same with the latter times of St. Paul. A time denotes 360 years, and chronos is equivalent to kairos,” (p. 365.) As these assertions are not to be found anywhere in Holy Scripture, Calvin has manifested his wisdom, by expounding the text as he finds it, and avoiding all conjectural statements. As a specimen, however, of a scheme on the opposite principles to those maintained in these Lectures, we will quote one final passage on this subject, headed Particular Times, (p. 366.) “The time, times, and half, and 1260 days of Revelation are the same period. The forty-two months have a date rather later, like the two dates of the seventy years’ captivity;” (yet observe the previous extract. — Ed) “The 1290 and 1335 days of Daniel both commence with the 1260 days of Revelation, or time, times, and a half, of both prophecies; the seven times of the Gentiles begin with the subjection of Israel under Shamanezer; the three and a half times begin with Justinian’s eternal code, A.D. 532-3; the forty-two months close nearly with the 1335 days; the forty-two months begin A.D. 604, or A.D. 607-8, with the re-union of the ten kingdoms, or the public establishment of idolatry; the 1335 days end in A.D. 1867-8.” The arguments in favor of this theory, directed chiefly against the Futurists, are found in the “First Elements of Sacred Prophecy,” from chapter. 12, page 308, to the end of the volume. Similar discussions are contained in “The Morning Watch,” passim, especially one on “The Sacred numbers,” volume 5, pages 273-285, London, 1832. The reader who is curious in such numerical calculations will find much to his taste in the volumes of this periodical.
Brooks, in his useful compendium, “Elements of Prophetical Interpretation,” has devoted Daniel 10 to “Time mystically expressed.” He examines at full length the argument of Maitland, who contends for the literal meaning of days, in “An Inquiry into the grounds on which the prophetic period of Daniel and St. John has been supposed to consist of 1260 years.” Brooks brings forward the usual reasonings by which the literal meaning of the word “day” is supposed to be overthrown, and combats Maitland with much spirit. He settles it rather positively, that “the literal meaning of a time is a year, and then considers the expression of this verse 25, “may signify, mystically, if calculated by lunar time, a period of 1260 years.” Some, it is added, “have considered that a time means mystically a century of years.” Vitringa states this to be the view of the Waldenses, who hoped for a speedy termination to their persecutions, and were persuaded that the anti-christian power which opposed them could only last 350 years. Bengelius at one time adopts, and at another rejects the year-day explanation, and modifies it according to his pleasure in his “Introduction to the Interpretation of the Apocalypse,” translated by Robertson, pages 147, 212, 258. “Another important principle to be kept in view is, the high probability that there may be a mystical fulfillment of some of the dates and facts connected with the chronological prophecies, and a literal fulfillment likewise.” Speculations of this kind are by no means in the spirit of Calvin’s comments; he carefully avoids all such expressions as “mystical days,” yet the reader will find in this little volume many extracts from writers of repute, illustrating the prominent features of Daniel’s prophecies.
Professor Bush, in the Hierophant, page 180, comments with great critical ability upon the Hebrew word signifying “time” in this verse. He compares it with the word זמן, zemen, correctly rendered “season” in the authorized version. The leading sense of this word, he states, “is that of a fixed, prescribed, determinate season,” and in this respect it differs from the more general word time, as the Greek kairos, “season,” differs from chronos, time. As to the other word עדן gneden is used for the most part in a wider sense, and answers more accurately to the Hebrew עת Gneth, “time.” “We find mention made in the last chapter of Daniel of two other periods, one of 1290, the other of 1335 years.” The additional numbers expressing 30 and 45 similar periods, are called supplementary terms. At page 241 there is an able letter to Professor Stuart of Andover, U.S., on prophet, in designations of time. This learned writer is like Calvin, praeterits, and consequently his writings on this subject; are an able elucidation of the principles of these lectures. He approves of Davidson’s statement in his “Sacred I-Hermeneutics,” that days are days, and years years. So the writer maintains with no small skill and power of argumentation. Professor Bush, on the other hand, replies, “the grand principle into which the usage of employing a day for year is to be resolved, is that of miniature symbolization.” The argument between the two American divines is then carried on at some length; it is only necessary here to refer to it, on the general principle which we have adopted in illustrating these lectures, namely, to shew that Calvin’s decision meets with many able supporters and expounders among British, Continental, and American writers, as well as numerous, earnest, and voluminous opponents.
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