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a Bible passage
He shall speak words against the Most High,
shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High,
and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law;
and they shall be given into his power
for a time, two times, and half a time.
The angel now explains a little more clearly what the Prophet had formerly touched upon but briefly, namely, this last king should be a manifest and professed enemy to the Church. We yesterday showed how miserably and cruelly the Church had been harassed by many tyrants. And if we compare these tyrants with each other, we shall find the Church to have been much more heavily afflicted after Christ’s advent, and to have been opposed by the Caesars in open warfare. The occasion arose in this way. The doctrine of the Gospel had been dispersed through almost all the provinces of the empire. The Jewish name was hateful; and the novelty of the teaching added greatly to that unpopularity. Men thought the Jews had invented a new deity for themselves — even Christ;, as their language seemed to imply the worship of a new divinity. As, therefore, some material for rage against the pure worship of God was afforded them, the Caesars became more and more stirred up to carry on war against the elect, and to oppress the Church. It was not their fault if they did nor; extinguish the whole light of the celestial doctrine, abolish true religion, and banish: the knowledge of God from the world. This agrees very well with what Daniel relates of this king becoming so headstrong, as to utter words against the most High God. Some translate it, on the part of the most High, but I know no reason for their doing so. לצד, letzed, signifies on the side or the region. The equivalent phrase is this; so great should be the pride of this new king, who did not exercise his power openly but by hidden deceit, that he should sit as it were on the side of God and in opposition to him. This means he should be manifestly God’s enemy. Those who understand this of Antichrist, think their opinion confirmed by the conduct of other tyrants who carried on their warfare against God with arms and violence, but not by words. But the Prophet does not speak so subtlety here. For by words he does not here mean doctrine, but that verbal boasting by which the Caesars dared to promulgate their edicts throughout the whole world, urging all the proconsuls to punish the Christians, and not to permit that impious and cursed sect to flourish; and thus terrors flew about throughout the whole world. What Daniel now relates was then fulfilled, namely, the utterance of words of defiance against God; for those tyrants thought their own edicts, without the armament of soldiers, would be sufficient to extinguish the memory of Christ. Thus, also, true piety was disgracefully traduced, and the very name of Christ lacerated by horrible reproaches, as historians have amply informed us.
This explanation, therefore, is most suitable to the little horn speaking or uttering words against the most High. He shall afflict, says he, the saints of the lofty ones We have already briefly explained the meaning of this expression, according to its grammatical construction. By saints he doubtless means sons of God, or his elect people, or the Church. He calls these “saints of lofty ones,” because as elect they depend upon heaven; and although they are pilgrims in the world, yet their life is in heaven, where the eternal inheritance remains for them which was obtained by Christ. As, therefore, their treasure is now heaven, they deservedly boast of being citizens of heaven, and allies and brethren of angels. Thus they are properly called “saints of lofty ones;” they are separated from the world, and know themselves to live here day by day until they arrive at firm and enduring repose. We know this to have been fulfilled, because overwhelming terror fell upon all the pious, and the Church almost perished, while multitudes who were suspected of being Christians were subjected to cruel tortures. The prevalence of this universal license for persecuting all the pious explains how the saints were then afflicted by the small horn.
The Prophet or rather the angel next says, He will think, or meditate, to change time and law, and they shall be delivered into his hand. As to the time here spoken of, many refer it to holy days. But we may understand it generally of the small horn overthrowing whatever was formerly customary in the world; and thus also I interpret the word רת, reth, not the Law of God or the Gospel, but any rites, customs, and institutions. While interpreters are contending about this word, some referring it to the Decalogue, and others to the preaching of the Gospel, I think the simple sense of the Prophet to be this: the Caesars perverted all laws, both human and divine. We have seen how they attempted this, and how far they accomplished it. It is not surprising then if the Prophet; assigns this unbridled audacity to this last king, who thought to change whatever had been formerly ordained in the world. And for this reason it had been formerly said this horn should be furnished with human eyes; and next, should speak mightily, thundering horribly, and inspiring all men with fear through its voice alone. We know this to have been represented as in a glass, if we consider how far the Caesars proceeded in their arrogance. First, as to Octavius, while he restrained himself within due bounds politically, he suffered himself to be adored as a god, and altars to be erected to him; he wished the public to be persuaded of his deity, and celebrated a banquet in which he sat among the superior deities. Tiberius neglected religious ceremonies entirely, and yet we see how he despised all men. Although he was of an obtuse disposition, in his daring he was extreme, and was all the while craftily deceiving the senate. Next, as to Caligula, he threatened Jupiter in this way, — “What! thou art an exile here and I a native: I will banish thee into Greece thy native place.” He often inflicted blows upon the statue of Jupiter, and not content with the name of a god, he ordered the chief sacrifices to be offered to himself. This diabolic fury increased in Domitian. And considering the Caesars as men, what was their character? One of them said, “I wish the Roman people had but one need.” He enjoyed the slaughter of the senate as a sport, and wished to make his horse a consul. How disgraceful was such conduct! We see, then, how this prediction was not uttered without a cause; namely, so great should be the arrogance of the small horn that it would dare to change and turn into a new almost all “law,” meaning all order of every kind, and “times,” meaning the very series and nature of all things. The Prophet then says he thought He does not express the result, but simply signifies the arrival of the small horn at such a degree of madness as to suppose it could draw down the sun from heaven, turn light: into darkness, and leave nothing entire, nothing in order, throughout, the world. Those occurrences really happened in accordance with this prophecy. I cannot enter into details here. I should have to detain you many days or even months while citing history; I can only touch shortly upon what: is necessary for explaining the Prophet’s words and the meaning of his prediction.
They shall be delivered into his hands means, — however the small horn should leap forward in desperate fury, yet: God should always rule over him, and nothing should happen without his permission,. It was God then who delivered into the hands of that identifying the saints, the political government, and the institutions of piety, allowing him to pour out promiscuously human blood, to violate every national right, and to ruin as far as possible all religion. It brings us then no little comfort to know when God’s permission is given to tyrants to harass the Church and interfere with His lawful worship; for if we were left to the mercy of their lusts, how distressing would be the universal confusion! But he succors us, as the angel says, when tyrants assail us and disturb all order by their horrible licentiousness and cruel rage against the miserable and the innocent: he succors us, I say, so that they are unable to move to finger against us without God’s permission. We are not permitted to know why God relaxes the rein in favor of the enemies of his Church; perhaps it is to prove and try the patience of his people. It is sufficient for us, if, when tyrants scheme and plot in every way, they are unable to do anything without the divine permission.
But a greater consolation is added in the last clause, even for a time and times, and the division of a time, or half, as some translate it; it is properly a division. Interpreters differ widely about these words, and I will not bring forward all their opinions, otherwise it would be necessary to refute them. I should have no little trouble in refuting all their views, but I will follow my own custom of shortly expressing the genuine sense of the Prophet, and thus all difficulty will be removed. Those who consider a “time” to mean a “year,” are in my opinion wrong. They cite the forty-two months of the Apocalypse, (Revelation 13:5,) which make three years and a half; but that argument is not conclusive, since in that case a year will not consist of 365 days, but the year itself must be taken figuratively for any indeterminate time. It is better then to keep close to the Prophet’s words. A “time,” then, is not put for a certain number of months or days, nor yet for a single year, but for any period whose termination is in the secret counsel of God. They shall be given, then, for a time, says he, and afterwards adds times; that is, for a continuance of times; and again, even to a section or division of a time; meaning, these calamities should come to an end whenever God, in mercy to his Church, should restrain those tyrants by his wrath against them. As long, therefore, as the cruelty of the Caesars oppressed God’s Church, it was committed into their hands. We have already seen how many Caesars were enemies of the true Church. First, of all, Nero raged most cruelly, for he burnt some thousands of Christians at Rome, to extinguish the infamy which raged against himself. The people could not endure his barbarity; for, while the fourth part of the city was destroyed by Nero, he was enjoying his pleasure and rejoicing so mournful a spectacle! As he feared the popular tumult against himself, he laid hold of many Christians, and offered them to the people as a kind of expiation. Those who followed him, did not cease to pour forth innocent blood, and those who seemed to be endued with some degree of clemency and humanity were all at length seized with a diabolic fury. Trajan was esteemed a very excellent prince, and yet we know how he commanded the Christians everywhere to be slain, since he thought them obstinate in their error. And others were more savage still. No wonder, therefore, the angel predicts, even for a time, and times, and the division of a time, that license would be given to the tyrants and enemies of the Church to pervert all things, to despise God, and set aside all justice, and to execute a cruel and barbarous slaughter. This ought to be predicted for two reasons: first, lest through length of time the faithful should fall away, because when “the time” — a space of about ten years — had passed, they would come to the times, consisting of about fifty or a hundred years.
This, then, was one reason why God admonished the faithful concerning the time and times. But he wished also to mitigate their sorrow by adding half a time, thus promising some moderation and ending to such great calamities. The language of our Lord to his Apostles concerning the various commotion of the earth, corresponds very well with this view. “There shall arise wars and rumors of wars, and no end as yet,” says he. He announces them as the preludes to greater evils, when the whole of Judea should be devastated with wars and other slaughters. He afterwards adds, “Unless those days had been shortened.” (Matthew 24:6; Mark 13:7; Luke 21:9.) This shortening of the days is here noticed as if the Lord cut short; a continued succession of them. For when the possession of the tyranny appeared fierce, then suddenly and beyond the expectation of all, God at length snatched away his Church, and then the evangelical doctrine emerged, and was celebrated everywhere. God, therefore, then shortened the days on account of his own elect, and this is understood by the last clause, a division of a time. I will defer the rest till to-morrow.