World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
Judgment before the Ancient One
As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
Daniel now relates how he saw another figure, namely, God sitting on his throne to exercise judgment. We shall see it afterwards concerning Christ, but Daniel now teaches only the appearance of God in his character of a judge. This was the reason why many persons extend this prophecy to the second Advent of Christ — an interpretation by no means correct, as I shall show more copiously in the proper place. But first it is worth while to consider here, why he says — the Ancient of days, meaning the eternal Deity himself, ascended the throne judgment. This scene seems unnecessary, because it is the peculiar office of God to govern the world; and as we know this cannot be done without upright judgment, it follows that God has been a perpetual judge from the creation of the world. Now, even a moderate acquaintance with the Scriptures shows how well this passage suits us by appealing to our senses; for unless God’s power is made conspicuous, we think it either abolished or interrupted. Hence those forms of expression which occur elsewhere; as, “How long art thou silent, O Lord; and how long wilt thou cease from us?” (Psalm 13:1; Psalm 9:7, and elsewhere,) and — God ascends his throne — for we should not acknowledge him as a judge, unless he really and experimentally proved himself such. This then is the reason why Daniel says God himself was seated in judgment.
But before we proceed further, we must observe the sense in which he says — thrones were either erected or east down — for the word רום, rum can be taken in either sense. Those who translate it, “Thrones were removed,” interpret it of the Four monarchies already mentioned. But; for my part, I rather incline to a different opinion. If any one prefers explaining’ it of these Monarchies, I do not contend with him, for that; sense is probable; and as far as the pith of the matter is concerned, there is not much difference. But I think the thrones or seats are here proceed to exhibit; the divine judgment, because the Prophet will immediately’ represent myriads of angels standing before God. We know’ how often angels are adorned with this title as if they were, assessors of Deity; and the form of speech which Daniel uses when he says, “The judgment was set,” will also agree with this. He speaks here of assessors with the judge, as if God did not sit alone, but had councilors joined with him. In my opinion the most suitable explanation is, — thrones were created for the Almighty to sit on with his councilors; not implying his need of any council, but of his own goodwill and mere favor he dignifies angels with this honor, as we shall see immediately. Daniel therefore describes, after our human fashion, the preparations for judgment; just as if any king should go publicly forth for the purpose of transacting any business of moment, and should ascend his tribunal. Councilors and nobles would sit around him on both sides, not partaking of his power, but rather increasing the splendor of his appearance. For if the king alone should occupy the whole place, the dignity would not be so magnificent as when his nobles, who depend upon him, are present on all sides, because they far surpass the ordinary multitude. Daniel, therefore, relates the vision presented to him in this form; first, ‘because he was a man dwelling in the flesh; and next, he did not see it for himself personally, but for the common benefit of the whole Church. Thus God wished to exhibit a representation which might infuse into the Prophet’s mind and into those of all the pious, a feeling of admiration, and yet might have something in common with human proceedings. Thrones, therefore, he says, were erected; afterwards, the Ancient of days was seated. I have already expounded how God then began to seat himself, as he had previously appeared to be passive, and not to exercise justice in the world. For when things are disturbed and mingled with much darkness, who can say, “God reigns?” God seems to be shut up in heaven, when things are discomposed and turbulent upon earth. On the other hand, he is said to ascend his tribunal when he assumes to himself the office of a judge, and openly demonstrates that he is neither asleep nor absent, although he lies hid from human perception.
This form of speech was very appropriate for denoting the coming of Christ. For God then chiefly displayed his supreme power, as Paul quotes a passage from the Psalms, (Psalm 68:8, in Ephesians 4:8,) “Thou hast ascended on high.” When the subject treated is the first coming of Christ, it ought not to be restricted to the thirty-three years of his sojourn in the world, but it embraces his ascension, and that preaching of the gospel which ushered in his kingdom;-this will be said again more clearly and copiously. Daniel appropriately relates how God was seated when the first advent of Christ is depicted, since the majesty of God shone in the person of Christ; for which reason he is called
“The invisible image of God and the character of his glory,” (Hebrews 1:3;)
that is, of the substance or person of the Father. God therefore, who had seemed for so many ages not to notice the world nor to care for his elect people, ascended his tribunal at the advent of Christ. To this subject the Psalms, from the 95th to the 100th, all relate — “God reigns, let the earth rejoice;” “God reigns, let the islands be afraid.” In truth, God had not dwelt in complete privacy before Christ’s advent; but. the empire which he had erected was hidden and unseen, until he showed forth his glory in the person of his only begotten Son. The Ancient of days, therefore, was seated
He now says, His raiment was white like snow the hair of his head was like pure wool. God here shows himself to his Prophet in the form of man. We know how impossible it is for us to behold God as he really exists, till we ourselves become like Him, as John says in his canonical epistle. (1 John 3:2.) As our capacity cannot endure the fullness of that surpassing glory which essentially belongs to God, whenever he appears to us, he must necessarily put on a form adapted to our comprehension. God, therefore, was never seen by the fathers in his own natural perfection; but as far as their capacities allowed, he afforded them a taste of his presence for the sure acknowledgment of his Deity; and yet they comprehended him as far as it was useful for them and they were able to bear it. This is the reason why God appeared with a white garment, which is characteristic of heaven; and with snowy hair, like white and clean wool. To the same purpose is the following: His throne was like sparks of fire, that is, like glowing fire; his wheels were like burning fire. God in reality neither occupies any throne, nor is carried on wheels; but, as I already said, we ought not to imagine God in his essence to be like any appearance, to his own Prophet and other holy fathers, but he put on various appearances, according to man’s comprehension, to whom he wished to give some signs of his presence. I need not dwell longer on these forms of speech, though subtle allegories are pleasing to many. I am satisfied with holding what is solid and sure. It now follows: —