IN relation to the prediction in Dan, regarding the destruction by fire of the body of the Beast or fourth universal empire, that immediately preceding the kingdom of the Son of Man, and of the saints—his body being "given to the burning flame"—science has recently indicated another way in which this judgment might be inflicted on apostate Christendom and the Antichristian kingdoms. The following extract from the Spectator, in relation to a recent conclusion of astronomy, only met the writer's eye while the preceding work was in the press:—"We sometimes doubt whether the world's belief in science is quite as genuine as it seems. Here is Mr. Proctor, whose astronomical authority and ability nobody doubts, has told the world for some time back, we believe, that there is really a very considerable chance of a catastrophe only fifteen years hence, which may put an end to us and our earthly hopes and fears altogether; and, so far as we can see, the world has blandly treated Mr. Proctor's warning as it would have treated an interesting speculation on the future of electricity—that is, has regarded it with a certain mild, literary satisfaction, but has not made any change in its arrangements in consequence.… Yet, supposing Mr. Proctor's facts to be correctly stated—on which we should like to have the judgment of other astronomers—there does seem a remarkably good chance that in 1897 the sun will suddenly break out into the same kind of intensity of heat and light which caused the conflagration in the star of the Northern Crown in 1866, when for a day or two the heat and light emitted by it became suddenly many hundreds of times greater than they were before, after which the star relapsed into its former relative insignificance. Those few days of violence, however, must have been enough to destroy completely all vegetable and animal life in the planets circulating round that sun, if such planets were in existence; and Mr. Proctor shows no little reason to believe that the same catastrophe may very probably happen to us, doubtless from a precisely similar cause, if the astronomers who believe that the comet of 1880 was identical with the comet of 1843 and the comet of 1668 should be right,—which would imply that the same comet, with a rapidly diminishing period, is likely to return and fall into the sun, with all its meteoric appendages, in or about the year 1897. Mr. Proctor tells us that Professor Winnecke believes that the identity of the comets of 1843 and 1880 hardly admits of a doubt; while Mr. Marth thinks that both may be identical with the comet of 1668, its velocity having been reduced by its passing through the corona of the sun; so that on its next return, in a considerably reduced time, it may be altogether unable to pass out of the sphere of the sun's influence, and may precipitate itself, with all its meteoric train, into the mass of the sun. If this event occurs—as at some return or other Mr. Proctor believes to be nearly certain—(the next but one, we suppose, if not the next), there will certainly be an abrupt arrest of an enormous momentum as the long train of meteors enters the sun, which arrest would show itself in the shape of enormously increased heat,—the probable result whereof would be the burning up of all vegetable and animal life existing on the planets of the solar system. It is true that Mr. Proctor is not quite sure how the absorption of this comet and its train into the sun would really affect us. He is by no means certain that our sun would burst into flame, as the star in the Northern Crown did in 1866, but he evidently thinks it much more likely than not. And he does not seriously doubt that in the behaviour of the star in the Northern Crown, which so suddenly broke into flame in 1866, we have the example of a real sidereal catastrophe which from time to time either actually destroys, or would destroy, if they existed, such worlds as ours, if they happen to be the planets of a sun thus suddenly fed with a great accession of cosmic heat."
In connection with the same subject the writer has recently met with the following passage in Mr. Garrat's "Midnight Cry," written about twenty years ago:—"The fiery flood. So it is described in Peter's second epistle. The destruction of the ungodly will be by fire; and out of that fire will issue the new heavens and the new earth. The question is often asked, whether that event will happen at the commencement or the close of the millennium. Perhaps, in different degrees, at both. Isaiah says, speaking of a period prior to the thousand years, ‘By fire and by sword will the Lord plead with all flesh, and the slain of the Lord shall be many.' And he seems also to place the creation of new heavens and a new earth at the same period; while it is after the millennium, John says in Revelation, ‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth.' This and many other apparent difficulties of the same nature are easily explained. ‘One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.' The whole millennium is, in God's eye, but a day—the great day of the Lord God Almighty. It is the ‘regeneration,'—the period of earth's new birth; and the events at its commencement and its close are sometimes looked upon as one. God will destroy His enemies with fire at the beginning of these thousand years. The conflagration at their close will be still more terrible. Both are looked upon as one event. And it is to both, regarded as one, that the words of Peter apply: ‘The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.' It will come as a thief in the night on the world. They will be alone, because the Church will have been translated. With what bitter remorse will men look on the fiery deluge as it comes sweeping along! They might have escaped, and they would not; and now escape is impossible."
SECT. XXVIII.—ANTIOCHUS EPIPHANES, OR THE SYRIAN LITTLE HORN (Chap. Dan )
The vision now given is that of the Ram and the He-goat, representing respectively the Persian and the Grecian empires. It connects itself both with Nebuchadnezzar's great image and Daniel's four beasts, the ram being the silver breast and arms of the image and the bear of Daniel's vision, while the he-goat corresponds with the brazen belly and thighs of the former and the four horned leopards of the latter. The vision thus brings up before us the second and third of the four great monarchies.
II. His character. The notes given of him by Gabriel are:—
1. Pride. "He magnified himself even to (or against) the prince of the host," i.e., God Himself or the Messiah, called also the Prince of princes: "He shall magnify himself in his heart, and shall stand up against the Prince of princes" (Dan ; Dan 8:25). The author of the second Book of Maccabees says, in like manner, that "he thought he might command the waves of the sea and weigh the high mountains in a balance; so proud was he beyond the condition of men." The same book relates that when humbled in his last hours by the hand of God so heavily laid upon him, conscious of his past pride, he said, "It is meet to be subject unto God; and a man that is mortal should not proudly think of himself as if he were God." Pride, and especially pride in relation to God, always a prominent feature in the description of Antichrist.
2. Fierceness. "A king of fierce countenance" (Dan ). This feature in his character sufficiently verified by his doings as related in the first Book of Maccabees. When he first came against Jerusalem, under the impression that the Jews had revolted, "removing from Egypt in a furious mind, he took the city by force of arms, and commanded his men of war not to spare such as they met, and to slay such as went up upon the houses." Even with his last sickness upon him, he is said to have been still filled with pride, and to have breathed out fire in his rage against the Jews. This enemy was to be daring and shameless, without fear either of God or man.
V. His end (Dan ). "He shall be broken without hand." Neither in battle, nor by the hand of the assassin, nor any other human instrumentality, but by the secret operation and mighty power of God, was this oppressor of His people and His cause to meet with his end. Prophecy was fulfilled in his death as truly as in his life. History relates that having gone to Elymais, in Persia, in quest of gold to pay the Roman tribute, he left the place in great heaviness to return to Babylon. "There came to him," however, says the author of 1st Maccabees, "one who brought him tidings into Persia that his armies, which went against the land of Judea, were put to flight," and that the people "had pulled down the abomination which he had set up upon the altar in Jerusalem." When the king heard this "he was astonished and sore moved; whereupon he laid him down upon his bed and fell sick for grief, because it had not befallen him as he had looked for; and there he continued many days, his grief always increasing, and he made account that he should die." Then calling his friends together, he is said to have addressed them in the following terms: "I now remember the evils that I did at Jerusalem, and that I took all the vessels of gold and silver that were therein, and sent to destroy the inhabitants of Judea without a cause. I perceive, therefore, that for this cause these troubles are come upon me, and behold, I perish through great grief in a strange land" (1Ma 6:4-16). The second Book of Maccabees further relates that, fleeing from Persepolis, where he had attempted to rob the temple, and coming to Ecbatana, he received the tidings of the defeat of his generals, Nicanor and Timotheus, in Judea, and that upon this he resolved to hasten his return to Jerusalem, threatening to make it a common burying place of the Jews; but that as soon as he uttered the words, "he was smitten with an incurable and invisible plague, being seized with severe pains in his bowels," aggravated by a sore fall from his chariot while driving violently in haste for revenge; while, "along with his extreme pain, the worms rose up out of his body, his flesh fell away, and the noisomeness of the smell that issued from him was such that no one could endure to carry him, and that he himself was unable to bear it."
From the whole chapter we may notice—
1. The reality of fulfilled prophecy. The proof of the predictions contained in this chapter being true prophecy and not history, as well as of their actual fulfilment, such as to be sufficient to convince any but those who will not believe either in prophecy or miracle on any evidence whatever. The fulfilment of the prophecy in this section so exact that writers of the Rationalistic school have employed all their ingenuity to disprove the genuineness of the book and to make it to be a forgery of later times. Our comfort to know that as God possesses the knowledge of future events, so He has given to His people a proof of His concern for their welfare by communicating to them through His servants, centuries beforehand, events that shall surely come to pass.
2. The interest taken by angelic beings in the affairs of the Church and the world. This interest exhibited here by two celestial personages, one of whom at least is a created angel. Their interest in the vision and its interpretation an example worthy of our imitation, for whose benefit both were given. If an angel inquired with concern of Him who is the revealer of secrets, "How long shall be the vision?" well may those do so who have a personal interest in the events foretold.
3. The duty of inquiring into the meaning of the word of prophecy. This taught by the example of the prophet himself. Daniel, not satisfied with receiving the vision, earnestly sought its meaning. If the prophets themselves "inquired diligently what, and what manner of time, the Spirit that was in them did signify, when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow," how much more ought we to do so for whom they ministered? (1Pe ).
4. Jesus the Author both of the prophecies and their interpretation. Little doubt but that here and in chap. 9. He is the person who is introduced as communicating with Daniel through a created angel. So the New Testament prophecies are called "the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto Him," and which "He sent and signified by His angel unto His servant John" (Rev ). So in chap. Rev 22:16 : "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches." "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." A sufficient reason surely for studying the prophetic Word, as well as a sweet encouragement to look for divine help in understanding its meaning. The prophetic office of Jesus never to be forgotten.
5. The instrumentality of others employed by the Head of the Church in communicating knowledge. The interpretation of the vision not given to Daniel directly, but through the medium of an angel. "Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision." So Philip was sent to expound to the eunuch the prophecy he was reading: "How can I understand except some man should guide me?" (Act ).
6. The tendency of the heart to backslide from God. Within four centuries after the return of the Jews from Babylon, they are found to have departed so far from God, and to have adopted so much the ways of the heathen, that fresh and still greater calamities were made to overtake them, almost to their entire extinction as a people. Only too much ground for the warning, "Take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God."
7. The danger to true religion from the influence of the world around us, and the necessity of guarding against it. The danger to Israel after their return to their own land was that they were surrounded by the heathen and brought into close contact with them. "They were mixed with the heathen and learned their ways." The danger from conformity to the world, the rock against which the Church of God needs constantly to be warned. "Evil communications corrupt good manners." Hence the exhortation, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord" (2Co ).
8. God's patience and long-suffering. Not till "the transgressors had come to the full" did He employ the scourge of the Syrian oppression for their correction. Sentence against an evil work not speedily executed. The long-suffering of God to be accounted salvation. God not willing that any should perish. His goodness intended to lead to repentance. Only when that fails goodness is exchanged for severity.
9. The mercy of divine chastisement. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." Better for Israel to have Antiochus let loose upon them than to continue to learn and practise the ways of the heathen and sink into apostasy. Better smart for sin in time than suffer for it in eternity. The case of Israel and Antiochus is given as an example of the use of persecution to discipline the Church of God and His ministers, and to prepare the way for the Saviour.
10. The wretched depravity of the human heart. In Antiochus Epiphanes, as in millions more, we have an example of the madness that is in men's hearts while they live without God and are strangers to His grace. The tendency of the heart to increase in depravity as its desires are indulged. No height of pride or depth of wickedness to which a man may not arrive when left to himself and the enemy of souls. One prayed to be kept from that most hideous of sights, a human heart. Better the saying of the heathen philosopher, "Know thyself."
11. Oppressors and persecutors still in God's hand. To Antiochus, as to others, He says, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed." The tyrant and oppressor employed as His scourge as long as He sees necessary, and then arrested in his madness, either in mercy or in judgment. Saul, breathing out slaughter against God's saints, is awakened and saved; Antiochus perseveres in his cruelty till he is "broken without hand."
12. Timely help and deliverance provided for God's persecuted people. While Antiochus is prepared as a scourge for backsliding Israel, Mattathias and his sons are raised up as means for their deliverance. So with the Jews and Sennacherib. "The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold," &c. Herod Agrippa stretches out his hand to vex certain of the Church, and he is smitten with an unseen hand and eaten up of worms. Queen Mary dies while Bernard Gilpin is on his way to a martyr's death. Persecutors seldom allowed to be long livers, and when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. Where Satan raises up a Pharaoh, God in His time prepares a Moses.
13. Religious privileges and ordinances not sufficient to keep the Church from backsliding from God, nor to save it from punishment when it does so. The abuse of such privileges among a nation's greatest sins, and the cause of its sorest chastisements. The sin which brought Antiochus against the Jews and Mahomet against the Christians. The ark of God no safety to unfaithful Israel from the hand of the Philistines. "Take away her battlements, for they are not the Lord's." England's greatest danger from despised mercies and abused privileges. Britain's highest privilege the abundance of her Bibles and the freeness of her Gospel. The present a time, however, for all the lovers of their country to cry mightily to God to save her from the sin of a refused Bible and a rejected Saviour.
SECT. XXIX.—THE MOSLEM ANTICHRIST (Chap. Dan )
I. The rise of their power. The Saracen power, like Mahomet himself, arose in Arabia, while that of the Turks had its origin in Parthia, near the Oxus, both being within the territory of the he-goat or Grecian Empire, and indeed that part of it from which the Little Horn was to spring, and of which Antiochus was the ruler. Like the founder of the religion which bears his name, the Turkish Empire was "little" in its beginning, commencing with Togrul Beg, a Turcoman shepherd, the petty chief of a petty clan. Togrul, by marrying the Caliph's daughter, from being, as Dr. Cumming remarks, "a petty and contemptible chief, became the loyal and all but irresistible propagandist of Mahometan fanaticism."
II. Its character. Pride obviously belonged to one who claimed to be the supreme prophet of God, whose teachings and revelations were to supersede those both of Moses and of Christ, and to a people that believe themselves to be alone the faithful and the favourites of the Almighty, and despise all others as dogs and infidels. Fierceness is the well-known characteristic both of Saracens and Turks, a people, according to one of their own chiefs, whose "delight is in war rather than in peace," and who, in the language of Gibbon speaking of the Turkish nations, "still breathe the fierceness of the desert." The singular and somewhat obscure feature of "understanding dark sentences" may not unnaturally be applied to one who pretended to receive the Koran, with all its mysterious and dark sentences, from the mouth of the Angel Gabriel, a book which has been the study of many of his followers in relation to the most abstruse theological subjects, while many others have entered as profoundly into the various branches of mathematical and scientific knowledge,—Mahomet's successor, Ali, uniting, as Gibbon remarks, "the qualifications of a poet, a soldier, and a saint."
By policy and craft Mahomet is known to have made the progress he did, acting as a worldly ruler while pretending to be the prophet of God and the organ of divine communications to mankind. "In the exercise of political government," says the historian just quoted, "Mahomet was compelled to abate the stern rigour of fanaticism, to comply with the prejudices and passions of his followers, and to employ even the vices of mankind as the instruments of their salvation. The use of fraud and perfidy, of cruelty and injustice, was often subservient to the propagation of the faith." He is believed to have worn the mask of sanctity and mortification only the better to extend his imposture in the world; while his craft appears in pretending new and contradictory communications from Heaven to meet emergencies and requirements as they arose.
The effect of the vision upon Daniel himself, noted in the end of the chapter. "I, Daniel, fainted, and was sick certain days" (Dan ). The mere circumstances of the vision might have thus operated on Daniel's physical system. Communication with angelic beings in the present state probably too much for the human frame to endure without considerable derangement. It is likely, however, that the nature of the communication made had the principal share in producing this effect. The prospect of so much misery in store for his people after their restoration to their own land, and that, too, as the consequence of their own multiplied and matured transgressions, especially their abandonment of Jehovah's worship, was too much for the sensitive and beloved prophet. Daniel felt as a patriot, a prophet, and a man of God. From this, the concluding part of the chapter, we may note—
1. It is the part of sin to blunt, but of grace to intensify, natural feelings. The more that our nature is refined and purified, the more shall we be affected by the sins and sorrows of others, especially those of our own kindred and country. The more we are made to resemble the Sinless One, the more readily shall we with Him mingle our tears with the bereaved and weep over a city that rejects its God and Saviour. The same grace drew from the tender-hearted prophet the exclamation, "Oh, that my head were waters and mine eyes fountains of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughters of my people;" and caused the manly, courageous Apostle to write, "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Jer ; Rom 9:23).
2. The feelings and affections moved by realised truth according to its nature. The effect of truth, cordially received and realised, as in the case of the prophet, is to produce either joy or sorrow, hope or fear, love or aversion. The depth and power of the emotion according to the character of the truth and the intensity with which it is realised. The proper effect of Gospel truth to produce not only love to the revealed Saviour, but to fill the soul with joy (1Pe ). Believed and realised prediction of divine visitation for sin naturally productive of deep concern. The mark of the godly to tremble at God's word (Isa 66:2). "When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble" (Hab 3:16). It is the nature of sin to harden the heart against divine threatenings (Heb 3:7; Heb 4:7). While Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled. His ruin was that he resisted his convictions, silenced his fears, and hardened his heart by a return to his sins.
3. Religious concern no hindrance to daily duty. Daniel's sickness disabled him for duty while it lasted, which was only for "certain days." So soon as it was over he "rose up and did the king's business" (Dan ). Daniel's well-balanced mind knew how to be "diligent in business" while "fervent in spirit." One form, fruit, and evidence of serving God faithfully is the faithful discharge of relative duties. Daniel was faithful and diligent in serving the king because he was faithful and diligent in serving God. His diligence and fidelity as well as his wisdom the source and secret of his influence at the Babylonian and Persian courts. "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings, and shall not stand before mean men."
4. God's dealings often dark and mysterious. Daniel "was astonished at the vision" (Dan ). Events in providence often very different from our anticipation. Daniel expected a long period of peace and prosperity to his people on their settlement in their own land, according to the glowing descriptions of Isaiah and other prophets; while Israel, taught by bitter experience, would henceforth walk in the ways of the Lord. Both of these expectations were contradicted by the vision. Messiah was not yet to appear. The people were to suffer more than ever, and their suffering was to be the chastisement of their apostasy and sin. "His way is in the sea, and His path on the great waters." Patience is to have her perfect work. "Though the vision tarry, wait for it." One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. God is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness. If He delay to fulfil His promise, it is because delay is better than despatch. "My ways are not your ways, neither are my thoughts your thoughts, saith the Lord."
5. Knowledge of prophetic truth not in all cases vouchsafed. "None understood the vision" (Dan ). Daniel was to "shut up the vision" (Dan 8:27). It was true, and therefore to be carefully preserved; but its fulfilment was distant, "for many days." As the time of fulfilment drew nigh it would be pondered and better understood. "At the end it shall speak, and not lie" (Hab 2:3). The time would come when many should run to and fro, or carefully investigate its meaning, and the knowledge of it should be increased (chap. Dan 12:4). That time much nearer now in these last days. "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand" (Rev 1:3).
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Daniel 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany