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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Daniel 12



Verses 1-13


(Daniel 12:1-13)

THE twelfth chapter of the Book of Daniel serves as a general epilogue to the Book, and is as little free from difficulties in the interpretation of the details as are the other apocalyptic chapters.

The keynote, however, to their right understanding must be given in the words "At that time," with which the first verse opens. The words can only mean "the time" spoken of at the end of the last chapter, the days of that final effort of Antiochus against the holy people which ended in his miserable death.

"At that time," then- i.e., about the year B.C. 163-the guardian archangel of Israel, "Michael, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people," shall stand up for their deliverance.

But this deliverance should resemble many similar crises in its general characteristics. It should not be immediate. On the contrary, it should be preceded by days of unparalleled disorder and catastrophe-"a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time." We may, for instance, compare with this the similar prophecy of Jeremiah: [Jeremiah 30:4-11]

"And these are the words which the Lord spake concerning Israel and concerning Judah. For thus saith the Lord; We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord, that I will burst thy bonds Therefore fear thou not, O Jacob, My servant, saith the Lord; neither be dismayed, O Israel For I am with thee. saith the Lord, to save thee. For I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have scattered thee, but I will not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee with judgment, and will in nowise leave thee unpunished."

The general conception is so common as even to have found expression in proverbs, -such as, "The night is darkest just before the dawn"; and, "When the tale of bricks is doubled, Moses comes." Some shadow of similar individual and historic experiences is found also among the Greek and Romans. In the lines of Horace, -

"Nec Deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus Intersit."

We find the same expectation in the apocryphal Book of Enoch, (90:16) and we find it reflected in the Revelation of St. John, [Revelation 16:14; Revelation 19:19] where he describes the devil as let loose and the powers of evil as gathering themselves together for the great final battle of Armageddon before the eternal triumph of the Lamb and of His saints. In Rabbinic literature there was a fixed anticipation that the coming of the Messiah must inevitably be preceded by "pangs" or "birth-throes," of which they spoke. {Comp. Matthew 24:6-7; Matthew 24:21-22}

These views may partly have been founded on individual and national experience, but they were doubtless deepened by the vision of Zechariah (chapter 14).

"Behold, a day, of the Lord cometh, when thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the people shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle. And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be light, but cold and ice but it shall be one day that is known unto the Lord, not day and not night: but it shall come to pass that at evening time there shall be light.". [Zechariah 14:1-7]

The anticipation of the saintly writer in the days of the early Maccabean uprising, while all the visible issues were still uncertain, and hopes as yet unaccomplished could only be read by the eyes of faith, were doubtless of a similar character. When he wrote Antiochus was already concentrating his powers to advance with the utmost wrath and fury against the Holy City. Humanly speaking, it was certain that the holy people could oppose no adequate resistance to his overwhelming forces, in which he would doubtless be able to enlist contingents from many allied nations. What could ensue but immeasurable calamity to the great majority? Michael indeed, their prince, should do his utmost for them; but it would not be in his power to avert the misery which should fall on the nation generally.

Nevertheless, they should not be given up to utter or to final destruction. As in the days of the Assyrians the name Shear-jashub, which Isaiah gave to one of his young sons, was a sign that "a remnant should be left," so now the seer is assured that, "thy people shall be delivered"-at any rate "every one that shall be found written in the book."

"Written in the book"-for all true Israelites had ever believed that a book of record, a book of remembrance, lies ever open before the throne of God, in which are inscribed the names of God’s faithful ones; as well as that awful book in which are written the evil deeds of men. Thus in Exodus [Exodus 32:33] we read, "Whosoever hath sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book," which tells us of the records against the guilty. In Psalms 69:28 we read, "Let them be blotted out of the book of life, and not be written with the righteous." That book of the righteous is specially mentioned by Malachi: "Then they that feared the Lord spake one with another: and the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord and called upon His Name.". [Malachi 3:16] And St. John refers to these books at the close of the Apocalypse: "And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works And if any one was not found written in the book of life, he was cast in the lake of fire."

In the next verse the seer is told that "many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting abhorrence."

It is easy to glide with insincere confidence over the difficulties of this verse, but they are many.

We should naturally connect it with what goes before as a reference to "that time"; and if so, it would seem as though-perhaps with reminiscences of the concluding prophecy of Isaiah-the writer contemplated the end of all things and the final resurrection. If so, we have here another instance to be added to the many in which this prophetic vision of the future passed from an immediate horizon to another infinitely distant. And if that be the correct interpretation, this is the earliest trace in Scripture of the doctrine of individual immortality. Of that doctrine there was no full knowledge-there were only dim prognostications or splendid hopes-until in the fulness of the times Christ brought life and immortality to light. For instance, the passage here seems to be doubly limited. It does not refer to mankind in general, but only to members of the chosen people; and it is not said that all men shall rise again and receive according to their works, but only that "many" shall rise to receive the reward of true life, while others shall live indeed, but only in everlasting shame. To them that be wise-to "the teacher," and to those that turn the many to "righteousness"-there is a further promise of glory. They "shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars for ever and ever." There is here, perhaps, a reminiscence of Proverbs 4:18-19, which tells us that the way of the wicked is as darkness, whereas the path of the just is as the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Our Lord uses a similar metaphor in his explanation of the Parable of the Tares: "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." We find it once again in the last verse of the Epistle of St. James: "Let him know, that he who hath converted a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." But there is a further indication that the writer expected this final consummation to take place immediately after the troubles of the Antiochian assault; for he describes the angel Gabriel as bidding Daniel "to seal the Book even to the time of the end." Now as it is clear that the Book was, on any hypothesis, meant for the special consolation of the persecuted Jews under the cruel sway of the Seleucid King, and that then first could the Book be understood, the writer evidently looked for the fulfilment of his last prophecies at the termination of these troubles. This meaning is a little obscured by the rendering, " many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased." Ewald, Maurer, and Hitzig take the verse, which literally implies movement hither and thither, in the sense, "many shall peruse the Book." Mr. Bevan, however, from a consideration of the Septuagint Version of the words, "and knowledge shall be increased" - for which they read, "and the land be filled with injustice"-thinks that the original rendering would be represented by, "many shall rush hither and thither, and many shall be the calamities." In other words, "the revelation must remain concealed, because there is to ensue a long period of commotion and distress." If we have been convinced by the concurrence of many irresistible arguments that the Book of Daniel is the product of the epoch which it most minutely describes, we can only see in this verse a part of the literary form which the Book necessarily assumed as the vehicle for its lofty and encouraging messages.

The angel here ceases to speak, and Daniel, looking round him, becomes aware of the presence of two other celestial beings, one of whom stood on either bank of the river. "And one said to the man clothed in linen, which was above the waters of the river, How long to the end of these wonders?" There is a certain grandeur in the vagueness of description, but the speaker seems to be one of the two angels standing on either "lip" of the Tigris. "The man clothed in linen," who is hovering in the air above the waters of the river, is the same being who in Daniel 8:16 wears "the appearance of a man," and calls "from between the banks of Ulai" to Gabriel that he is to make Daniel understand the vision. He is also, doubtless, the "one man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz, his body like the beryl, his face as flashing lightning, his eyes as burning torches, and his voice like the deep murmur of a multitude," who strikes such terror into Daniel and his comrades in the vision of Daniel 10:5-6; -and though all is left uncertain, "the great prince Michael" may perhaps be intended.

The question how long these marvels were to last, and at what period the promised deliverance should be accomplished, was one which would naturally have the intensest interest to those Jews who-in the agonies of the Antiochian persecution and at the beginning of the "little help" caused by the Maccabean uprising-read for the first time the fearful yet consolatory and inspiring pages of this new apocalypse. The answer is uttered with the most solemn emphasis. The Vision of the priest-like and gold-girded angel, as he hovers above the river-flood, "held up both his hands to heaven," and swears by Him that liveth for ever and ever that the continuance of the affliction shall be "for a time, times, and a half." So Abraham, to emphasise his refusal of any gain from the King of Sodom, says that he has "lifted up his hand unto the Lord, the Most High God, that he would not take from a thread to a shoe-latchet." And in Exodus 6:8, when Jehovah says "I did swear," the expression means literally, "I lifted up My hand." It is the natural attitude of calling God to witness; and in Revelation 10:5-6, with a reminiscence of this passage, the angel is described as standing on the sea, and lifting his right hand to heaven to swear a mighty oath that there should be no longer delay.

The "time, two times, and half a time" of course means three years and a half, as in Daniel 7:25. There can be little doubt that their commencement is the terminus a quo which is expressly mentioned in Daniel 12:11 : "the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away." We have already had occasion to see that three years, with a margin which seems to have been variously computed, does roughly correspond to the continuance of that total desecration of the Temple, and extinction of the most characteristic rites of Judaism, which preceded the death of Antiochus and the triumph of the national cause.

Unhappily the reading, rendering, and interpretation of the next clause of the angel’s oath are obscure and uncertain. It is rendered in the R.V, "and when they have made an end of breaking in pieces the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished." As to the exact translation many scholars differ. Von Lengerke translates it, "and when the scattering of a part of the holy people should come to an end, all this should be ended." The Septuagint Version is wholly unintelligible. Mr. Bevan suggests an alteration of the text which would imply that, "when the power of the shatterer of the holy people [i.e., Antiochus] should come to an end, all these things should be ended." This no doubt would not only give a very clear sense, but also one which would be identical with the prophecy of Daniel 7:25, that "they [the times and the law] shall be given unto his hand until a time and times and half a time." But if we stop short at the desperate and uncertain expedient of correcting the original Hebrew, we can only regard the words as implying (in the rendering of our A.V and R.V) that the persecution and suppression of Israel should proceed to their extremest limit, before the woe was ended; and of this we have already been assured.

The writer, in the person of Daniel, is perplexed by the angel’s oath, and yearns for further enlightenment and certitude. He makes an appeal to the vision with the question, "O my lord, what shall be the issue [or, latter end] of these things?" In answer he is simply bidden to go his way- i.e., to be at peace, and leave all these events to God, since the words are shut up and sealed till the time of the end. In other words, the Daniel of the Persian Court could not possibly have attached any sort of definite meaning to minutely detailed predictions affecting the existence of empires which would not so much as emerge on the horizon till centuries after his death. These later visions could only be apprehended by the contemporaries of the events which they shadowed forth.

"Many," continued the angel, "shall purify themselves, and make themselves white, and be refined; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; the teachers shall understand."

The verse describes the deep divisions which should be cleft among the Jews by the intrigues and persecutions of Antiochus. Many would cling to their ancient and sacred institutions, and purified by pain, purged from all dross of worldliness and hypocrisy in the fires of affliction, like gold in the furnace, would form the new parties of the Chasidim and the Anavim, "the pious" and "the poor." They would be such men as the good high priest Onias, Mattathias of Modin and his glorious sons, the scribe Eleazar, and the seven dauntless martyrs, sons of the holy woman who unflinchingly watched their agonies and encouraged them to die rather than to apostatise. But the wicked would continue to be void of all understanding, and would go on still in their wickedness, like Jason and Menelaus, the renegade usurpers of the high-priesthood. These and the whole Hellenising party among the Jews, for the sake of gain, plunged into heathen practices, made abominable offerings to gods which were no gods, and in order to take part in the naked contests of the Greek gymnasium which they had set up in Jerusalem, deliberately attempted to obliterate the seal of circumcision which was the covenant pledge of their national consecration to the Jehovah of their fathers.

"And from the time that the continual burnt offering shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days."

If we suppose the year to consist of twelve months of thirty days, then (with the insertion of one intercalary month of thirty days) twelve hundred and ninety days is exactly three and a half years. We are, however, faced by the difficulty that the time from the desecration of the Temple till its reconsecration by Judas Maccabaeus seems to have been exactly three years; and if that view be founded on correct chronology we can give no exact interpretation of the very specific date here furnished.

Our difficulties are increased by the next clause: "Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days."

All that we can conjecture from this is that, at the close of twelve hundred and ninety days, by the writer’s reckoning from the cessation of the daily burnt offering, and the erection of the heathen abomination which drove all faithful Jews from the Temple, up to the date of some marked deliverance, would be three and a half years, but that this deliverance would be less complete and beatific than another and later deliverance which would not occur till forty-five days later.

Reams of conjecture and dubious history and imaginative chronology have been expended upon the effort to give any interpretation of these precise data which can pretend to the dignity of firm or scientific exegesis. Some, for instance, like Keil, regard the numbers as symbolical, which is equivalent to the admission that they have little or no bearing on literal history; others suppose that they are conjectural, having been penned before the actual termination of the Seleucid troubles. Others regard them as only intended to represent round numbers. Others again attempt to give them historic accuracy by various manipulations of the dates and events in and after the reign of Antiochus. Others relegate the entire vision to periods separated from the Maccabean age by hundreds of years, or even into the remotest future. And none of these commentators, by their researches and combinations, have succeeded in establishing the smallest approach to conviction in the minds of those who take the other views. There can be little doubt that to the writer and his readers the passage pointed either to very confident expectations or very well-understood realities; but for us the exact clue to the meaning is lost. All that can be said is that we should probably understand the dates better if our knowledge of the history of B.C. 165-164 was more complete. We are forced to content ourselves with their general significance. It is easy to record and to multiply elaborate guesses, and to deceive ourselves with the merest pretence and semblance of certainty. For reverent and severely honest inquiries it seems safer and wiser to study and profit by the great lessons and examples clearly set before us in the Book of Daniel, but, as regards many of its unsolved difficulties, to obey the wise exhortation of the Rabbis, -

"Learn to say, ‘I do not know."’


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Daniel 12:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary".

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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