Page images

twenty-eight, thirty-two, and forty-five years, which he reckons from their date to the vulgar era of the nativity. This objection, however, involves three or four surprising mistakes of a very obvious kind.

1. The errors are here reckoned by the interval to the vulgar era. But there is no ground whatever for assuming this standard, since all chronologers agree that the true date of the nativity is from two to five years earlier.

2. Next, it is assumed that the seventy weeks are expressly declared to terminate at the coming of Christ. But, even if we grant that the birth of the Saviour is the limit intended in the twentyfifth verse, it is plain that the interval must be seven, sixty-two, or sixty-nine weeks, and not seventy.

3. It is objected further, that « commentators have reckoned unto the death of Messiah the Prince ; so that, according to their theory, his advent predicted in this verse takes place at his departure!"

This objection is equally groundless. The resurrection, or ascension, which occurred within a few days after the crucifixion, is a natural date for the Princedom of Messiah, if not the most natural. It is expressly described as such in Scripture (Acts v. 31). Nor does the prophecy close the seventy weeks by the coming of Messiah, but by the reconciliation for iniquity, and the bringing in of everlasting righteousness.

4. Again, the objection assumes that the natural meaning of the words “ until Messiah the Prince" is the same as “ until the birth of Christ.” But this is by no means clear. The words bear a more natural interpretation, “ until Messiah be Prince"—that is, until he shall visibly assume the office of a leader. This is the view which most commentators adopt, and which seems the true interpretation.

III. Another difficulty alleged is the want of correspondence between the Persian decrees named in Scripture and the words of the prophecy. The decree of Artaxerxes, it is affirmed, was only for the service of the temple, and not for the rebuilding either of the temple itself or of Jerusalem.

This objection arises entirely from the neglect of a more close consideration of the prophecy. The exact rendering of the words in the twenty-fifth verse, is "from the going forth of a command to cause to return, and to build Jerusalem." Now the Jerusalem which is caused to return cannot be the stones or outward structures, but must be the people its inhabitants, who are so frequently called by that name (Isa. i. 21, iii. 8; Lam. i. 7, 8). The rebuilding of Jeruslaem must, therefore, be explained in the same manner, and refer mainly to the people and civil polity, not to the material dwellings. This is confirmed by the mention afterwards of the street and rampart, as if to show that external restitution would accompany and complete the civil restoration. Now, in this sense, to which the prophecy clearly leads us, the decree of Artaxerxes will be found to answer most minutely to the description. No words could more punctually and fully express a rebuilding and restoration of the civil polity of Jerusalem.

IV. Mr. Tyso further objects that only seven weeks are stated in the prophecy to elapse before the coming of Messiah the Prince. He argues that the accents require us to place a full point before the sixty-two weeks, and quotes Dr. Stonard and Sir Isaac Newton for authorities. Two reasons are urged in favour of this change —the Hebrew accents, and the strange mode of numeration, if sixtynine weeks are described as seven weeks and sixty-two. But these reasons are both very insufficient, though advanced by so distinguished a writer as the last. The Hebrew accentuation was fixed after the second dispersion, when Jewish hostility to the Gospel was at its height; and, therefore, on such a passage as this, can have no weight. On the other hand, the early versions, Theodotion, Symmachus, Aquila, and the Septuagint, the Syriac, the Arabic, and the Vulgate, all agree in the punctuation of the English Bible. The strangeness of the numeration disappears entirely, if the seven weeks and the sixty-two are immediately connected with distinct and characteristic events, as appears to be the case from the following words. And, besides these clear reasons for retaining the actual punctuation, the change will turn the prophecy into an inexplicable enigma, either on the hypothesis of Mr. Tyso, or any other.

V. But, finally, the discrepancies of interpreters form the palmary argument which is to prove the whole prophecy unfulfilled. Mr. Tyso produces for this end a formidable list of twenty-two varieties, proposed by different authors.

This table, however, is surprisingly inaccurate and delusive. Several authors are described as varying in their dates of the periods, who, in truth, entirely agree. Thus Sir Isaac Newton and Mr. Ilabershon are given as two distinct varieties, when the latter professedly adopts Newton's period without a change. The case is exactly the same with Dean Prideaux and Mr. Faber, whose views entirely accord on the date and extent of the main period.

Again, writers are introduced who have no claim whatever to appear. The first name is that of " Maramensis," an anonymous writer in the Investigator, and a Futurist; who, to compensate for making all the other prophecies future, is pleased to turn the weeks into jubilees, and date them backward from the Exodus. Next follow three or four Jewish opinions, which olve on their face an error of mere chronology, amounting to more than a hundred years. When this rubbish is cleared away, and the inaccuracies rectified, among the seventeen authors who remain, there will be found only three distinct hypotheses. This is no very marvellous (liversity in so complex and difficult a prophecy.

VI. The weakness of these various objections is now apparent. But, since the minor discrepancies of the best interpreters tend very much, with hasty observers, to cloud the evidence of the main outlines of the prophecy, from their being mixed with points which are more doubtful or obscure, it may be useful to add a few direct observations on this deeply interesting vision, which may help to preserve simple-minded Christians from being staggered by the objections of rash and hasty minds.

1. There is one conclusive argument, which, without involving

any question of detail, seems at once to prove that the weeks in this prediction must be interpreted as periods of seven years.

The prophecy, then, contains three main periods of sixty-two, sixty-nine, and seventy weeks. It dates also from some decree to restore Jerusalem, the earliest possible being the decree of Cyrus, B.c. 536, and the latest event to which we can refer it, on the same general hypothesis of a past fulfilment, is the close of the sacred history, about 1.c. 410. Now, if we apply the shortest period to the earliest date, and the longest period to the latest date, we obtain for its close the limits B.c. 102; A.D. 80. These are the boundaries within which the main periods of the vision must close on every variety of interpretation. Now these limits clearly include all the events of our Lord's first appearance and of the Jewish war: they also include one previous century, on which other prophecies give no light, and wherein it was eminently the purpose of God to awaken in the Jewish people, an expectation of the speedy coming of Messiah. The intervals of the prophecy, on this view, are adjusted in exact harmony with its double purpose, to announce beforehand the time of Messiah's appearance and the judgments then to ensue, and awaken and keep alive the hopes of the Jewish Church, until the fulness of the appointed time should be come. Indeed, it seems very probable that our Lord himself referred to this prediction in that first opening of his message_" The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand : repent ye, and believe the Gospel."

2. The general application of the prophecy, and its fulfilment in weeks of years, is thus fixed by two decisive arguments. First, its words clearly announce the death of Messiah, and a desolation of the city and temple which would shortly follow; and, next, the time of its close, taken in the widest possible limits, exactly corresponds with the facts of history, and with the further design of all prophecy, to awaken hope when the fulfilment is drawing nearer.

But, secondly, the objection from the variety of interpretation is illusive. Its true source is to be found in the difficulties of sacred chronology, far more than in the words of the prophecy. This is a remark of great importance in the present inquiry. If the date of every event in the Gospel history, and in the return from Babylon, had long ago been fixed certainly, and placed out of dispute, and yet twelve or more various theories had arisen, to explain the fulfilment of this prediction and its concord with the events, there inight then have been some strong ground for suspicion that it was misapplied. But, in fact, the variety in expounding the words of Daniel is scarcely so great as the diversity of judgment upon the actual dates of the evangelical history.

For instance, the three main events, to which we most naturally look in interpreting the seventy weeks, are the birth, the baptisni, and the crucifixion of our Lord. The dates commonly assigned to these are B.C. 4, A.D. 26, and A.D. 33. The two writers, however, who, of late, have bestowed most pains on the Gospel chronology, are Mr. Cuninghame and Mr. Greswell. Each of them has pro


secuted the inquiry with laborious diligence, and the latter with no common share of discursive learning : yet each of them departs from the common view, and in a different manner. Mr. Cuninghame adheres to the received date of the crucifixion, but departs from those of the nativity and baptism of our Lord, which he refers to the years B.C. 2, and A.D. 28. Mr. Greswell, on the contrary, retains the common date of these two events, but places the crucifixion three years earlier, A.D. 30. Now, when such, even at the present time, is the debated and obscure nature of the chronology in its minuter details, it is no cause for surprise or doubt that the same varieties should re-appear in the expositions of the prophecy.

3. It would be unsuitable to the elementary nature of these remarks to enter at length into the whole question either of chronology or interpretation ; yet it may be well to add a few observations, which will show the substantial basis on which the common application rests, and the narrow limits of the questions which may still be counted open to debate, and require deep and close research for their full decision. The following maxims seem to be firmly established; and Dean Prideaux, Mr. Faber, and Mr. Greswell, all of them, I believe, agree in their truth.

(1). Of the four Persian decrees named in Scripture—those of Cyrus and Darius and the two of Artaxerxes—the second and fourth are not distinct and independent, but only continue and confirm the first and the third. The decree of Cyrus, again, does not properly relate to the rebuilding of Jerusalem, but only of the temple. The decree of Artaxerxes is, therefore, the most natural date of the prophecy.

(2). The accession of Artaxerxes is fixed, by classical authority, to the end of the Julian year, b.c. 465. Hence the first month of his seventh year will be nearly April, B.C. 458, and the year which follows to the close of the book of Ezra, April, B.C. 458-457, will be the most natural date of the weeks in Daniel.

(3). The limit designed by the words, “until Messiah the Prince," must be either the birth, temple-presence, baptism, or resurrection of Christ, assuming the general correctness of the application. But of these the baptism seems the most natural: for neither at our Lord's birth, nor on his appearance, when twelve years old, in the temple, could he be said to have properly appeared as the Prince or Leader. At his resurrection, again, he had both appeared and been rejected by the Jews. And our Lord's baptism is also connected with the most distinct and only direct note of time in the Gospel history.

(4). The whole of the prophecy is expressed by entire weeks, or periods of seven years, the last half week alone being excepted. Now, in all reckonings of time, we do not take cognizance of parts less than the unit, unless they are expressly named. The prophecy, then, would be satisfied, if the close be less than seven years, in each case, from the mathematical limit. We may, indeed, espect still greater exactness, but this is all that the words absolutely require, by the usual laws of language.

(5). The seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks make a collective period of sixty-nine weeks until Messiah the Prince: for these two, with the one week afterwards mentioned, complete the whole period of seventy weeks. Also, from the order of mention, the seven weeks must precede the sixty-two; and these last, it is plainly stated, are before Messiah the Prince.

(6). Let us now compare the prediction with the history, on either alternative. And, first, let us suppose Mr. Cuninghame's dates to be correct. From April, B.c. 458, to April, s.c. 33, the date of the crucifixion, on this view, will be exactly four hundred and ninety years, or seventy weeks, without excess or defect: and no other event could answer better to the assigned limit, “to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness."

Again, on the same hypothesis, the date of our Lord's baptism would be A.D. 28. Now this is four hundred and eighty-five years, or sixty-nine weeks and two years, from the decree of Artaxerxes : and since the excess is much less than a half week, the period might be justly described as an interval of sixty-nine weeks, neglecting the fraction of the prophetic unit.

(7). Let us next assume the truth of Mr. Greswell's chronology. The baptism of our Lord took place, according to him, in the spring, B.C. 27, and the preaching of John began in the previous autumn. Now sixty-nine weeks of years, or four hundred and eighty-three years, from the year B.C. 458-7, bring us to A.D. 26-7, the very year which includes both the first commission of John and the baptism of our Lord, when the voice of God from heaven proclaimed Him the Leader and Commander to his people.

(8). The seven first weeks are marked off for the rebuilding of Jerusalem with the street and rampart. Now the last event named in sacred history, which completed the re-constitution of Jerusalem, is the expulsion of Manasseh by Nehemiah, in the high priesthood of Joiada, or after B.C. 413. It must, therefore, have been in the course of the seventh week from B.C. 458, and probably near its end.

(9). The last week is the part of the prophecy which has caused the most embarrassment. It is plainly necessary, in its interpretation, to admit either a breach of continuity in the seventy weeks, or an inversion of the regular order in the clauses of the prediction. But the doubt or obscurity which hangs over this part, which may, perhaps, as Primasius long ago suggested, be still future, cannot affect the previous clauses of the vision.

(10). The general coincidence of the prediction with the events is therefore plain, on either view of the chronology. The improbability of such a double coincidence, as occurs on either hypothesis, is, on a moderate calculation, more than twelve hundred to one; and hence both the true significance of the weeks, and the fulfilment of the greater part of the prophecy, rests on the most solid and convincing evidence.

It is one strange and mysterious feature of the present times, that Christian writers should be found who cast aside the universal judgment of the Church from the beginning, on passages the most

« PreviousContinue »