|MESSIAH: HIS FIRST COMING SCHEDULED, Chapter 21||
MESSIAH: HIS FIRST COMING SCHEDULED
1. JEWISH SPECULATIONS
IN VIEW of the fact that the Messianic hope was the heart of prophetic utterances and of the further fact that, during Israel's long exile since the destruction of the Second Temple, it has sustained the nation in every crisis, this treatise would be incomplete without investigating the interpretation of such prophecies by the sages of Israel. From their writings we can gather much valuable information that will assist us in our study of the Messianic hope. At the same time we can evaluate their interpretations in the light of the historic past and see wherein the ancient synagogue and great men of Israel failed in their computation relative to Messiah's appearing. Time, we are told, proves all things. These rabbinic interpretations, therefore, have been subjected to the acid test of the historic past. Only the genuine elements have survived. From these we may gather much valuable information which will assist us in the proper understanding of the prophetic word and which will enable us in avoiding their mistakes. Hence, I shall devote this chapter to a study of the high lights of Messianic speculations in Israel and in Christian circles.
That the reader at the outset may understand the important role which the Messianic hope has played in Israel during the centuries, I wish to quote the introductory paragraphs of Chapter I of Rabbi Abba Silver's book entitled Messianic Speculation in Israel.
pathetic eagerness to read the riddle of Redemption and to discover the exact
hour of the Messiah's advent was shared in common by the Jews in Palestine and
throughout the Diaspora, and continuously from the time of the loss of their
national independence. In spite of rabbinic injunction and the admonitions of
the more discerning among them, the quest proceeded with varying intensity
clear down the ages. At times it seems to be the idle speculation of leisure
minds, intrigued by the mystery; at other times it is the desperate search of
men in great tribulation. Saadia, analyzing the locus classicus of Messianic
prophecy-the Book of Daniel-appears in the role of a pious .exegete,
mystically biased, attempting to unravel a knotty problem. Isaac Abarbanel, an
exile, crushed by the tragedy of the Spanish expulsion, seeks refuge and hope
for himself and his afflicted brethren in the selfsame field of adventism.
"That successive calculations proved false and seemingly certain forecasts never materialized did not at all discourage renewed essays in the field. The troubled heart would not surrender this precious enterprise. In dark hours the Messianic promise was the one prop and stay of suffering Israel, and the desperate wish for Redemption expressed itself in Messianic prognostications, even as desires often fulfill themselves in dreams. The forecasts were, of course, doomed to non-fulfillment, and the people in consequence suffered from disillusionments commensurate with the ardor of their expectations. Leaders in Israel, aware of the demoralizing effects of such frustrated hopes, attempted to dissuade the people from continuing their efforts to solve the mystery, but without avail. The dire urgencies of their life forced them to seek surcease from despair in apocalyptic fancies and Messianic romanticism.
"These calculators sought, and apparently found, support in the Bible. The Bible seemed to offer precedent and warrant for such an occupation. The Book of Daniel, the one canonized apocalyptic tract out of the many which were widely circulated and held in high regard by the people, dwelt upon the mystery of the 'end of days' and seemingly gave a clue to its solution. There were many other Biblical passages which seemed to point to the Messiah, and which, if properly interpreted, could be made to yield up the secret of his coming. All the ingenuity of rabbinic method in hermeneutics and homiletics was therefore brought into play, and words, phrases and letters, vowels, accents, and tropes, and all the mystic science of letter and numeral were marshaled into service.
"Prior to the first century the Messianic interest was not excessive, although such great historical events as the conquest of Persia by Alexander, the rule of the Ptolemies and the Seleucides, the persecutions under Antiochus, the revolt of the Maccabees, and the Roman aggression find their mystic-Messianic echo in the apocalyptic writings of the first two pre-Christian centuries. Calculations, however, as to the exact hour of the Messiah's appearance are wanting. Mention of the Messiah is made in some of the books of the Apocrypha, e. g., in Enoch (2 c.b.c.e.), in the Psalms of Solomon (1 c.b.c.e.) and at times in a well-defined technical sense; but it is significant that such books as Tobit (3 c.b.c.e.) which, through Persian influence, contains a rather welldeveloped eschatology and angelology. Ben Sirach (3 c.b.c.e.) and the Wisdom of Solomon (1 c.b.c.e.) make no mention whatever of the Messiah. Even in the apocalyptic Book of Jubilees (2 c.b.c.e.) he is mentioned only once.
"The first century, however, especially the generation before the destruction, witnessed a remarkable outburst of Messianic emotionalism. This is to be attributed, as we shall see, 'not to an intensification of Roman persecution but to the prevalent belief induced by the popular chronology of that day that the age was on the threshold of the Millennium.
"The movement gained headway under the procuratorship of Felix (52-60 c.e.). Numerous outbreaks are reported. 'There were such men as deceived and deluded the people under the pretense of divine inspiration, but were for procuring invocations and changes of the government; and these prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty; but Felix thought the procedure was to be the beginnings of a revolt; so he sent some horsemen and footmen, both armed, who destroyed a great number of them.' An Egyptian prophet, undoubtedly an Egyptian Jew, now appears on the scene, whose short Messianic career brought sharp reprisals upon the Jews.
Jesus came into Galilee 'spreading the gospel of the Kingdom of God and saying
the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand,' he was voicing the
opinion universally held that the year 5000 in the Creation calendar, which is
to usher in the sixth millennium-the age of the Kingdom of God-was at hand. It
was this chronologic fact which inflamed the Messianic hope of the people
rather than the Roman persecutions. There is no evidence anywhere to show that
the political fortunes of the people in the second quarter of the first
century of the common era-the period of many Messianic movements-were in any
degree lower than those in the first quarter, in which no Messianic movements
are recorded. "Jesus appeared in the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate (26-36
c.e.). The first mention of the appearance of a Messiah in Josephus is in
connection with the disturbances during the term of office of the procurator
Cuspius Fadus (c. 44 c.e.). It seems likely, therefore, that in the minds of
the people the Millennium was to begin around the year 30 c.e."
chapter I shall not endeavor to give an historic survey of Jewish speculations
relative to Messianic hopes but only to typical cases which illustrate the
various methods of interpreting* prophecy employed by the great men of Israel.
Dr. Silver summarizes the Messianic expectation in Israel during the third and fourth quarters of the first century of the common era in the following quotation:
"As the crisis approached in the life of the nation with the sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, the Messianic excitement of the people was at fever heat. While the Temple was burning a prophet appeared announcing that the Messiah was at hand. 'A false prophet was the occasion of these people's destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day that God commanded them to get up upon the Temple and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants (i. e., the Zealots-the militant patriots) to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them that they should wait for deliverance from God.'
"Josephus also recounts a Messianic calculation popularly held at the time of the destruction based upon 'an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how "about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth." Josephus applies this prophecy to Vespasian.' "
Beyond the boundaries of Israel there was a general expectation among the peoples that the world was reaching a crisis and that there would appear a great personage in the world who would bring deliverance to humanity. For instance, Tacitus in his history of Rome gives us the following information:
majority were deeply impressed with a persuasion that it was contained in the
ancient writings of the priests that it would come to pass that at that very
time, that the East would renew its strength and they that should go forth
from Judea should be rulers of the world" (History, V. 13).
As scholars have pointed out, the first century was a transitional period for the entire world. Many things long-considered as standard and unchangeable were thrown into the discard. New ideals were proposed and accepted. There was an influx into the West of philosophy and religion from the East. The impact between these oriental religions, largely the warm, nature cults, and Greek philosophy brought about dire and far-reaching consequences in the fields of speculative thought and practical religion. Under these conditions naturally the century was one characterized by an eclecticism.
which eventually bring about national decay were eating at the vitals of the
body politic of the empire. This fact forebode the eventual modification and
final overthrow of the pagan Graeco-Roman civilization. The nation of Israel
in its homeland was not exempted from these maladies. Discontent and unrest
seized the nation. Such conditions always prove fertile soil for the growth
and development of Messianic speculation and the appearance of false claimants
to these honors. Under such conditions many good and noble men found
themselves enmeshed in the confusion of the day. The collapse of the nation,
the destruction of the Temple, and the subsequent dispersion of the nation
among the peoples of earth all but demolished the civilization and the culture
of Israel. Immediately refuge was sought in the Messianic hope. The tenseness
of the situation heightened this general expectation. The saying that "The
desire is father to the thought" finds a striking illustration in the case of
Israel at that time.
CALCULATORS In this section I wish to call attention to a number of
outstanding men who heralded the near approach of the glorious kingdom era.
Before his death Yohanan ben Zakkai said to his followers: "Remove all vessels lest they be rendered unclean, and prepare a throne for Hezekiah, king of Judea, who is come."
King Hezekiah, whom many of the ancients in Israel considered the defender of the law, was considered by many as the Messiah. There is some discussion, however, as to who was meant by Hezekiah. Hillel inveighed against expecting the Messiah, affirming that he had already appeared in the days of Hezekiah. But who was this Hezekiah? The son of Amon who instituted great reforms in Judah, or Hezekiah the Galilean the father of Judah the Zealot who was killed by Herod? The answer is undetermined. Ben Zakkai, who died about 80 C.E., expected the Messiah in the immediate future.
This rabbi believed that the "days of the Messiah" would last for 40 years. According to one source this position was based upon Psalm 95:10: "Forty years long was I grieved with that generation." According to another source, he founded his interpretation upon Deuteronomy 8:3: "And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna." The bitter wilderness experiences continued 40 years; hence her present troubles will last the same length of time. And, again, "Make us glad according to the days wherein thou has afflicted us" (Ps90:15).
According to a Midrash on Psalm 90: 15, Rabbi Akiba, a loyal supporter of Bar Kochba, also believed that the days of Messiah would be 40 years.
In order to see the bearing of this position upon the general question of Messiah's appearance, one must understand the intepretation generally held by the ancient rabbis relative to "the days of the Messiah." The scholars of Jewry were divided in their opinion relative to this question. Some held that "the days of Messiah" followed His appearance, whereas others believed that His coming would be subsequent to these days. At the same time others held that "the days of Messiah" embraced both the period preparatory to His advent together with the great golden age of the future. These varying opinions naturally affected the interpretation concerning the length of "the days of the Messiah."
As a rule the leaders of Israel who lived in the period between the destruction of the Second Temple and the Bar Kochba revolt assigned short terms for the days of the Messiah. For instance, Eliezer ben Hyrcanus interpreted them as 40 years, whereas Eleazar ben Azariah affirmed that they would continue 70 years. Jose, the Galilean, believed them to be 60 years. Those who lived after the Bar Kochba revolt, on the other hand, assigned longer terms for "the days of Messiah." For instance, Rabbi Dosa attriuted 400 years to this period of trials, whereas Judah ha-Nasi affirmed that they would be only 365. Others considered that they would be still longer.
in the following quotation tersely summarizes the reason for the change of
opinion: "The explanation may lie in the fact that the earlier Rabbis took the
'days of the Messiah' to mean the days of travail immediately preceding the
advent of the Messiah, and they expected the Messiah to appear in the very
near future. The Bar Kochba revolution shattered these Messianic hopes and
brought tragic disillusionment into the hearts of the people, so that the
Rabbis who lived after this fateful apocalyptic debacle sought to project the
Messianic hope to a more distant future, thereby discouraging, if possible, a
recrudescence of such intense hopes in the immediacy of the Messiah's advent."
"The collapse of this movement at the close of the putative fifth millennium prompted the Rabbis not only to project the Messianic date to a more distant future, but also to revise their notion of the Creation calendar. They were living not at the close of the fifth but at the close of the fourth millennium. The people need not despair of the Messiah. He is still to come. He may come at any time within the fifth millennium, not necessarily at its close; perhaps in 4231 A.M. or 4250, or 4291. The Messianic age has actually begun with the destruction of the Temple, but before its final denouement 365 or 400 years or more may elapse."
c. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah
This rabbi, a contemporary of Rabbi Eliezer, firmly believed that the Messiah would come within 70 years after the destruction of Jerusalem. Hence the time of His appearance was, according to his calculation, scheduled to be in 140 C.E. This interpretation is based upon the following quotation: "And it shall come to pass in that day that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king" (Isa. 23:15). Our author considered this king to be Messiah.
d. Rabbi Jose the Galilean
approached the question from a different angle. He concluded from Psalm 72:5
that Messiah would come 60 years after the destruction of Jerusalem,
i. e., in 130 C.E. He arrived at this conclusion by noting the fact that the
word generations in the original is first in the singular and then in the
dual; hence three generations. He allowed 20 years for a generation. Rabbi
Ishmael had the same view, but made his computation upon Psalm 80:5: "Thou
hast fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in a
threefold measure." The word, shlysh, by this author is interpreted to mean
three generations. Among those expecting the coming of the Messiah at that
time may be mentioned Rabbi Akiba who, according to an ancient source, based
his opinion upon Haggai 2:6 which declares: "Yet once, it is a little while
and I will shake the heavens, and the earth." In reply to the question as to
when the son of David would come, the Tanna, Jose ben Tishma, said
"The Rabbis regarded the demoralization which set in the life of the people as a result of the fall of Jerusalem, the unsuccessful rebellion of Bar Kochba, and the subsequent persecutions, as the heble Mashiah, the travail pains of the Messianic Age. These teachers were not describing theoretically, in an academic vein, the conditions which would prevail at some future time when the Messiah would come. They were concretely depicting the unprecedented conditions which actually were existing in their own time, and they were sincerely anticipating a swift change through the advent of the Messiah." Quotations from the Mishna could be multiplied which show that there was a general expectation, on account of the sufferings and persecutions, that Messiah would soon make his appearance. Of course, since He did not come and deliver the nation, the disillusionment of the people and their reaction to the non-fulfillment of such intense expectations were disastrous.
Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (c. 135-220 CE.), the compiler of the Mishna, believed that Messiah would come 365 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, i. e., in 435 CE. The basis for his caculation was Isaiah 63:4: "For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redeemed is come." This great sage in Israel adopted what is known as the "year-day theory," i. e., a day in prophecy foreshadows a year in history. The year of redemption, consisting of 365 days in this passage, foreshadowed 365 years in history. He, of course, was reckoning in terms of solar years. An early ancient author stated that the redemption of Jerusalem would occur 354 years after the fall of the nation in 70 C.E.; hence, according to him, Jerusalem would be restored and the Jews rehabilitated in their land by the year 425 CE. The basis of this calculation was the lunar year.
Another method of computing the date of Messiah's appearing is found in an ancient source which declares "The world will endure no less than 85 jubilees (4250 years), and in the last jubilee the son of David will come." This calculation placed Messiah's appearance, therefore, between 440 and 490 CE. Elijah himself is accredited with this speculation.
Still another method of unraveling the future was adopted. It is set forth in the following quotation from Dr. Silver:
"A teacher of the school of Elijah expressed the belief that the Messiah could have come as early as 240 C.E., but the sins of the people delayed his coming. 'The world will exist 6000 years. The first 2000 years were those of chaos (without the Torah), the second 2000 years were those under the Torah, and the last 2000 years are the Messianic years. But because of our many sins there have already elapsed the years which have gone by (and the Messiah has not yet come).' According to this belief those living after 240 C.E. are definitely within the Messianic cycle and may expect his coming at any time, provided the people are prepared through repentance and self purification to receive him."
There was strong opposition from certain quarters to all Messianic speculation. For instance, Rabbi Jonathan (2-3 C.) hurled anathemas against those who would indulge in computing the time of the end. "Perish all those who calculate the end, for men will say, since the predicted end is here and the Messiah has not come, he will never come." Again, Rabbi Simeon elaborated this same argument in the following quotation:
"The matter may be deduced a minore ad majorem. In the case of the Egyptian exile, the duration of which was definitely revealed, they nevertheless erred in their calculation and left sooner than they should and perished. How much more so in the case of our exile, concerning which it is written, 'For the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end'; must the calculators err. Hence it was said, 'Perish all those who calculate the end; father let a man wait and believe, and the good is bound to come.'"
Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba (3-4 C.) made the following statement: "When Jonathan ben Uzziel sought to make public a translation of the Hagiographa, a voice from heaven cried out, 'Desist!' What was the reason? Because it contains the date of the Messiah's advent." Rabbi Levi (3 C.) interpreted the Song of Solomon 2: 7 as follows: "I adjure you, 0 daughters of Jerusalem, etc.," as proof that the public should not know the end lest that information be revealed to the Gentiles. Once more, Rabbi Jose (2 C.) declared: "He who calculates the end will have no portion in the world to come."
The four principal arguments advanced against Messianic speculation are summarized by Dr. Silver as follows: "(1) Some denied the coming of the Messiah altogether, and thereby aimed at demolishing completely the whole structure of Messianic speculation; (2) others tried to accomplish the same purpose by maintaining that the Bible contains no Messianic references touching this last exile, and that there is no oral tradition for it; (3) others, while acknowledging the presence of such Messianic prophecies in the Bible, insisted that they are undecipherable and purposely 'hidden'; (4) and still others declared that Redemption is contingent entirely upon repentance, and that there can therefore be no set time for Redemption."
As an illustration of the first argument stated above, let us note what an Amora, Hillel, of the fourth century said: "The Jews have no Messiah to expect, for they have already consumed him in the days of Hezekiah."
The Tanna, Rabbi Nathan (2 C.), is a typical illustration of those using the second argument:
following verse goes to the heart of things; 'For the vision is yet for the
appointed time, and it declareth of the end and doth not lie. Though it tarry,
wait for it, because it will surely come. It will not delay.' (This means that
we are to do) not like the Rabbis who interpreted 'until a time, times and
half a time' (as holding a Messianic date for the future), and not like R.
Simlai who interpreted 'Thou hast fed them with the bread of tears and given
them tears to drink in a large (three-fold, shlysh) measure,' nor like Akiba,
who interpreted, 'Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens
and the earth.' But (we are to take these passages as referring to events now
past), the first kingdom (Hasmonean) lasted seventy years; the second kingdom
(Herod) fifty-two years, and the kingdom
of Ben Kosiba, two and a half years."
A Palestinian Amora, Rabbi Yohanan (3 C.), in commenting upon Isaiah 63:4: "For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redeemed is come," declared the true meaning of the verse to be this: "To my heart alone have I revealed it (the hour of redemption), not even to my limbs." Another declaration by the same rabbi throws further light upon his position: "In the case of the men of the First Temple whose sin was open, the end of their exile was also revealed, but in the case of the men of the Second Temple whose sin was secret, the end of the exile was likewise left secret." A contemporary, Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish, set forth his view in the following quotation: "To my heart alone have I revealed it, not even to the ministering angels."
A representative of those who used the fourth line of reasoning was Rabbi Eleazer (1-2 C.), a pupil of Yohanan ben Zakkai. This famous rabbi declared: "If Israel will repent they will be redeemed; if not, they will not be redeemed." To him, Rabbi Joshua answered: "If Israel will repent, they will be redeemed; if not, God will raise over them a king whose decrees will be as severe as those of Haman. Then Israel will repent." To the latter, Rabbi Eleazer rejoined in the following words: "Only if Israel will repent will they be redeemed, as it is written, 'Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backsliding.'" In this same strain these two rabbis debated. The outcome of the argument was that Rabbi Eleazer was silent when Rabbi Joshua quoted from Daniel 12:7.
The controversy was prolonged into the next century, there being champions for both positions. Some, however, like Rabbi Joshua ben Levi (3 C.), tried to harmonize the opposing views. This rabbi explained Isaiah 60: 22 in the light of his theory, as follows: "I, the Lord, will hasten it in its time," to mean that if the children of Israel are deserving, then Redemption will be hastened (achyshnh); if not, then it will come at the appointed time, bythh. Similarly, he explained the apparently contradictory verses, "And there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man" (the Messiah came swiftly like the clouds of heaven), and "behold thy king cometh unto thee. . . lowly and riding upon an ass" (the Messiah came slowly like a man riding upon an ass). If the children of Israel are found deserving, then the Messiah will come swiftly (with the clouds of heaven) ; if not, then slowly like a lowly man riding upon an ass. Another rabbi affirmed that "Were the children of Israel to observe fully two successive Sabbaths, they would immediately be redeemed."
"The Redemption of Israel is likened to a grain-harvest, a grape harvest, a field of spice and a woman in confinement. A field which is harvested before the proper time, even the straw from off of it is poor. A vineyard which is gathered in too early, even the vinegar made out of its grapes is poor. Spices gathered before they are full grown and dry will lack their true odor, and an aborted child dies."
Josephus informs us that at the time of the national crisis and immediately thereafter, false prophets arose who proclaimed the dawning of a new era. Some impostors appeared even before this decisive epoch. It was natural, therefore, that those who bid for Messianic honors should come forth at various times. In the fifth century a typical case occurred. We have the record of a false Messiah who appeared in Crete, bearing the name of Moses. He gained a great following among his brethren. Having appointed a date, he gathered his followers to the sea and promised them that it would open to them as the Red Sea had done for Moses and the children of Israel. This escapade proved abortive and brought disaster to those involved.
5. PRINCIPLES OF INTERPRETATION INVOLVED
The interpretations we have studied in this chapter thus far may, according to their origin and nature, be thrown into the three following groups: (1) those based upon current chronology; (2) forced exposition of isolated passages; and (3) unwarranted analogies.
a. Those Based Upon Current Chronology
As we have already seen, the consensus of opinion in the second half of the first century of the common era was that those days would close the fifth millennium. According to current theology, the Messiah would come and the golden era of a 1000 years would begin. Upon what the theory was based is uncertain. It is true that Josephus does give us some chronological data, but it is far from conclusive.
That there was a general expectation of Messiah's appearance in the first century of the present dispensation is evident. Dr. Silver has proved this point conclusively. It is echoed in the apocalyptic writings of the times. The New Testament shows that there were
Why did the people living in the first half of the first century of this era have such hopes of Messiah's appearing in their day? There is but one reply: They knew from the prophecy of Daniel that the Redeemer would be cut off at the end of the 69th week of years; that they were approaching that time; and that He would be born, according to Isaiah 7:14, of a virgin in the city of Bethlehem of Judah (Micah 5:2) and grow to manhood before He could be cut off. These facts they learned from the Scriptures and they expected a literal fulfillment of God's promises. This general expectation on the part of the nation at that time is adequately and logically accounted for upon this hypothesis. All other explanations fail to meet the demands of the facts. The theory of the Creation calendar arose and doubtless was used to support the current expectation. But in the final analysis the prophecy of Daniel's 70 weeks formed the foundation for this hope. This view becomes quite evident in the light of this fact: Many leaders of Israel of that day believed that the Scriptures were the Word of God and studied them as such.
b. Forced Exposition of Isolated Passages
Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus in interpreting the days of the Messiah referred to Psalm 95:10, "Forty years long was I grieved with that generation," as proof that they would continue for 40 years. An examination of this psalm shows that the writer was looking backward to the wilderness experiences of Israel and was not discussing the days of Messiah. Hence to take it from its connection and to apply it to the future is illogical. Another passage relied upon by this same sage for support of his theory was Deuteronomy 8:3: "'And he afflicted thee and suffered thee to hunger and fed thee with manna' (40 years in the wilderness)." To detach this verse from its context and to apply it to the future is also illogical and erroneous. A third quotation advanced for the position advocated was Psalm 90:15: "Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us." Moses was the human mouthpiece through whom the Spirit of God spoke this petition.
has told us that the rabbis generally believed, on the basis of the Biblical
creation week, that the world would continue 6000 years. In other words, the 6
days of reconstruction, not creation, typified the 6000 years of human
history. This supposition, to their minds, was confirmed by the statement of
Moses in Psalm 90:4:
Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah set the date for the introduction of the great Messianic era by referring to Isaiah 23:15: "And it shall come to pass in that day, that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king." Arbitrarily, he imposed upon this prediction Messianic import. Nothing in the passage hints at the future. There were kings in ancient times who did reign that long. Some came to the throne in childhood and lived to a ripe old age. It must be remembered that the Lord, when He reduced the span of life, limited it to threescore and ten years (Ps. 90:10).
Both Rabbi Jose the Galilean and Rabbi Ishmael set the date for the Messianic era in 130 C.E. The basis of their calculation was Psalm 72: 5 and Psalm 80:5. Rabbi Jose forced an unnatural meaning upon the words, "generation, generations." He considered the span of a generation to be 20 years. Since "generation" is singular in the first instance and dual in the second, he said there would be 3 generations. Then arbitrarily he considered a generation 20 years long and three generations as 60 years. He, therefore, added 60 years to 70 C. E. (the time of the downfall of Jerusalem) ; hence he arrived at the year 130 C.E. for the beginning of the Messianic era. Let it be noted that the Holy Spirit had a definite message to give men when He spoke. God does not juggle with words, but uses them in their plain, ordinary, common-sense import. Their significance is to be gathered from the context. To force an unnatural meaning upon any word or phrase and to ignore the context are to insure arriving at a wrong conclusion. Rabbi Ishmael likewise forced a strained and unnatural meaning on Psalm 80:5; hence the Lord did not work according to his schedule, and people were bitterly disillusioned by the failure of the fulfillment of his speculation.
Many quotations could be brought forward and examined which were used by the ancient synagogue to prove the near approach of the Messiah and to establish the date of His appearance, but these suffice. That they were mistaken in forcing an unnatural and abnormal meaning on these passages is proved by the non-fulfillment of the expectation aroused by such interpretations.
c. Unwarranted Analogies
When the nation had regained self-control and rallied from the bitter disappointment after the Bar Kochba revolt, a new interpretation was adopted: the Messianic hope was thrown out into the more distant future. Rabbi Dosa (2 C.) drew an analogy between the bondage in Egypt and Israel's dispersion among the nations after 70 C.E. He assumed that they would be of the same duration. No Scriptural warrant was advanced to prove the proposition. Some texts were wrenched from their connection, and far-fetched inferences were cited to prove that such would be the case. I wish to say that there is not any evidence in the Scriptures to warrant an analogy between the two periods of suffering. Others, as has
Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (2, 3 C.) affirmed that the Messianic era would be in 435 C.E. The fundamental principle upon which his calculations are grounded is found in Isaiah 63:4, "For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redeemed is come." This sage based his interpretation of the passage upon what is usually known as the year-day theory; i. e., one day in prophecy foreshadows a year in history. Since there are 365 days in the solar year, he concluded there would be 365 years after the fall of the nation in 70 C.E. unto the coming of Messiah. When the context 01 this passage is examined carefully, it is seen that Isaiah foresaw the coming of the Messiah from Edom and Bozrah to Jerusalem after his mortal combat with the enemies of Israel in the region from which he was advancing. Isaiah 63: 1-6 contains, therefore, a dialogue between the prophet and the Messiah whom he sees in vision. In answer to the prophet's query the Messiah states that he has trodden the winepress of the wrath of God because the day of vengeance and the year of his redeemed had come. Only by pure imagination can one arrive at the conclusion that the word year in this connection is employed with a secret, fantastic, mystical signification. In view of this strained and abnormal interpretation, it becomes necessary for me again to call attention to the fact that the only safe rule of studying any language is to take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal significance unless there is positive evidence in the context which indicates otherwise. There is but one exception to this rule: Should the plain, ordinary meaning of one passage conflict with another unmistakable passage in some other portion of the Scriptures then, and only then, are we warranted in departing from the primary, literal meaning of the passage. The fundamental, ordinary meaning of the words in this quotation does not conflict with those of any other passage of Holy Writ; therefore, we must accept that meaning which accords with the context and discard the interpretation placed upon it by Rabbi Judah.
In order that the reader might see the seemingly invincible force and powerful logic of those taking this position, I wish to give the details of the line of reasoning. These expositors interpreted the vision of the image in Daniel 2 as symbolizing the four world
As stated above, some interpreters believed confidently that the exile which began with the downfall of the nation in 70 CE. would last exactly 400 years; hence, they expected Rome, which they termed Edom in cryptographic style, to be overthrown by 470 CE. As the fifth century advanced there were indications that Rome in the West was succumbing and would finally yield to the sledgehammer blows of the Germanic tribes which were constantly coming in waves against the empire. The nearer the time drew to the appointed date of 470, the greater were the excitement and expectation of King Messiah's appearance and the dawning of the golden era.
The logic of
these expositors seemed to be absolutely correct; hence, the pious of the
nation looked expectantly to the year 470 CE. for the deliverance. A little
investigation, however, will show the fallacy of the argument. As noted above,
there is no positive proof that the Scriptures intimated that the present
exile would last only 400 years. This position was an assumption without
Scriptural warrant. That there would be four world-empires, as set forth in
the second and seventh chapters of Daniel, is beyond dispute and that the
fourth would be succeeded by a fifth; namely, the kingdom of the Messiah,
which would be turned over to the Jewish saints, is likewise beyond question.
The fallacy of the exposition of these commentators lay in a failure to
recognize that the fourth kingdom would be a divided one, as is set forth by
the legs of iron of the metallic image. These expositors unwittingly
overlooked that fact. The Roman Empire was headed up in the two centers-Rome
on the Tiber
in the West, and
Constantinople on the Bosporus in the East. To lose sight of the eastern
section of the empire, which was symbolized by the right leg, and to focus
attention entirely upon Rome on the Tiber,
B. The Mohammedan Period
preceding section I have briefly glanced at the principal exponents of
Messianic speculation in Israel, the Scripture quotations cited as proof of
their positions, the method which they employed in expounding the Scriptures,
their opponents, the principles adopted by these exegetes, false messiahs, and
the general results. Hence we simply saw a cross section of the speculative
life of Israel and the results accruing there from during what is properly
called the Talmudical period. In this section we shall glance very briefly at
various aspects of Messianic speculations during this period. Roughly
speaking, it covers four centuries, beginning with the seventh.
Mohammed with his hosts began his career of conquest, dashing forth from the Arabian Desert into the civilization of the empire. Within 100 years the standard of the crescent swept through North Africa, crossed the straits to the Iberian Peninsula, and advanced until it was checked on the famous battlefield of Tours exactly one century after the beginning of the campaign.
In east Europe the Mohammedan hosts raised their standard as far as the Danube. For a long time it looked as if the civilization of the European world was doomed to succumb to the mighty, titanic strokes of the Mohammedan power. As a rule, the conquered peoples were given the choice of the Koran or the sword. These hard conditions were imposed on both Jew and Gentile alike with, however, some exceptions. Under such trying circumstances it was natural that men's souls should be tested to the uttermost and that ways out of the situation should be sought.
Dr. Silver summarizes the effect upon the Jewish people of these unprecedented upheavals in the following words:
"But the remarkable victories of the Arabs and the crumbling of the Persian and the Byzantine Empires before their irresistible onslaught set aflame anew the Messianic hopes. The hope was generally entertained that the Arabs would accomplish what the Persians had failed to accomplish-the overthrow of Edom, entrenched in Rome and Byzantium. It was also fervently hoped that they would break the power of Persia, thereby delivering the Jews from the religious intolerance of the Sassanian dynasty. Following these mighty upheavals it was hoped that the Son of David would appear."
Amid the stirring events and upheavals of the day naturally there arose speculators who endeavored to comfort the people by their calculations. Many apocalypses appeared with their guesses and speculations. One of the chief ones is that entitled, Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer. This is a Pseudepigraphic Palestinian writing of the eighth century which gives evidence of its having drawn upon earlier sources. At this period of Israel's history a new theory concerning the world empires was adopted. It is set forth in the following paragraph concerning Rabbi Eliezer: "In chapter 28 the author interprets Abraham's vision of the 'covenant between the pieces' found in Gen. 15. God revealed to Abraham the events
"According to another view five empires would rule over them: Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome and Arab. This is suggested in verse 12: 'And it came to pass that when the sun was going down a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and 10, a dread (Rome), even a great (Persia) darkness (Greece) fell (Babylon) upon him (Ishmael).' The son of David will flourish 'upon him' (Ishmael). In other words, the Messiah will appear after the ascendancy of Islam.
"A more specific date is then given. 'Rabbi Joshua said: Abraham took his sword and divided them, each one into two parts, as it is said: "and he took him all these and he divided them in the midst.", Were it not for the fact that he divided them, the world would not have been able to exist, but because he divided them he weakened their strength, and he brought each part against its corresponding part, as it is said, 'and he laid each half over against the other.' The author undoubtedly refers to the division of the Roman Empire, which took place after the death of Theodosius in 395 C.E. The Western Empire thus weakened came to an end in 476 C.E. 'And the young pigeon,' continues the writer, 'he left alive, as it is said, "but the bird he divided not" ; hence thou mayest learn that there was not any other bird there except a young pigeon.' The young pigeon is, of course, Israel. 'The bird of prey came down upon them to scatter them and to destroy them. The bird of prey is naught else but David, the son of Jesse, who is compared to a speckled bird of prey, as it is said, "Is mine heritage unto me as a speckled bird of prey. "When t1.e sun was about to rise in the east, Abraham sat down and waved his scarf over them, so that the bird of prey could not prevail over them until the raven came (adh shbha harbh).'The writer here clearly refers to the hope for the coming of the Messiah entertained in the fifth century at the time of the fall of the Western Empire, and explains why the Messiah could not come then. The Messiah was not to appear until after the conquests of the Arabs. The Hebrew word for raven is, orabh, which is a kindred sound to arabh: Arab. If the reading of the first edition is preferred, 'until evening (arabh) set in,' the conclusion is unchanged."
Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah interpreted the four kingdoms as Persia, Greece, Rome and Arabia and declared: "From this incident thou mayest learn that the rule of the four kingdoms will last only one day, according to the day of the Holy One, blessed be he" (= 1000 years). What was the initial date of these 1000 years? Some designated 362 B.C.E. as the terminus a quo when the Temple, according to old Jewish chronology, was established, whereas others took the year 168 B.C.E. as the starting point. Those who accepted the former date expected the Messianic kingdom in the year 648 C.E., whereas those who understood the latter date expected the Messiah by 832 CE. Rabbi Eleazar ben 'Arak asserted: "Verily, it is so according to thy word, as it is said, 'He hath made me desolate and faint all the day except for two-thirds of an hour (of God)."
Since there are 24 hours in every day, two-thirds of an hour would approximate 28 years in this symbolic reckoning; therefore, this rabbi expected the Messianic age 28 years sooner - 620 CE.
Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai confidently expected the setting up of the Messianic kingdom immediately after 750 CE. "Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai, the classic hero of Jewish mysticism, to whom the Revelations, as well as the Prayer of Simeon belt Yohai and the Zohar are attributed, is disclosed in his cave ruminating over the passage in Num. 24:21: 'And he saw the Kenite (Arab).' He complains to God: 'Is it not enough what the kingdom of Edom has done unto us? Must Thou now send upon us also the kingdom of Ishmael?' Whereupon the angel Metatron (the Revealer) allays his fears: 'Fear not, man, the Lord, blessed be He, brings this kingdom of Ishmael upon you' only to deliver you from this wicked one' (Edom=Rome=Byzantium). Rabbi Simeon demands proof. The angel adduces Scriptures to substantiate his prophecy: 'Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth, and when he seeth a rider, horsemen by pairs, a rider upon an ass and a rider upon a camel, he shall hearken diligently with much heed.' The rider upon the ass (=the Messiah), and the rider upon the camel (=the Arabs) are coupled together. The one will follow the other. Again, Is. 60:6 reads: 'The caravans of camels (=the Arabs) shall cover thee' (protect and redeem thee).
"The angel then proceeds to trace the whole history of Islam from the rise of Mohammed through the line of Omayyad caliphs to the last of the dynasty, Merwan II. Following the death of Merwan II, the angel announces that a cruel king will rule for three months, and the wicked kingdom (Byzantium) will rule over Israel for nine months (a traditional apocalyptic number) . . . then the Messiah ben Joseph will appear and restore the Jews to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. . . . But the cruel king Armilius (Antichrist) will then arise, who will be bald and scabby, having small eyes and deaf in one ear. . . who will wage war upon Messiah ben Joseph. . . and Israel will be driven into the wilderness for forty-five days, where the Messiah ben Joseph will die. The Messiah ben David will then appear. The Jews will at first refuse to accept him, saying that the true Messiah had already appeared and been slain, but God will show them that he is in truth the Messiah. He will thereupon slay Armilius. God will then assemble all Israel into Jerusalem, which will be cleansed of all sinners and of all uncircumcised. The heavenly Jerusalem will descend from on high. . . and Israel will dwell in peace for two thousand years, partaking of the Behemoth, the Leviathan and the Ziz (fabulous bird). . . . The great Judgment will then take place in the valley of Jehoshaphat." -Messianic Speculations in Israel.
"Saadia Gaon, who was probably the first among the Gaonim to attempt to sift the vast Rabbinic opinion on the subject of the Messiah, and whose formulation remained, with slight modification, the accredited and accepted view, devotes the eighth chapter of his Emunot we-De'ot to the Final Redemption and dwells at length upon the Messianic predictions in the Book of Daniel. He also treats this subject in his commentary on Daniel, and in his Seier ha-Galui.
"In his Emunot he endeavors to explain and to harmonize the various figures given in Daniel. He first discusses Dan. 12:6-7: 'How long shall it be to the end of wonders? And I heard the man clothed in linen who was above the waters of the river, when he lifted up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven and swore by him that liveth forever, that it shall be for a time, times and a half (ky lmwad mwadym wchtsy). This period, Saadia argues, is further explained to Daniel (verse 12) to be 1335 days. The days are here to be reckoned as years. The 'times' refer to the two periods during which the kingdom of Israel existed. The first period is that of the 480 years up to the building of the first Temple; the second period is that of the 410 years of the duration of this Temple, giving a total of 890 years; half of this is 445 years; hence 'times and a half' is 1335 yrs.
"The second figure is given in chapter 12, verse 11: 'And from the time that the continual burnt-offering shall be taken away, and the detestable thing that causes appalment set up, there shall be 1290 days.' Saadia argues that this refers to some event which occurred during the second Temple, 45 years after the first prophecy to Daniel. This, then, also gives us the figure 1335.
"The third prophecy is that in Dan. 8: 14 : 'And he said unto me: Unto 2300 evenings and mornings, then shall the sanctuary be victorious.' The number 2300 is to be divided by two, for both nights and days are included in' the figure. This gives us the number 1150. This date refers to an event which took place 185 years after the first prophecy to Daniel. Here again we have the figure 1335,
"Saadia does not definitely state when this period of 1335 years is to begin. Lacking the terminus a quo, we cannot fix the exact year in which Saadia expected the Messiah to come. Professor Malter believes that Saadia had no intention of revealing the Messianic year. He did not have in mind any definite event or dates with which the dates of Daniel are to be connected. 'Saadia here proceeds as a mere exegete. His sole purpose is to show that the three prophecies of Daniel do not contradict one another.' Professor Malter does believe, however, that Saadia did 'harbor some opinion as to when the appearance of the Messiah was to be expected, and though refraining from expressing it, he at least wanted to leave the general impression that the "end" was not far off.'
inclined, however, to accept Dr. Poznanski's opinion that the terminus a quo
here is the third year of the reign of Cyrus, when permission was granted the
Jews to return, and which, according to the old Jewish chronology, took place
in 367 B.CE. Saadia's Messianic year would, therefore, be 968 CE. Dr.
Poznanski, basing his opinion upon a Bodleian manuscript of Saadia's
unpublished commentary on Daniel, establishes that Saadia's computations point
to the year 968 CE. The event referred to in Dan. 12: 11 as having occurred 45
years after the first prophecy (the reorganization of the Temple service by
Nehemiah) is described in Nehemiah, chapter 13, and actually took place in the
thirty-second year of Artaxerxes-Darius (322 B.CE.). Accordingly the 1290
years 'would expire with the year 968 CE. . ..
"It is of interest to note that Salmon ben Yeroham, a Karaite contemporary and opponent of Saadia, arrives in his commentary on Daniel at the same date of Saadia-968 CE. Japheth Ha-Levi (second half of 10 C.), the Karaite scholar and commentator, makes mention of a calculation common among the Rabbis, which counted the 1335 day-years from the third year of the reign of Cyrus, and caustically remarks that that date is already past and their opinion flaunted.
"As the hoped-for Messianic decade (958-968) approached, great excitement prevailed throughout all Israel. The Jews of the Rhine district in 960 sent an inquiry to the school of Jerusalem, asking for a verification of the report of the coming of the Messiah: 'I, Isaac bar Dorbelo, saw in Worms a letter which the people of the Rhine sent to Palestine in the year (4) 720 (-960 CE.) in reference to the report which we have heard about the coming of the Messiah.' The reply: 'As regards your question about the coming of the Messiah, you do not even deserve a reply. For do you not believe in the words of our Sages and their signs (which they specified for the identification of the true Messiah), and these have not as yet come to pass.'"
Karaites Benjamin ben Moses Nahawendi (8-9 C.) by his calculation of the 2300
day-years arrived at the conclusion that the Messianic year would be 1358 CE.
Different rabbis, seeing the folly of date-setting, took their stand against it.
Japheth Ha-Levi, a Karaite Jewish expositor in Jerusalem, who flourished between 950-980, in his commentary on Daniel, rejected all Messianic speculations. His line of argument is found in two directions, as indicated by Dr. Silver.
"(1) Their inventors profess to know the end, whereas the Scripture says that the matter is closed and sealed; anyone, therefore, who professes to know it before the time of the end is professing what cannot be true.
"(2) They make the days years. Now we know that where he speaks of weeks of years he expressly distinguishes them from weeks of days; consequently none of the three sums mentioned (2300, 1290, 1335) can be years. All must be days."
4. FALSE MESSIAHS
This period produced at least three outstanding false messiahs, namely, Abu Isa al-Ishpahani, Serene, and Yudghan. There were certain movements which for the time wielded great influence but finally died out.
5. PRINCIPLES OF INTERPRETATION INVOLVED As has already been seen, one of the principal methods adopted for Messianic speculation was that of interpreting the four empires as set forth in Daniel's prophecy. During this period Babylon,
The second method of calculating the end of the age, used by Saadia, was known as the year-day theory. The fallacy underlying this generally accepted hypothesis is that it is based upon a pure assumption; namely, that a day in prophecy foreshadows a year in history. Japheth Ha-Levi, as we have already seen, answered in a few words this position. An additional argument against it, which proves fatal, is that every word must be understood in its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning if the facts of the context permit. In discussing the significance of Daniel 9: 24-27 I took up this study and investigated it briefly. We shall, however, see in the latter part of this chapter that this theory is simply an assumption without any factual basis. Another error makes void this theory. Various dates were selected as the initial year of this period; hence the calculators arrived at different years for Messiah's appearance. Should we assume that the year-day theory were true, the only way by which we could calculate the correct time would be to ascertain beyond a peradventure the initial date of the period and to check the chronology from that date forward. This data, of course, could be obtained only by a grammatical, historical exegesis of each passage involved. Failing to realize this principle, those who have used this line of argument in the past have made some very wild guesses, which have only brought the study of prophecy into disrepute. Time has disproved the various positions taken by these leaders in Israel.
C. The Dark Ages
1. THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
Usually the 1000 years beginning with the sixth century are termed the Dark Ages. In this chapter, however, I have entitled the period from the eleventh through the fourteenth centuries by this designation. Intellectuality receded to the darkness of the cloister as never before. Turmoil and upheavals were on every hand, devastating wars wrecked civilization, the black death in the middle of the fourteenth century took its horrible toll; and ignorance, superstition
A new method of Messianic speculation arose in this period or rather came into popular vogue. It is known as Gematria, or the science of numbers. To us at the present time it seems a very strange coincidence that the year 1096 C.E., the year of the first Crusade, was fixed upon as the year of Redemption. This date was worked out especially by Solomon ben Simeon (12 C.) :
"Solomon ben Simeon (12 C.), the chronicler of the First Crusade, makes mention of this high hope which was entertained by his contemporaries; 'And it came to pass in the year 4856 A.M., the I,O28th year of our exile, in the eleventh year of the 256th cycle (=1096 C.E.), when we had hoped for salvation and comfort, according to the prophecy of Jeremiah, "Sing ( ranou = 256 in Gematria) with gladness for Jacob and shout at the head of the nation." But it was turned into sorrow and groaning, weeping and lamentation.' This seems to be the first clear use of Gematria in Messianic prognostication applied to the Roman exile. Heretofore only actual dates and figures, the length of the earlier exiles or verses suggesting time-periods, were employed. From now on any word or words, however faintly reminiscent of Redemption they might be, are summoned at the behest of Gematria to yield up its secret. The science becomes exceedingly popular, running parallel, no doubt, to its growing popularity in other fields, notably Kabbala and exegesis."
As seen in the last quotation from Dr. Silver, 1096 C.E. was set as the Messianic year. It seems that the hopes of all Jewry were centered in that year. When, however, it passed, there were bitter disillusionment and disappointment. For instance, the Midrashic commentary of Tobiah ben Eliezer, of Castoria, Bulgaria, written in 1097, voices the discouragement which had g-ripped the nation. Having examined carefully the Sacred Book, the writer sighed: "Our power is gone and there is none remaining, shut up or left at large; and how all the ends have passed and Redemption is now dependent upon repentance alone, as it is written, 'If thou wilt return, 0 Israel, saith the Lord, yea return unto me,' and again, 'If thou return then I will bring thee back, thou shalt stand before Me.'" The enemies of the Jews taunted them because of the non-fulfillment of their expectation.
Rashi (1040-1105) is one of the leading lights of Jewry. His commentaries are still the standard. He indulged in Messianic speculation, using Gematria in determining the year of Redemption:
"Rashi (1040-1105) finds that Dan. 8: 14 and 12: 11-12 clearly point to the year 1352 CE. as the Messianic year. Verse 14 of chapter 8 reads; 'And he said unto me, Unto evening and morning 2300 years, then shall the sanctuary be victorious', ad arb bqr alpym wshlsh mswth. arbh and bqr must be taken in their numerical (Gematria) value = 574. Add 2,300 and you have the figure 2,874. The terminus a quo is the beginning of the Egyptian captivity. The Jews were 210 years in Egypt; 480 years elapsed from the time of their deliverance to the building of the first Temple; the Temple stood 410 years; the Babylonian captivity lasted 70 years, and the second Temple stood 420 years. This gives you a total of 1590 years from Egypt to the second destruction. Dan. 12: 11-12 says that 1290 years must elapse from the time that the continual burnt offering shall be taken away until the time of the Redemption. The offering ceased, according to Rashi, six years before the destruction, i. e., in the 1584th year since the Egyptian captivity; add 1584 and 1290 and you get the figure 2874, the figure of Dan. 8:14. The Temple was destroyed in 68 CE. The Messiah, according to Rashi, is to appear 1290 years after the cessation of the burnt offering, which took place six years before the destruction (i. e., 62 C.E.). Rashi therefore expected the Messiah to come in the year 1352 CE.
"In his commentary on San. 97b, he offers another figure in the name of Samuel ben David Halevi, basing his computation on Ps. 80:6: 'And thou hast given them tears to drink in a threefold measure.' He states that the present exile would last three times as long as the Egyptian (400 years) and the Babylonian (70 years) put together, i. e., 1410 years. In other words, the Messiah would come in the year 1478 CE."
Hiyya (d. 1136), contemporary of Halevi, Spanish-Jewish astronomer,
mathematician and philosopher, plays an important role in Messianic
speculation. His book, M egillat ha-M egalleh, which has but recently been
edited and published, shows the author to have been among the first to have
engaged in Messianic speculation on a vast and comprehensive scale. He is more
thorough than Saadia, the only other author preceding him whose elaborate
Messianic calculations have come down to us. Bar Hiyya, who seemingly digested
all the literature on the subject which had appeared up to his day, influenced
to a great degree many of the subsequent Messianic speculations, especially
those of Nahmanides and Abarbanel.
"Abraham bar Hiyya launches upon his subject with a bold defense of Messianic calculation. It is legitimate. It is sanctioned by the Torah. It finds precedent in the Talmud and in the later Rabbis. It is helpful in that it strengthens faith and enhances the morale of the people. He also vigorously defends his methods of calculation. His calculations derive from four sources; (1) the Creation account in Genesis, (2) the rest of the Torah, (3) the Book of Daniel, and (4) Astrology. He lays greatest value upon the first two, less on the third, and very little on the last, which he utilizes only as a means of convincing those who are given to this science and would not otherwise be convinced.
"The world was created solely for the sake of Israel. Every cycle in the Creation story, therefore, is symbolic and prophetic of the history of Israel. The Creation week signifies that the world will last 6000 years, the seventh being the Millennial Sabbath. Each Creation day points to a 1000 years of the world's cycle; for a day in the sight of God is 1000 years, or to be exact, 857* years, for it is written, 'For a thousand years are in Thy sight as yesterday when it is past plus a watch in the night.' A watch in the night is equal to a third of a night or four hours. A day of God is therefore equal to 0/7 of 1000 years, or 857*, and the seven days of Creation equal 6000 years.
"Each day is again divided into seven parts and each part (C. 122 years) is equal to one generation.
"Through an elaborate maze of figures Bar Hiyya arrives at his conclusions, viz., the flood took place at the close of the second day, i. e., 1714 A.M. The Torah was given toward the close of the third day, or more specifically at the beginning of the seventh generation of the third day, i. e., 2448 A.M.
"On the basis of this figure, says Bar Hiyya, one may calculate that the succeeding three days, at the close of which the Messiah will come, will also last 2448 years, and will terminate in 4896 A.M. The Messiah may therefore be expected in the year 1136 CE. This is the earliest possible date, perhaps the date when the first signs of his coming will appear. Or one may reckon not from the time of the giving of the Torah but from the conquest of Canaan (2495 A.M.). This would place the year of the Messiah in 4990 A.M. or 1230 CE. This, according to Bar Hiyya, is the more probable date.
"Again, says Bar Hiyya, one may reason in this wise; In Deut. 28; 63 it is stated 'and it shall come to pass, that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good. . . so the Lord will rejoice over you to cause you to perish. . .' This implies that the period of suffering will be as long as the period of rejoicing. The period of rejoicing began with the giving of the Torah (2448 A.M.) and closed with the destruction (3828 A.M.). In other words, it lasted 1380 years. The period of suffering will therefore also last 1380 years, i. e., to the year 5208 A.M. or 1448 CE. This is the outmost figure. The Messiah's coming cannot be delayed beyond it.
"There is still a possible fourth calculation. The Torah was given in 2448 A.M., at the close of the third day. This leaves 3552 years for the remaining four days of the Creation week, or approximately 890 years per day. The first Temple was destroyed at the close of the fourth day, in 3338 A.M., 890 years after the giving of the Torah. The fifth and sixth days will last 890 X 2 = 1780 years. At the close of the sixth day the Messiah will come. Add 1780 to 3338 and you get 5118 A.M. or 1358 CE. as the Messianic year. Bar Hiyya writes; 'And we believe that in that year Redemption will come without delay.' This is approximately also Rashi's date. We shall see that the year 1358 became a favorite one among succeeding speculators. On the basis of the Baraita in Ab. Zar. 9a and San. 97a, 'six thousand years will the world endure. . .' and Dan. 12: 12, Bar Hiyya deduces still a fifth date, 1403 CE., which also proved a popular Messianic date.
"Bar Hiyya apologizes for resorting in his calculations to astrology. The foregoing arguments based on Scriptures and Rabbinic sources are really sufficient, and he would not have stooped to a science which is the creation of the Gentiles but for his desire to convince those who can only be convinced through this method. He was encouraged by the fact that even the Rabbis did not altogether disdain astrology."
"'The exact time is not known for a certainty, but there exists among us a great and wonderful tradition which I received from my father, and he in turn from his father, and his grandfather, who likewise received it, and so through a continuous chain to the beginning of the exile from Jerusalem. . . that in Balaam's statement, Num. 23:23, "Now, is it said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought?" is found the key to the mystery. From the time of this prophecy one should count the number of years which preceded it from creation. Prophecy will at that time return to Israel, and then the prophets will say, "Behold what God hath wrought." This prophecy of Balaam was delivered forty years after the Exodus, i. e., in the year 2488 A.M. The return of prophecy, which is the sign heralding the coming of the Messiah, will therefore transpire in the year 4976 A.M., i. e., 1216 CE.'"
"He sets about to prove four things: (I) that the books of Moses and the later prophetic writings contain definite references to the final Redemption, as well as calculable and ascertainable dates; (2) that Gematria is a legitimate and traditionally sanctioned method of discovering such dates; (3) that the Messianic passages of Daniel refer to the final Redemption; (4) that the Rabbinic injunction against calculating the end is no longer binding because we are so near the end now, and the injunction was made at a time when the end was far off, in order to save the people from heart-breaking disappointments.
"Nahmanides proceeds to harmonize the various dates found in the Book of Daniel, and to deduce from them the exact Messianic year. According to him, Dan. 12: 11, 'And from the time that the continual burnt offering shall be taken away and the detestable thing that causeth appalment set up, there
shall be 1290 days,' means that 1290 years after the destruction of the Temple the first Messiah, the Messiah ben Joseph, will appear (i. e., in the year 1358 C.E.). In his public disputation with Pablo Christiani (1263 CE.), Nahmanides stated explicitly; 'It is now 1195 years since the destruction, or 95 years less than the Messianic figure of Daniel. We believe that the Messiah will come that year.' Nahmanides maintains that the burnt offering was taken away on the day of the destruction, differing in this regard from Saadia. Forty-five years later (i. e., 1403 CE.) the Messiah ben David will come; hence the second figure of 1335 days found in Dan. 12:13."
His interpretation of Daniel's expression "time, times and half a time" was that it alludes to a period of 1540 years. "Time" referred to the Egyptian bondage of 440 years; "times" in the dual number signified a period of 880 years, and "half a time" one-half of 440, which is 220. The total of this number is 1540 years; hence, Rome's domination was to continue during this period. Having begun in 138 B.C.E., the period ends with the year 1402. He endeavored to interpret the 2300 evenings and mornings of Dan. 8:14 which yielded 2275 years. This period is to begin with the reign of David and to terminate with the last exile of Israel. It is needless to say that his prognostication failed.
I will call attention to one other of the cabalistic exponents of Messianic prophecy. The work to which I refer is the Zohar (about 1290). There is some dispute as to who was the author. It is quite likely that in it are reflected the opinions of the age.
"(1) The Zohar, Par. Wayyera, basing itself on the mystic value of the Tetragrammaton, sets the date as 1300 CE. When Israel was exiled the letters of God's name (yhwh) were separated; the He was separated from the Waw. As long as this separation lasts Israel will lie prostrate in the dust. The He means 5000 years, the Waw 6000 years. When the fifth millennium will end and the sixth begin (i. e., when the two will be joined), and that will take place in the 60th year of the sixth millennium (5060 A.M. = 1300 CE.), the hour of Redemption will begin. The number 60 is arrived at by multiplying the letter Waw (6) by Yod (10), which is their highest common multiple. Every 60 years thereafter the letter He will ascend by degrees and gain in potency until the year 5600 A.M.=1840 CE. is reached, when the gates of wisdom will be opened from above and from below, and the world will be ready for the seventh millennium.
"(2) Another calculation based on the mystic value of the letter Waw sets the date of the Messiah's coming as 1306 CE. The Waw in the name, yaqwb, in the sentence, 'And I will remember my covenant with Jacob,' is the key to this computation. The act of remembrance will occur in the year 60 of the sixth millennium (1300 CE.). God will redeem his promise to the children of Jacob. 'In the 66th year of the sixth millennium (1306 CE.) the King Messiah will appear in Galilee.' These two dates, 1300 and 1306, are probably the conjectures of the original compiler of the Zohar himself - Moses de Leon - who died in 1305."
The writers of this school whom I have quoted show clearly the method of calculating the date of Messiah's appearance. There are
There was strong opposition to the Messianic speculation of this period. Among these objectors may be mentioned Moses ibn Gikatilla, Moses ibn Ezra, Judah Halevi, Abraham ibn Ezra, Azariah dei Rossi (about 1578), and a host of others.
The last-named expositor was outspoken against the current system of speculation. At length he answered his opponents in a thorough and scholarly manner. His line of argument was that the current creation calendar was inaccurate and that there had elapsed a longer period of time since creation than was indicated by the reckoning. Having established his premise, he drew the conclusion that the Messianic year of 5335 A.M. (1575 C.E.) had long since passed. Israel, therefore, had placed her hopes upon an insecure basis.
During the Crusades there was great excitement, and Messianic movements swept the people into strange fanaticism. For instance, the Jews of France dispatched a messenger to Constantinople to inquire as to the significance of the reported miracles and signs which were supposed to have occurred and to inquire as to whether or not the year of Redemption was drawing near. False messiahs arose at various places and at different times. Such was to be expected under the stimulus of such great superstition and excitement.
period the outstanding principles governing all Messianic interpretation were
those of Gematria and Notarikon. The Hebrew alphabet, like that of the Latin
and Greek, was used as figures; hence each letter had its numerical
signification. According to this hypothesis there was wrapped up in the
various Messianic predictions a mystical or secret meaning which could be
extracted only by the involved method of Gematria or Notarikon. As we have
already seen from the quotation by Solomon ben Simeon, those living in the
eleventh century believed that they were living in the 256th cycle* of the
"A cryptograph in the form of a word the letters of which have the numerical values of the word taken as the hidden meaning; also, the cabalistic method of explaining the Hebrew Scriptures by means of the cryptographic significance of the words. Thus, the first word of Genesis in Hebrew, l1""jil meaning 'in the beginning,' has the numerical value 913, which is the same as that of the Hebrew phrase meaning 'in the law it was made.' Hence the cabalists declare the law to have existed from the beginning, and that the creation was effected by it."
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, Gematria is "a cryptograph which gives, instead of the intended word, its numerical value, or a cycle produced by the permutation of letters." (See Gematria, Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 5.)
Notarikon is defined in the Jewish Encyclopedia under that name (V 01. 9) as follows:
"A system of shorthand consisting in either simply abbreviating the words or in writing only one letter of each word. This system, used by the Romans in their courts of justice for recording the proceedings of the court (comp. Benjamin Mussafia in his additions to the Aruk, s.v.), was said by the Talmudists to have existed as early as the time of Moses; and they held that the latter used it in the composition of the Pentateuch. The law concerning notarikon is the thirtieth of the thirty-two hermeneutic rules laid down by Eliezer b. Jose ha-Gelili for the interpretation of the Bible. Still, as Samson of Chinon remarks (Sefer Keritut, Preface) it was used in haggadic interpretation only, not in halakic matters."
Under the article Gematria, Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 589, we find the following statement:
"The following three may be considered as very probable; (1) Gen. XIV; 14, where the number 318 is the equivalent of 'Eliezer' (Ned. 32a), the only name known to tradition from among those of Abraham's servants; (2) Deut. XXXII; 1-6, the initial letters of the verses giving the number 345, the value of the name of Moses (Tan. ad lac.) and the abnormal form of the first letter of verse 6 calling the reader's attention to the cryptographic acrostic; (3) Ezek. V: 2, where '1~7Ji7 "" omitting 1 and i7, = 390, the number given in ib. IV: 9 (comp. Berthelot's commentary ad loc.)." In regard to the supposed Gematria of Genesis 14: 14, there is agreement between the numerical value of the name Eliezer and the number of servants whom Abraham had, and who fought the retreating allied forces. This agreement is an accidental matter and, as far as I am able to see,
In the first two cases the agreement can be accounted for on the basis of coincidence; in the third, the facts have to be doctored in order to prove the point. It is very difficult to see how the Lord in giving a revelation to man would make its meaning hinge upon such uncertainties. The Scriptures are the revelation of God to man. An axiomatic truth of this proposition or one growing out of it is that the Lord couched His thoughts in language capable of being understood by the ordinary man. In this connection I ask the reader to bear with me while I repeat the fundamental principle of interpreting all language; namely, one is to take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning in the light of the context unless there are facts in the passage which demand a figurative, secondary, or metaphorical meaning. Only in case of such positive evidence is one justified in departing from the ordinary meaning of the word. "When the plain sense makes common sense, seek no other sense."
All of the
predictions made by the various expositors adopting the principles of Gematria
and Notarikon have been proved false by history. 1f the principles involved in
these two methods of interpretation were true and made evident the meaning of
the passages, history would have demonstrated that fact, and Messiah would
have come long ago to deliver Israel from her present bondage. As we shall see
in the case of the false messiah, Shabbeti Zebi, the two opposing sides to the
controversy concerning this pseudomessiah produced Gematria as their authority
for their respective positions. The same can be true in every case. In view of
these facts it is evident one cannot afford to attach his faith to such a
hidden or mystical meaning as is produced by these two so-called principles.
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were stirring times. Mighty changes were taking place. There was general unrest throughout the world. Much suffering was involved in these upheavals. Under these conditions naturally there was much confusion. Israel was very eager to learn about the appearance of her Messiah. Each attempted to learn the date of His coming.
The one outstanding expositor of this period was Abarbanel (1447-1508). In his Wells of Salvation he attempted to interpret Messianic prophecy, especially those contained in the book of Daniel. The basis of his exposition was more that of the historical, grammatical type. In the main his explanations are sound and scholarly. On some points, however, he missed the true meaning. He saw in the metallic image-vision of Daniel 2 and the beast-vision of Daniel 7 a symbolic representation of the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. Generally, he was correct in his interpretation of the ninth chapter of Daniel concerning the seventy weeks. He recognized the fact that they refer to years and not days. He adopted, however, the year-day theory.
At the same time he buttressed his argument by Gematria, for 1503 C.E. was the Messianic year according to his calculation. Time has disproved his contention.
Others attempted to decipher the signs of the times. No new methods, however, were introduced; hence there is no necessity for my calling attention to them.
There were always those in Israel who saw the mistake of setting dates for Messiah's appearance; hence they met Gematria with Gematria and argument with argument.
4. FALSE MESSIAHS
outstanding pseudo-messiah of this period was Shabbetai Zebi. This man
presented himself to many in Israel as the Messiah who would deliver the
nation. His movement proved abortive and brought much suffering to Israel.
In this section it is well for us to take the case of Shabbetai Zebi and see how the controversialists met Gematria with Gematria.
"Rabbi Joshua Neneto of Alexandria, writing to the community of Leghorn, points to the numerous passages in the Bible which, per Gematriam, clearly establish the Messiahship of Shabbetai Zebi. He states that these passages are almost endless, and that they are sufficient and valid proof. This view was shared by all the adherents of Shabbetai Zebi. They pointed with conviction to the fact that the name of Shabbetai Zebi, was equal to the name of God, shdy, taken in its integrated form: <![if !vml]><![endif]> = 814.
It is also equal to <![if !vml]><![endif]>= 814 ('And my year of redemption is come'). Zebi, is also the Notarikon of <![if !vml]><![endif]> ('the righteous shall live by his faith').
"The opponents countered by pointing out that <![if !vml]><![endif]> is equal to <![if !vml]><![endif]>('And he (Esau) was a cunning hunter, a man of the field').
Also that <![if !vml]><![endif]>is equal to <![if !vml]><![endif]>= Balaam, the wicked. Also that <![if !vml]><![endif]>is equal to <![if !vml]><![endif]>= Amalek the wicked, and <![if !vml]><![endif]>= the lying spirit.
"The year of Shabbetai Zebi's revelation was also established by Gematria. It was based on the Zoharitic Messianic year 1648, which in turn was based on the verse <![if !vml]><![endif]>= 5408 = 1648 ('In this year of the Jubilee shall ye return'). This was the year when Shabbetai Zebi first began to reveal his true character to his disciples in Smyrna. It was in the eighth year of the Jubilee cycle. Within the remaining 42 years of that cycle, i.e. up to 1690, the restoration must take place. The year 1666, when Shabbetai again made public avowal of his Messiahship, was indicated in <![if !vml]><![endif]> = 1666 ('0 Israel, thou art saved by the Lord'). Nathan of Gaza proclaimed that the restoration will take place before the year 5430 = 1670. When this year did not bring about the promised Redemption, the disciples found Gematria for other years: 1675, 1680, 1686, 1692, 1706, 1710."
With such a system as Gematria anyone can find proof of most any position which he advocates. There is nothing scientific in the entire process. This fact has been established by history. Hence all cabalistic methods of determining chronology have failed. In this brief survey of the efforts on the part of some of the leaders of Israel to ascertain the year of redemption, we have seen that every conceivable method has been employed to unravel the secret of the future. But all of these attempts have failed and those putting confidence in the calculations have been sorely disappointed by the non-fulfillment of their hopes.
II. CHRISTIAN SPECULATIONS
In the preceding section we have had a cursory review of the disastrous results arising from Jewish Messianic speculations and date-setting.
Let us not hastily conclude that those brethren, beloved and honored, who have engaged in speculation, calculation, and guessing have been of mediocre ability or were insincere, for such has not been the case. Some of God's noblemen, men of purity, loyalty, and sincerity, have yielded to the temptation of trying to unravel the "riddle of the universe," especially of the future, by the methods just mentioned.
We respect and honor everyone of these noble souls. At the same time we must walk in the light which we have and endeavor by God's grace to seek more truth.
It is in order for us to examine some of these hypotheses, which have had such a far-reaching influence in the interpretation of God's Word. An examination, therefore, of these various theories is not simply an effort to expose the fallacy of others, but is an honest attempt to see the mistakes that they have made in order that we might avoid committing the same errors.
A. The Year-day Theory
There is that which is popularly known as the year-day theory for the interpretation of the prophetic Scriptures. In a word, this hypothesis asserts that in symbolic prophecy a day in the prediction foreshadows a year in history.
As proof of this position our attention is called to Numbers 13 and 14. Here we have an account of the spying out of Canaan by the men appointed by Moses at Kadesh-barnea.
There can be no doubt that, since they spied out the land for 40 days, God selected that number to designate the years of their wilderness experiences. Such is the plain meaning of this passage. No one can possibly deny this fact.
The theory under consideration affirms that a day in prophecy foreshadows a year in history as set forth in symbolic prophecy. A close scrutiny of Numbers 13 and 14 will yield nothing symbolic or mystical about the record. These chapters are simply a plain statement of facts. There was a reason for God's selecting the number of years for their sojourn in the wilderness. He stated that they were to be there for this length of time in order that the generation disbelieving Him might pass on into eternity. It took 40 years for those who refused to enter at that time to live out their natural days. There is, therefore, nothing mystical in this passage. One must read the idea of symbolism into it in order to find it there.
In Ezekiel 4, however, we have a case that is somewhat similar to this one, but one in which the symbolic element figures very largely. The prophet was commanded to lie upon his left side for 390 days, which were to signify 390 years during which Israel was forced to suffer for her iniquities. When he completed this task, he was to lie upon his right side for 40 days, which in the same way signified the 40 years for the iniquity of Judah. There can be no doubt that the passage is symbolic. Yet it is not prophetic but retrospective, for it signified what had already occurred.
As absolute proof of the year-day theory our attention is called to Daniel 9, an exposition of which was found in Chapter XIII of this volume. As we have seen, the angel Gabriel told Daniel that 70 weeks were decreed upon his people and upon his Holy City (Jerusalem) for the fulfillment of 6 things, which, when studied in the light of other predictions,
In chapter XIII we saw that Daniel had been reading about years (Daniel 9:1, 2). He was thinking in terms of years. Without question he had been meditating upon the period of 70 years of Babylonian captivity. The angel Gabriel appeared to him and, making a play upon words, informed him that he was mistaken in the conclusion to which he had come. Instead of the coming of the great mi1lennial blessings at the end of the 70 years of exile-this revelation was made to Daniel in the 68th year of the captivity seventy sevens were decreed upon the Jewish people and Jerusalem for the bringing in of this glorious kingdom age. Since Daniel had been thinking of such years as are mentioned in the books he had been studying (Kings, Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah), there was but one conclusion to which he could come; namely, that the seventy sevens or the 490 are ordinary years. From this conclusion there can be no escape.
The advocates of this theory see in this marvelous passage conclusive evidence of the year-day theory. This chapter to them is absolute and positive proof of the proposition that God outlines certain periods in history in a symbolic way. As an illustration of this so-called principle, attention is called to the blue prints which are made by architectural engineers for various projects. The plans and maps are drawn to a certain scale. For instance, an eighth or a quarter of an inch on the drawing may represent a foot in the project which is to be constructed. We are, therefore, told that Gabriel in this passage gave us a blue print of the time under consideration, drawn to the scale of 1 to 360, since a day in prophecy, as these men assert, stands for a prophetical year in history. Others claim that the scale is 1 to 354 (the lunar year), and 1 to 365 (the solar year).
This theory, ignoring the facts of the context, reads into this passage a symbolic meaning which never entered the mind of Gabriel or Daniel.
In order to determine whether or not the theory is sound, let us apply it to the 400 years mentioned in Genesis 15, during which God said that Israel would be under foreign domination, and after the expiration of which period she would come forth into her own land. If a day in prophecy foreshadows a year in history, we must multiply these 400 by 360 days in order to determine the length of time the children of Israel would be tinder Egyptian domination. We have already learned that in reality they were there only 215 years. The historical facts, therefore, are a repudiation of the hypothesis.
If we apply this theory to the 70 years of Babylonian exile, we must multiply this number by 360 in order to determine how long Israel was to be in captivity (Jer. 25:8-14). Seventy years meant seventy years. At the expiration of that period of literal years, God stirred the heart of Cyrus to cause the Jews to return to their land. Those who desired to do so returned with Zerubbabel and Joshua. When the theory is applied to such a plain passage, it is apparent that it will not work. If we apply it to any period that is foretold in the Scriptures and examine the context of each, we shall see that it proves an absurdity.
The advocates of this hypothesis claim that this rule applies only to symbolic prophecy. According to certain leading proponents of this interpretation, Daniel 9 is the crowning proof of the theory; but, as we have just seen, there is absolutely no evidence in this passage supporting the hypothesis. There is no intimation of a symbolic or mystical meaning in the entire chapter. To read into it such fanciful ideas is to do violence to the context. On the other hand, the facts of Ezekiel 4 demand a symbolic significance. In reality, we are told in so many words that the prophet's actions were symbolic.
Those holding to this theory differ very greatly with reference to the initial date of the period under consideration and also the terminus thereof. One can always find some event or fact in history for the starting point of his calculation and can likewise locate a terminal date-to make the facts fit the theory. Usually there are as many starting points and ending places as there are outstanding exponents of the theory. It is never wise to force upon a passage of Scripture a meaning other than the plain, common-sense interpretation and to pin down a time-prophecy to any event, unless the Scriptures really so indicate. Let us who endeavor to interpret the Word remember always that the Lord does not run the affairs of the universe or direct the course of history according to manmade schedules.
Many Christians, following the Jewish interpreters, see in the 6 days mentioned in Genesis 1 a foreshadowing of 6000 years of human history. As proof of the position, reference is made to Psalm 90:4, "For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night." Does this passage in any wise lead one to believe that each of the days of reconstruction (Gen. 1) foreshadows a 1000 years? An examination of the context does not favor such an interpretation. In the beginning of the passage God speaks of His eternal existence. The same thought is presented by Isaiah 57:14. He is the one who "inhabits eternity." In contrast with the eternity of God, man's brief sojourn in this life is presented. Such is the flow of the thought in Psalm 90. There is not the least intimation here that those days foreshadow 6000 years in history.
Many Christian expositors see in II Peter 3:8 proof of this position. "But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." What meaning do the facts indicate? An examination of the context yields the following interpretation: Peter looked out into the future-to the last days-and saw that mockers would come denying the personal return of the Lord Jesus and, as a reason for their negative attitude, claiming that all things have continued from the time that the fathers (Christian leaders of the early church) fell asleep as they have been from the beginning of time.
After making this prediction the apostle urged believers not to forget the fact that one day is with the Lord as a 1000 years and a 1000 years as one day. Following this statement he affirmed that the Lord is not slack concerning His promise-of His second coming. In the light of these facts, Peter, we see, was emphasizing the thought that God is different from men, and that He can and will fulfill a promise after a 1000 years have passed as faithfully and loyally as He will on the day that He makes it. There is, therefore, no support in this passage for the theory under consideration.
If those days of reconstruction foreshadowed 6000 years of world history, there is no indication to that effect anywhere in the Scriptures so far as I have been able to determine. They may have this symbolic meaning, but God has not indicated it. Let us remember that the things which are revealed are for us in order that we may conform our lives to His will, but the secret things which He has chosen not to make known to us belong to Him (Deut. 29:29).
By calculators and date-setters we are told that there are three types of years mentioned in the Scriptures: lunar, prophetic, and solar. The lunar year, speaking popularly, is 354 days long; the prophetic, 360; and the solar, 365.
Those advocating the lunar year and bringing it into the prophetic picture call our attention to the fact that the Jewish months were lunar. This is true. At the same time their year was corrected by the intercalation of a thirteenth month. Anstey has shown that the Hebrews constantly corrected their calendar by observation of the moon and the stage of the crops. There is no indication, so far as I have been able to determine, leading one to believe that any of the years mentioned in the prophetic word could in any wise be interpreted as lunar.
In the Scriptures we read of the "times of the Gentiles," during which Jerusalem is trodden down (Luke 21:24). This expression is understood to refer to the same time set forth in the visions of Daniel 2 and 7. There can be no doubt about the correctness of this position. Determined efforts are made to ascertain its length. The calculation usually is based upon Leviticus 26, which gives the outline of Israel's history pre-written. In verses 1 and 2 God reiterated the fact that He had entered into covenant relationship with the Hebrew people. In verses 3-13 He foretold the blessings that He would shower upon them for obedience. In verses 14-39 He warned Israel of the punishment that would come in the event she was unfaithful to her covenant vow.
Four times Moses warned that in case of disobedience the Lord would punish Israel seven times for her iniquities. The expression seven times is interpreted in the light of Daniel 4:32, 33, which states that Nebuchadnezzar was driven from his position as King of Babylon, and that he dwelt with the beasts of the field seven times. This period is interpreted in the light of Daniel 7:25 and Revelation 11:2, 3 and 13:5. It is generally supposed that Nebuchadnezzar's insanity continued seven years. Thus the word time is understood to refer to a year. With this meaning of time, Leviticus 26, which refers to Israel's punishment seven times, is understood to foretell that God would punish her seven times-seven prophetic years. But how long is a prophetic year? This question is answered by studying Daniel 7:25 in connection with the Revelation passages. In the first of these we are told that the world dictator will speak words against the most high God and will persecute His saints; "and he will seek to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hands until a time and times and half a time." The word time is in the singular and times in the dual; hence they are equal to three times. Add the one-half and you have 3 1/2 times or 3 1/2 years.
How long are these 3 1/2; years? The eleventh chapter of Revelation speaks of events which occur in the middle of Daniel's seventieth week-in the middle of the great tribulation. The prediction of verse 2 says that the Jewish Temple, which will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, will be trodden down by the nations for 42 months. This prediction refers to the latter half of the tribulation. Verse 3, however, speaks of 1260 days, during which the two witnesses give forth their testimony in Jerusalem. A study of this verse in the
light of all the facts of the context shows that this period refers to the first half of the tribulation. In Revelation 13 we read of the ravings of the beast, who continues his mad career against God and man for 42 months-evidently the latter half of the tribulation. The woman of Revelation 12, who in verse 1 is called a symbol, flees into the wilderness, or into a place prepared for her, and there remains for a "time, and times, and half a time." This statement refers to the latter half of the great Tribulation. The first part of it is called 1260 days; the latter half is also spoken of as a period of 42 months, or "a time and times and half a time." From these facts it is concluded that a time is a year of twelve months, each of which has 30 days. The so-called prophetic year, therefore, is said to contain 360 days.
Having arrived at the conclusion that a prophetic year contains 360 days and believing that a day in prophecy foreshadows a year in history, the proponents of this theory tell us that the times of the Gentiles is a period of 7 X 360 or 2520 years. This conclusion is accepted without any further investigation.
What are the facts in the case? Does the word times, which occurs four times in Leviticus 26, refer in this chapter to years? An examination of the context alone can determine this question. In verses 14-17, the Lord called attention to the punishment that would come upon His people in case of disobedience. Following this warning He declared, "and if ye will not yet for these things hearken unto me, then I will chastise you seven times more for your sins." The word rendered seven times is shabha. This is the same word that is translated week in Daniel 9:24, the only difference being that, in this instance, it is in the singular, whereas in the latter it is in the plural. As we have seen, it simply means seven or seven-fold as it is sometimes rendered. One must look at the context to ascertain what is meant. No one will say that every time it occurs it means 7 prophetic years. This position is ridiculous.
In Leviticus 26:21 the same word occurs after makkah, which means "stroke or plague." Our numeral, therefore, modifies this noun in this place. The clause might be rendered properly: "And I will add upon you a stroke or plague sevenfold on account of your iniquities." In this verse there is no element of time, but of intensity of the punishment. In verses 23 and 24 it appears the third time. This last clause may correctly be rendered, "And I will smite you, even I, seven-fold on account of your iniquities." Here
there is no thought of a period of years, but rather as above, of the intensity of the punishment. The fourth and last time it occurs is in verse 28. Here it has the same connotation.
Let us assume that this word indicates a period of years, and that its number is 2520. A careful study of Leviticus 26 shows that for the initial disobedience and disloyalty to covenant relationships God threatened to punish Israel with certain diseases. If these judgments, Moses declared, should prove ineffective, then God would adopt other measures of punishment. Should this, likewise, fail to bring the correction, He threatened to administer a third type of chastisement. Finally He warned that, if they would not be corrected by the fourth stroke, God would punish them by casting them out of their land. A plain simple reading of the text shows these facts. It is, therefore, impossible for us to accept the facts at their face value and at the same time read into the record the idea of a period of time presented under symbolic form. Furthermore, if this expression seven times means a period of 2520 years-since it is used four times-it would indicate a period of 10,080 years. Can we accept this legitimate and logical conclusion? Such a thought is absurd. It is utterly impossible, therefore, that this expression in Leviticus 26 can have the time element in it.
But what is the meaning of time, times, and half a time in the book of Revelation? Obviously in the light of all the passages of that book bearing upon the issue, it means a year the length of which is 360 days. About this position there can be no question, but our years are now 365 1/4 days long. Is there to be any change in the calendar? Absolutely. Daniel 7:25 foretells that in the middle of the tribulation the world dictator will think to change the times and the seasons. He will do this. There has been and will continue to be much agitation for the changing of the calendar. This will eventually be accomplished in the middle of the tribulation, if not before. But the year of 360 days mentioned in the book of Revelation is that which is the result of the changing of the calendar of the world at that future time. In view of all these facts I am unable to accept the theory of a prophetic year of 360 days. There will be, as just stated, a year of 360 days adopted by the final world dictator. It is illogical for us to take the facts of Revelation relative to the changed calendar in the future, and to read this idea into such a passage as Leviticus 26. Since Daniel 7:25 is talking about this future decree, which the world dictator will make in his
changing times and seasons, it is proper to interpret it in terms of the explanation which is given by John in Revelation-it is a prophecy of the same thing about which John Was speaking. There is, therefore, as far as I have been able to learn by consistent search for the truth, no such thing as a prophetic year of 360 days.
The years mentioned in the Scriptures are the common ordinary years consisting of the four seasons, for "while the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, and summer and winter, day and night shall not cease." The Hebrew years throughout the Scriptures are the common years consisting of the four seasons which are marked by the sowing, cultivation, and harvesting of the crops.
As has been seen, the accepted chronology places the issuing of the decree for the rebuilding of the temple by Cyrus in 536 B.C. It is generally supposed that Jesus of Nazareth was executed in 32 or 33 A.D. From 536 B.C. to 32 A.D. there were 567 years-if no mistakes were made in the calculation. Let us think of the 483 years, from the issuing of the decree for the rebuilding of Jerusalem to the cutting off of the Messiah, as a surveyor's chain consisting of 483 links. At the same time, let us also conceive of the years of the period under consideration as a distance of 567 units, the length of each of which is equal to a link in the surveyor's chain. If our imaginary chain is staked down at the point represented by 536 B.C. and is carried forward at the other end, it will cover 483 units, but will lack 84 links of reaching the point representing 32 AD. Since the chain is not elastic, it cannot be made to reach the point 32 AD. Neither can the distance separating these two points be contracted until there are only 483 units. Seeing the discrepancy, many expositors draw up their stake at point 536 B.C., go forward to the other point 32 AD., stake their chain down, and go backward along this line. They reach the point represented by the year 452 B.C. They cannot make the chain extend any farther; hence they stop short of 536 B.C. by 84 years.
Believing that the Scriptures mean literally what they say, many sincere believers are confident that the terminal date is the execution of Messiah, which, as is supposed in the case under consideration, occurred in 32 AD.
They trace the history backward and cannot go beyond 452 B.C. They are confident, therefore, that the decree mentioned by Gabriel in Daniel 9 was issued at that date; but there was no decree for the rebuilding of Jerusalem made by anyone at that time. The nearest thing that could be compared to a decree or a proclamation is the permission which Darius gave to Nehemiah in the 20th year of his reign, which, according to the generally accepted chronology, was in 445 B.C.; but there is a difference of 7 years between 445 and 452. How is this discrepancy to be explained?
Resort is immediately had to the prophetic-year theory. Gabriel affirmed that there were to be 483 years from the issuing of the decree to the execution of Messiah, but from 445 B.C. to 32 AD. was a period of 476 years and 24 days, as has been worked out by those holding to this position. But 476 years are not 483. The difficulty is usually removed by asserting that the 483 years are prophetic-a total of 173,880 days. It is also claimed by these expositors that the 476 years intervening between 445 B.C. and 32 AD. are regular solar years of 365 days. By special calculation it is found that they also amount to 173,880 days. The calculation as presented by one of the exponents of this theory is as follows:
"The 1st Nisan in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes (the edict to rebuild Jerusalem) was 14th March, B.c. 445.
"The 10th Nisan in Passion Week (Christ's entry into Jerusalem) was 6th April, A.D. 32.
"The intervening period was 476 years and 24 days (the days being reckoned inclusively, as required by the language of the prophecy, and in accordance with the Jewish practice).
But 476 X 365 =. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. .....173,880 days
Add (14 March to 6th April, both inclusive).... ........24 days
Add for leap
years. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . ...116 days
"It may be welt to offer here two explanatory remarks. First: in reckoning years from B.C. to A.D., one year must always be omitted; for it is obvious, ex. gr., that from B.C. 1 to A.D. 1 was not two years, but one year. B.C. 1 ought to be described as B.C. 0, and it is so reckoned by astronomers, who would describe the historical date B.C. 445, as 444 (see note p. 124, ante). And secondly, the Julian year is 11m. 1O.46s., or about the 129th part of a day, longer than the mean solar year. The Julian calendar, therefore, contains three leap years too many in four centuries, an error which had amounted to eleven days in A.D. 1752, when our English calendar was corrected by declaring the 3rd September to be the 14th September, and by introducing the Gregorian reform which reckons three secular years out of
We have already seen that the authority which Darius gave Nehemiah was not a decree in any sense of the word, but was simply permission granted him to return to the city of his fathers and there act as governor. We have also seen that Cyrus, according to the prediction of Isaiah, was to issue the proclamation for the rebuilding of the temple and city. Cyrus did exactly what God foretold that he would perform. In view of all the data presented in Chapter XVI relative to the days of the restoration, it is utterly impossible for one to accept all of the facts, to evaluate them properly, and still to believe the explanation that has just been set forth.
The initial date of the 483 years was the year in which Cyrus issued the decree according to the promise of Gabriel. At the expiration of the 69 weeks or 483rd year, Messiah was to be cut off and have nothing; that is, the Messiah was to be cut off at the end of the 483 years. The question has been raised by some concerning the significance of the Hebrew word. acheray. It is contended that it simply means after without any implication as to whether or not some time intervened between the end of the 483rd year and the cutting off of the Messiah. What is the significance of this word? It is derived from, achar. Its fundamental meaning is "delay, tarry, cause one to delay," "hinder," etc. The adjective derived from it means primarily another. As a substantive it means the hinder or following parts. The same form is used as a preposition.
Daniel employed the plural construct form of this word, acheray. It is used substantively in II Samuel 2:23 in the phrase, beacheray hacheniyth, "with the hinder end of the spear." It refers to the point of the spear. Our form of this preposition as used by Daniel occurs nine times in Genesis 5. It is used to indicate the years of each of the patriarchs after the begetting of his first-born. This period is dated from the time of the begetting of the son. This same form appears in Leviticus 16:1, acheray moth. These words occur in the expression, "And Jehovah spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron." The entire contents of the book of Leviticus were spoken during the first month of the second
year of the Exodus (See Exodus 40:17; Numbers 1:1). In the passage under consideration it is quite evident that the message came to Moses immediately after the death of Aaron's two disobedient sons. We see the same idiom in Joshua 1:1. "Now it came to pass after the death of Moses the servant of Jehovah, that Jehovah spake unto Joshua," etc. Moses died. Joshua became his successor. There was no time for delay; hence, the Lord spoke immediately to Joshua after Moses' death. These and other instances show that the ordinary meaning of the word when used in a temporal sense is immediately after the event mentioned. The beginning of the period was exact; so was the ending.
The angel Gabriel said that after the sixty-ninth week the Messiah would be cut off. He meant to indicate the fact that the execution of the Messiah was the terminal date of the sixty-ninth week-the 483rd year. We may, therefore, be certain that the Messiah was executed at the end of the 483 years after Cyrus issued his decree in the year 3589 AH.
That the great pyramid at Gizeh was constructed by men who had a knowledge of astronomy and the principles involved in architectural engineering cannot be doubted. Its orientation and measurements together with many other elements reveal most clearly the fact that the builders of the pyramid were men who were very highly developed in the sciences of astronomy, mathematics and engineering.
admit that the builders of the pyramid understood many of the sciences, I am
not prepared to concede all of the claims that are made in behalf of this
great marvel. Some most excellent men have seen in its measurements an outline
of history and have attempted to read into it chronological facts and data.
After having studied the question considerably and having noticed carefully
predictions which students of the pyramid have made relative to certain
events, I have come to the following conclusion: If there is any chronological
significance to the pyramid, man has not been able to discover it. The
advocates of this theory have set the dates which they claim to be based upon
accurate mathematical calculations, but none of them have thus far proved to
be true. I see little hope of their being able to read or interpret that
wonderful monument so as to bring forth any real contribution to the
III. AN INFALLIBLE RULE FOR INTERPRETING THE SCRIPTURES
The history of exegesis through the centuries is indeed interesting and at the same time very pathetic. Too often expositors read into the text their own thoughts and present them to the unsuspecting people as the very Word of God. Unfortunately for the world, this practice has not been altogether abandoned, but we may be thankful that, as the years pass, there is, in many circles at least, a saner and a more scientific approach toward the Scriptures. For this improvement let us praise God.
All of us are creatures of habit and prejudices. Our environment and experiences very often color our interpretation of the Word of God. All too frequently we accept that which is given us , by our teachers without any question whatsoever. Their utterances are for us delivered in an ex cathedra manner, and we accept these pronouncements as truth itself. Using a figure, I would say that very frequently our instructors place glasses before our eyes with colored lenses, and we view the Scriptures through them. Should there be red lenses in my glasses, everything at which I look appears red to me; on the other hand, if green lenses are in them, all things appear green, because everything takes on the color of the lenses through which I look. If I accept the theories of men and view the Scriptures through them, I can in no wise understand what God has said. My interpretation will be colored by the theories through which I look when I study God's Holy and Sacred Word. There is but one way to approach the Scriptures, which is the scientific method. It may be stated as follows:
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense
Seek no other sense;
Therefore, take every word
at its primary, ordinary, usual literal meaning,
unless the facts of the context
indicate clearly otherwise.
Whenever we are careful to apply this rule and are searching the Scriptures for the truth and at the same time are praying God's blessings upon our quest for the same, we shall not go very far afield. God was honest in giving His Revelation and intended it to be understood. He said. what He meant and meant what He said. Thus we should not seek for some veiled or mystical meaning in the Scriptures, but should study every word in the light of its context and thank God for the light which He has given us.
Every special, mystical, and symbolical interpretation should be discarded, and the plain sense of Scripture should be accepted unless there are clear indications in the context to indicate a departure from the normal, literal meaning. This general proposition is the logical deduction which we are forced to make from the survey of Messianic speculations made in this chapter.
An examination of the prophecies scattered throughout the Old Testament, studied in the light of their fulfillment, reveals the fact that prophecy is to be taken literally-at its face value. God said what He meant and meant what He said. Of course, the prophets like all others used metaphorical language on occasions. One must make the same allowances for figures of speech in their utterances as he does for similar language in secular writings. With this understanding of the situation, we are not to adopt what is usually called "spiritualizing" the Scriptures, but what has been properly designated as "phantomizing" them.
Jacob outlined in a rough sketch the times when the Messiah would make His first appearance upon the historic scene. The work which he began in his monumental prediction (Gen. 49) was filled in by other prophets of later dates. These predictions foretold the conditions which would exist at the time of Messiah's first coming. Obviously the angel Gabriel revealed to Daniel the very year when Messiah, the Prince, would be cut off and have nothing; namely, 483 years after Cyrus issued the decree for the Jews to return from Babylon. The date before which the Messiah was to appear was the time of the collapse of the Hebrew kingdom and the dispersion of its inhabitants throughout the world in 70 C. E. Those who believe the Scriptures to be the very Word of the living God are convinced that the Messiah came on scheduled time and likewise was cut off, according to the predictions found in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. Either He came prior to that time, or the Hebrew Scriptures have been broken.
In this volume we have traced the chronological question from Genesis 1 to the end of the Hebrew Scriptures. We have likewise examined the special predictions bearing upon the time when the Messiah would appear the first time. All of the evidence shows conclusively that He came before 70 C. E., and we are absolutely convinced that He did come on scheduled time. The facts presented in this volume prove this contention conclusively.
The Messianic Series of which this book is Volume IV will contain the following treatise when completed:
Volume 1, The God of Israel, which shows from the Hebrew text of the Old Testament that the one God who revealed Himself to Moses and the prophets is a Triune Being, consisting of three Divine Personalities, yet constituting a unity in the correct sense of the term.
Volume II, Messiah: His Nature and Person, presents the Scriptural evidence concerning the nature and the person of King Messiah, who according to predictions, entered the world by virgin birth, and who by His every action and word proved that He was God manifest in the flesh.
Volume III, Messiah: His Redemptive Career, sets forth the outline of Messiah's life and labors. In it I have not taken a passage from one connection and placed it with another in order to make out a case for Jesus of Nazareth. On the contrary, I expounded those passages which present the two comings of the one Messiah, the interval during which He is seated at the right hand of the Throne of God, having been rejected by His own people, and His future glorious reign upon earth.
Volume IV, Messiah: His First Coming Scheduled, the present work, sets forth the Scriptural truth concerning the conditions and the time when the Messiah would first appear upon the earth to carry out this pre-arranged scheme of atoning redemption.
Volume V, Messiah: His Historical Appearance, will present the four records of the Gospel in the form of a harmony. I shall make my own translation of the original text and shall present the testimony of the four witnesses in parallel columns in order that
the reader may see at a glance the full testimony on the various points raised by the gospel writers. I shall endeavor to set forth the truth with reference to the different objections that are brought against the records. Furthermore, I shall show that the entire testimony is consistent and first rate evidence given by eye witnesses and credible people who had access to the original sources. This harmony of the Gospel will be followed by Acts of the Apostles, which continues the story of the beginning of Christianity. The notes which I shall add will show that we have a record that was given by a scientist and an eyewitness, who, after he had done thorough research work and acquired the facts, was led by the Holy Spirit to record those things that are essential for us to know in order to understand the beginning and the development of the marvelous movement that is known as Christianity.
Volume VI, Messiah: His Second Coming Imminent, will interpret in the light of prophetic predictions the present world situation and the modern trend of affairs, which are but the fulfilling of prophecy. It is admitted that world conditions are becoming more critical. There is occasion for grave apprehension that we are approaching the time that is known as Jacob's trouble. This volume, therefore, will present a sane and sound interpretation of predictions relating to the end time.
The last volume, Messiah: His Final Call to Israel, will interpret those statements throughout the Word which God made relative to Israel's renouncing her national sin, that her leaders committed 1900 years ago in their rejection of Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah and Saviour.
With the completion of the present volume the first four of the series go forth. It is my earnest hope and intention to complete the three remaining books as quickly as possible in order that the full testimony of God's Seven Point Program for Israel may go forth, without money and without price, to His beloved Chosen People, to the end that they may see the truth as it is set forth in the Oracles of God.
Rabbi Silver has called our attention to the fact that the Hebrew people in every crisis which has come upon them have always sought for comfort and consolation in the Messianic expectation. This was natural. Israel's only hope is in her Deliverer and Messiah. In view of the present crisis that has become world-wide in its proportions, Israel, as the night darkens, will again seek comfort and deliverance in the Messianic hope.
We are in this world as sojourners and pilgrims. Soon we who are here will pass into the Great Beyond. About that proposition there can be no doubt. That which should be uppermost in every heart is this: Where shall I spend eternity? Have I made my peace with my Maker? The older I grow the more important these questions become. I believe that this is the experience of everyone.
My dear Hebrew friend, have you made your peace with the eternal God? One cannot enter into covenant relationship with Him for another. Each one deals with God individually. Have you, therefore, made your peace with Him?
May I speak the conviction of my heart in love and in the interest of every reader? Friend, there is but one way to make your peace with God and that is by accepting the atoning sacrifice which Jesus of Nazareth, the Hebrew Messiah and Saviour of the world, made for you on Calvary's Cross 1900 years ago. He declared, as we shall see in Volume. V of this series, that man must be born again. He must have the experience of regeneration of the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. The only way one can have that experience is in accepting by faith Jesus of Nazareth as Saviour, Lord, and Master of his life. Whenever one thus accepts Him in sincerity and truth, without any ulterior motives, the Lord regenerates the heart. 0 friend, accept Him today.
With the apostle Paul, I can say, "Brethren, my heart's desire and my supplication to God is for them (Israel) that they may be saved" (Romans 10:1).
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