By Eileen Maddocks
None of the Old Testament classical prophets has mystified readers and generated more diverse interpretations of visionary prophecy than Daniel. His visions feature inexplicable symbols such as a beast with ten horns, a ram with a unicorn-like horn that turns into four horns, and an abomination that causes desolation, not to mention his numbers—the seventy sevens, the 1,260 days, the 1,290 days, and the 1,335 days. Daniel’s visions have perplexed Jewish and Christian theologians from his time to ours.
The first step to interpreting Daniel’s visions is understanding the biblical numerical code for time.
- One day equals one year. This is indicated by two biblical verses: “For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you” (Num. 14:34), and “I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel” (Ezek. 4:5).
- A time is a year (360 days). Therefore two times are two years (720 days) and half a time is half a year (180 days). This is why a time plus two times plus half a time equal 1,260 days.
The prophet Daniel lived from the late seventh century through the mid-sixth BCE. He grew up in the Kingdom of Judah but spent his youth and prophetic years in Babylon in service to the Babylonian monarchs. The Assyrian empire had fallen to the Babylonians by 609 BCE, and by 605 the vassal state of Judah was paying tribute to the Babylonians. This tribute went beyond gold, silver, and crops to include human resources. Promising young men of Judah’s royal house and nobility were taken to Babylon in 605 to be trained to serve the royal court. Daniel was one of them.
Daniel’s visions have always generated varied, even bizarre, interpretations. Consider Daniel’s vision that concluded with the prophecy that the sanctuary would be cleansed in 2,300 days (Dan. 8:14). Millerites believed that those 2,300 days, or years, held the key to pinpointing the time of the return of Christ, also known as the time of the end.
The Rev. Miller’s computations, like those of many of his colleagues and other biblical scholars of that time, relied heavily on a vision described in Daniel 8:1‒14, when Daniel saw himself by the Ulai Canal in Susa, in the province of Elam, Persia. He saw a ram with two long horns charging west, north, and south. Then a goat with one horn between its eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. It charged the ram in great rage and shattered its two horns. The goat trampled the defeated ram and became very great, but at the height of the goat’s power its large horn was broken off. In its place grew four prominent horns that pointed toward the four winds of heaven. Then out of one of the horns came another one that grew in power to the south, to the east and toward the Beautiful Land.
It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and his sanctuary was thrown down. Because of rebellion, the Lord’s people and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.
The vision continued with Daniel hearing a holy one ask that eternal question “When?”
“How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the Lord’s people?” He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.”
Using the biblical numerical code, 2,300 days meant 2,300 years. But when did the counting start?
The conventional starting date used by biblical scholars was the edict of the Persian king Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. (There had been two previous decrees of Artaxerxes to this effect, but the third one was the first that was enforced.) The date of this decree was 456 BCE. When 456 years are subtracted from 2,300 years, the total is 1,844 years, or 1844 AD. Miller therefore believed that Daniel’s vision would be fulfilled in 1844 by the return of Jesus Christ, and that the cleansing of the sanctuary would be the Last Judgement, a cleansing of the earth of sin. Sin would be banished from the earth.
What could possibly be more important in human affairs than the Second Coming in a few short years or months? The flurry of activity became a frenzy of preparation.
1 For more information on the 360 day year, see The 360 Day Prophetic Year of the Bible by Grant R. Jeffrey, http://xwalk.ca/360day.
2 The symbolic meaning of Elam, Persia, will be examined in a future article in this series.