Witness of the Stars
For Signs and For Seasons
We have seen the great truths which are taught from the position, and forms, and names of the heavenly bodies. There are also truths to be learnt from their motions.
When God created them and set them in the firmament of heaven, He said, in Genesis 1:14--
Here the word "signs" is othoth (plural of oth, from the root to come). Hence, a sign of something or some One to come. In Jeremiah 10:2 Jehovah says, "And be not dismayed at the signs of the heavens, for the heathen are dismayed at them." The word "seasons" does not denote merely what we call the four seasons of the year, but cycles of time. It is appointed time (from the verb to point out, appoint). It occurs three more times in Genesis, each time in connection with the promised Seed--
Genesis 1:14 is therefore, "They (the sun, moon, and stars) shall be for signs (things to come) and for cycles (appointed times)."
Here, then, we have a distinct declaration from God, that the heavens contain not only a Revelation concerning things to come in the "Signs," but also concerning appointed times in the wondrous movements of the sun, and moon, and stars.
The motions of the sun and moon are so arranged that at the end of a given interval of time they return into almost precisely the same position, with regard to each other and to the earth, as they held at the beginning of that interval. "Almost precisely," but not quite precisely. There will be a slight outstanding difference, which will gradually increase in successive intervals, and finally destroy the possibility of the combination recurring, or else lead to combinations of a different character.
Thus the daily difference between the movement of the sun and of the stars leads the sun back very nearly to conjunction with the same start as it was twelve months earlier, and gives us the cycle of the year. The slight difference in the sun's position relative to the stars at the end of the year, finally leads the sun back to the same star at the same time of the year, viz., at the spring equinox, and gives us the great precessional cycle of 25,800 years.
So, too, with eclipses. Since the circumstances of any given eclipse are reproduced almost exactly 18 years and 11 days later, this period is called an Eclipse Cycle, to which the ancient astronomers gave the name of Saros; * and eclipses separated from each other by an exact cycle, and, therefore, corresponding closely in their conditions, are spoken of as being one and the same eclipse. Each Saros contains, on the average, about 70 +/- eclipses. Of these, on the average, 42 +/- are solar and 28 +/- are lunar. Since the Saros is 11 days (or, more correctly, 10.96 days) longer than 18 years, the successive recurrences of each eclipse fall 11 days later in the year each time, and in 33 Sari will have travelled on through the year and come round very nearly to the original date.
But as the Saros does not reproduce the conditions of an eclipse with absolute exactness, and as the difference increases with every successive return, a time comes when the return of the Saros fails to bring about an eclipse at all. If the eclipse be a solar one before this takes place, a new eclipse begins to form a month later in the year than the old one, and becomes the first eclipse of a new series.
This is the history of one such eclipse: On May 15 (Julian), 850 AD, there was a (new) eclipse of the sun, and it occurred as a partial eclipse. On August 20 (Julian), 1012 AD, this new eclipse became total. From that time it has been an annular eclipse, the latitude of the central shadow gradually shifting southward from the north, until on December 17 (Julian), 1210, it had reached N. Lat. 24o. It turned northward again after 1210, until March 14 (Julian), 1355, when it fell in N. Lat. 43o. Then it turned south, and has moved steadily in that direction, until on March 18 (Greg.), 1950, its last appearance as an annular eclipse will take place. On May 22 (Greg.), 2058, it will fall so far from the node that a new eclipse will follow it on June 21. It will make three more appearances as an ever-diminishing partial eclipse, and be last seen on June 24 (Greg.), 2112. Its total life-history, therefore, will have been 1,262 years and 36 days, and will have occupied 70 Sari.
In the above life-history of an eclipse * there is not the slightest difficulty as to its identification. The Saros shows no break, and no interruption; nor does the character of the eclipse suffer any abrupt change. The district over which it is visible moves in a slow and orderly fashion from occurrence to occurrence over the earth's surface.
Now the important point is this, that if we take the prophetic reckoning of 360 days to the year, we have the following significant Biblical numbers:--
In the first place, we already have the 70 +/- Sari divided into two portions of 33 + 37.
A perfect cycle is accomplished in 33 Sari, or 595 years, when the eclipse, by a series of unbroken Sari, has accomplished a passage through the year of 360 days; or, if we reckon only the whole numbers, i.e., the 18 completed years, we have for the 33 Sari the period of 594 years, while the remaining portion of 37 Sari makes 666 years (37x18); and the whole 70 +/- Sari makes 1,260 years (594+666).*
We have then the following figures:--
Independently of this, we also know that 1,260 years is a soli-lunar cycle, so exact that its epact, or difference, is only 6 hours!
There must, therefore, be something significant in these numbers, e.g., 70; in the number 1,260, with its divisions, not into two equal parts, but into 594 and 666; as also in its double, 2,520.
There must be something to be learned in the occurrence and repetition of these heavenly cycles, which for nearly 6,000 years have been constantly repeated in the heavens, especially when we find these same numbers very prominently presented in the Word of God in connection with the fulfillment of prophecy.
We have the great "seven times" (2,520) connected with the duration of Israel's punishment, and of the Gentiles' power. We have in Daniel and the Apocalypse the half of this great period presented as "days" (1,260), as "months" (42), and as "times," or years (3 1/2).
Futurists believe that these "days" and "months," etc, interpret for us the purposes and counsels of God as connected with "the time of the end," and as meaning literal "days" and "months," etc.
Historicists take these terms and themselves interpret the numbers, in the sense of a "day" being put for a year, and they believe that these "1,260 days" will be fulfilled as 1,260 years.
One party boldly and ungraciously charges the other with teaching "The Fallacies of Futurism"; while the other might well retort with a reference to the Heresies of Historicism.
But is there any necessity for the existence of two hostile camps? Is it not possible that there may be what we may call a long fulfillment in years? And is it not more than probable that in the time of the end, the crisis, there will be also a short and literal fulfillment in days?
We firmly believe that there will be this literal and short fulfillment. We believe that when God says "days," He means days; and that when He says "42 months," He means months, and not 1,260 years. In all the passages referred to by historicists in support of what is called "the year-day theory," the Holy Spirit uses these words "days" and "years" in the sense of days and years. In the two particular instances of Israel's wanderings (Num 14:34), and Ezekiel's prophesying (Eze 4:6), He chooses to take the number of days as denoting the same number of years; but He does not tell us that we are to do the same in other cases! He only asserts His sovereignty by thus acting, while we only show our presumption in taking His sovereign act as a general principle.
But while fully believing in the short fulfillment, we are quite prepared to admit that there may be a long fulfillment as well; and that, owing to the wondrous harmony, and marvellous correspondence, and infinite wisdom of all the works and ways of God, there may be a fulfillment, or rather a "filment," if we may coin the word, in years, which will be only a foreshadowing of the literal ful-filment afterwards to take place in days.
If historicists will allow us this liberty as to interpretation, and permit us to believe that God means what He says, we will give them some remarkable evidence in support of their views, by way of application. In other words, if they will allow us to interpret "days" as meaning days, we will gladly allow them, and be at one with them, in applying them to years. So that while we believe the interpretation to mean "days," and to teach a short fulfillment at the time of the end, we will thankfully admit an application which shall take these days as foreshowing a long fulfillment in years.
In applying, then, these significant numbers (42, 70, 594, 666, 1,260, and 2,520) to years, from what point or date shall we begin to reckon the "times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24)? That there are such definite "times" the words of the Lord Jesus show, when He says, "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24). That there are "seven times" of Gentile dominion is more than intimated by the symbolic episode in the life of Nebuchadnezzar as recorded in Daniel 4; and that there are "seven times" of Israel's punishment is clearly stated in Leviticus 26:18. "Seven times," according to the Historicist school of interpreters, are equal to 2,520 years.
Instead of asking where they begin, let us first note the fact that it is duration which is emphasized in the Scriptures rather than chronology; and look at the duration of these years independently of, and before we attempt to fix, their beginning and ending.
In Daniel 2 and 7 it is shown first to Nebuchadnezzar in a "dream," and afterwards to God's servant the prophet in a "vision," that Israel was to be put on one side and become "Lo-Ammi" (not My people), while government was to be put into the hands of the Gentiles. Jerusalem was the central point of both these great and solemn facts. That is to say, during 2,520 years, while Jerusalem should remain in the power of the Gentiles, Israel could be "no more a nation" in possession of their land and city.
We know, as a matter of fact, that today Jerusalem is in the hands of the Turks, and that it is still "trodden down of the Gentiles."
If we ask how long it shall continue to be "trodden down"? how long it will be before Israel shall again possess their city and their land?--the answer brings us at once to the heart of our subject.
In seeking to determine both duration and chronology, it is necessary to plant our feet on sure ground. To do this, let us take a point on which all are agreed.
There is one date which is universally accepted; and concerning which the evidence is unquestioned.
Abu Obeida, the Mahommedan General, laid siege to Jerusalem towards the close of 636 AD. The city was then occupied by the Romans, who held out for four months. When they capitulated, the Patriach Sophronius obtained a clause in the treaty giving security to the inhabitants, and requiring the ratification of Omar himself. Omar, who had therefore to be sent for, arrived some six months afterwards, and the delay caused the actual delivering up of the city to take place early in the autumn of AD 637. *
The year AD 636-7 is therefore the accepted date of the passing over of Jerusalem from the Romans to the Turks.
Omar seems to have stayed in the city only about ten days, during which he must have given his instructions for the erection of the Mosque on the site of the Temple. This Mosque, therefore, stands as the sign and the symbol of the treading down of Jerusalem, and while it remains, those times of treading down cannot be considered as fulfilled.
How steady was Israel's decadence from Nebuchadnezzar to Omar! Nothing could exceed that darkest moment in Israel's history, when Israel was well nigh obliterated in the mighty struggles of her enemies who fought over her inheritance. Thus Omar becomes the great central point of the 2,520 years, whether reckoned as Lunar, Zodiacal, or Solar, dividing them equally into two portions of 1,260 years. *
If we take Solar years, then--
These reckonings in their beginnings and endings form an introversion, or Epanodos, thus:--
The Solar reckonings are the more important dates; the Lunar are next in significance; while Zodiacal reckonings furnish us with dates which, to say the least, fit neatly into their places.
Having thus fixed the central date, which already points forward to the end, let us go back and find the starting point, that we may the better understand the end.
When Daniel was explaining to Nebuchadnezzar his mysterious dream, he said, "Thou art this head of gold"! (Dan 2:38). This moment is popularly, but erroneously, supposed to mark the commencement of the Babylonian kingdom--the first of these four great Gentile powers.
But Daniel spoke of what ALREADY existed, and was explaining the then condition of things. He said, "God hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory" (Dan 2:37). The kingdom of Babylon had already been in existence for more than thirty years, for its king had destroyed Jerusalem and burnt the Temple with fire, and brought away many captives, amongst whom was Daniel and his companions. The opening words of the book make this very clear.
The monumental history of Babylon, as now dug up, shows that before this it had been sometimes tributary to, and sometimes almost independent of, Assyria. In AM 3352, after a severe struggle with Assurbanipal, the Assyrian king, Babylon was once more subdued, and its king setting fire to his palace perished in the flames. After that there was peace for twenty-two years, during which time Kandalanu governed Babylon in succession to Sumas-sum-ukin, a son of Assurbanipal.
In AM 3375 (i.e. BC 627), * another revolt broke out, and the Assyrian king sent a general of great ability to quell it. His name was Nabu-pal-user (which means Nebo protects his son). He put down the rebellion with so much skill that Assurbanipal made him governor of Babylon. He shortly afterwards, in AM 3376, himself rebelled, and made himself King of Babylon. Associating with him his son Nebuchadnezzar, they commenced a campaign against Assurbanipal, which ended in the fall of Nineveh and the complete subjugation of Assyria. The kingdom of Babylon, thus commencing in BC 625, ** became the first great Gentile kingdom as foretold in Daniel.
There is practically no question, now, as to this date.
The actual duration of the three kingdoms that followed--Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece, may not perhaps be so accurately determined. Their total duration is known, because it is fixed by a known date at the other end, but it might introduce controversial matter if we attempted to assign to them their exact relative duration. Probably they were, roughly:--Babylon about 90 years; Medo-Persia about 200 years; Greece about 304 years.
We believe these to be fairly proportionate, * but whether they are or not, their total amount must have been 594 years, because the undisputed date of the battle of Actium, by which Augustus became the head of the Roman Empire, was September BC 31. From this date Jerusalem passed permanently under the power of Rome until the Mahommedan conquest in AD 636-7.
We have, therefore, three fixed dates, and these decide for us the duration of the intervening periods; dividing them into the two great Eclipse Cycles of 594 years and 666 years!
Jerusalem under the Gentiles
From this it appears that 1896-7 AD would mark an important year in connection with the "times of the Gentiles."
The above reckoning has the following advantages over all previous historicist interpretations:--
1. Controverted dates are excluded.
2. The whole period of 2520 years is dealt with, instead of only the latter half (1260), as is usually the case.
3. It confines these "times" to the one place where the Lord Himself put them, viz., "JERUSALEM." He said, "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, till the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."
These "times," therefore, are confined to Jerusalem. This "treading down" is confined to Jerusalem. It is not the city of Rome that is to be trodden down for 1260 years. Why, then, should these "times" be separated from what is characteristic of their duration, and applied to Rome, papal or imperial? Why should historicists search for some act of emperors or popes in the early part of the seventh century in order to add it to 1260, so as to find some terminal date in or near our own times!*
We claim that the Lord Himself has joined these "times of the Gentiles" with the city of "Jerusalem," and we say, "What, therefore, God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matt 19:6).
When Jesus spoke of this treading down, it looks as though it were then still future; for He said, "Jerusalem shall be trodden down," etc. The occupation of Jerusalem by Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, was for purposes of government rather than for a wanton treading down. Government on the earth was committed unto them. But when Jerusalem passed from the government of the Roman Empire into the hands of the Turks, it could then be said, in a very special sense, to be "trodden down." For of any government worthy of the name there has been none; and of desolation and desecration the city has been full. Under the feeble rule of the Turks, all the Gentiles seem to have combined in laying waste the holy city.
Though Jews are returning thither in ever-increasing numbers, they are only strangers there. They have as yet no independent position, nor can they make any treaties. But when these "times" shall end, it means that they will have a position of sufficient independence to be able to make a treaty or league with the coming Prince (Dan 9:27); and then the course of events will bring on another treading down of 1260 literal "days," which will thus have had a fore-shadowing fulfillment in years! This is written in Revelation 11:2. And to save us from any misunderstanding, the time is given, not in days, but in "months."
The angel, after directing John to measure the Temple of God and the altar, adds, "but the court which is without the Temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles; and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months."
This refers to a future treading down, which will be limited to the brief period of "forty two" literal "months," during the time of the coming Prince; and "in the midst" of the last week, when he shall break His covenant with the Jews, * set up the "abomination of desolation" (Dan 9:27; which is still future in Matt 24:15), and "tread down the holy city."
We now desire to specially emphasize the fact that all these dates, and their termination in a rapidly approaching fulfillment, refer ONLY TO JERUSALEM, AND THE GENTILES, AND THE JEWS! They refer only to the end of the Gentile possession of Jerusalem, and to the settlement of the Jews in their own city and land.
These "times and seasons" have nothing whatever to do with "the Church of God" (1 Thess 5:1). The mystical Body of Christ, whenever its members are complete, "will be taken up to meet the Lord--the Head of the Body--in the air, so to be ever with the Lord" (1 Thess 4:15-17). This glorious event has nothing to do with any earthly sign or circumstance, so far as the members of this mystical Body are concerned.
Therefore we are not dealing here with the coming of the Lord; either for His saints, or with them. We are not referring to what is commonly and erroneously called "the end of the world." We are merely pointing out that the end of Gentile dominion over Jerusalem is drawing near! And we cannot close our eyes to the marvellous manner in which the veil is being removed from Jewish hearts: to the change which has come over the Jewish nation in its attitude towards Christ and Christianity, chiefly, under God, through the unparalleled circulation of more than a quarter of a million copies of a new translation of the New Testament into Hebrew, by the late Isaac Salkinson, published by the Trinitarian Bible Society, and freely distributed by the Mildmay Mission to the Jews: to the Palestine literature which has sprung up amongst the Jews in recent years: to the persecutions in various countries which are stirring their nest, and setting the nation in motion: to the organized emigration to Argentina, which its promoters avowedly speak of as "a nursery ground for Palestine" (Daily Graphic, March 10th, 1892): to the railways completed and in course of construction in the Holy Land: to the numerous Societies and their branches which have permeated the whole nation, which, while having various names, have only one object--"the colonization of Palestine."
When we put these events side by side with the teaching of the heavens as to the "cycles" or appointed times, we are merely showing how wonderfully they agree with what is written in the Book, and witnessed to by great and uncontested historic dates.
Nor are we absolutely naming a definite year or day even for these Palestine events. After all, they can be only approximate, for man has so misused every gift that God has ever given him, that even with such wondrous heavenly time-keepers he cannot really tell you what year it is! And, besides this loss of reckoning, there is confusion as to the commencement of the AD era, which makes absolute accuracy between the AM, BC, and AD dates impossible.
Added to this, there is another point to be borne in mind, viz., that when the "times of the Gentiles" shall end, Jewish independence need not be either immediate or complete!
For when Nebuchadnezzar began his kingdom of Babylon in AM 3376 (BC 625), the Jews, though in their land and city, were not independent. Nebuchadnezzar went to and fro to Jerusalem, and put down and set up whom he would; and it was not till some thirty years afterwards that he destroyed the City and Temple and made the people captives.
So, likewise, in the time of the end, there may be an epanodos. There may be a similar period of possession without independence, a quasi-independence guaranteed by the Great Powers; and, for ought we know, it may be that, in order to gain complete independence, they may ultimately make that fatal league with the coming Prince.
So that while we name the dates 1896-7 as being significant, we are not "fixing dates" in the ordinary sense of the term, but merely pointing out some of "the signs of the times," concerning which we ought not to be ignorant.
The true interpretation will in any case still remain, and will surely be literally fulfilled in its own time. The Word of God will be vindicated; its prophetic truth will be verified; God Himself will be glorified; and His people saved with an everlasting salvation.
Meanwhile the members of His Body will "wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess 1:10). They will live "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people (RV, a people for His own possession) zealous of good works" (Titus 2:13,14). They will "look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ," from heaven, believing that there is no hope either for "the Jew, the Gentile, or the Church of God," or for a groaning creation, until "the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ, whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of ALL HIS HOLY PROPHETS SINCE THE WORLD BEGAN" (Acts 3:19-21).