This is an excerpt from an unpublished manuscript titled "Blow The Dust Off Your Bible: Herbert Armstrong and American Popular Religion"
By Neil Earle
“If we will defend Israel, God will defend America. But if we remain silent at this very critical time, when the survival of Israel is at stake, I believe the judgment of God will fall on America.”
This stirring declaration appeared on page six of Pastor John Hagee’s In Defence of Israel, a book appearing in Wal Marts and Christian book stores all across America in 2007.1 The author, the prominent pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas was and is very much in the tradition of American popular religion. As the well-known host of his own weekly television program and a leading voice in the evangelical world, Pastor Hagee had the prophecy sub-culture’s attention with these claims. In Defence of Israel had scrawled along the bottom cover “The Bible’s Mandate for Supporting the Jewish State.” This was Hagee’s best-selling follow-up to his million selling 2006 effort, Jerusalem Countdown: A Prelude to War. Both volumes aggressively pushed the need for American Christians to give even more support to the nation of Israel in the form of the Hagee-led Christians United for Israel, a pressure group claiming millions of members “standing in support of Israel and the Jewish people, fulfilling Isaiah 62:1, ‘For Zion’s sake I will not be silent.’” Hagee made a fateful connection, bound to appeal to many after the tragic events of September 11, 2001: “The terrorists who live among us can only be prevented by the hand of God.”
There was nothing particularly new about these strident claims except their updating for the era of terror. Since the days of Cyrus Scofield (1843-1921), author of the Scofield Reference Bible (1909, 1917), ardent Bible students had seen the regathering of the Jewish people in Palestine as the necessary prelude for the fulfilling of many end-time prophecies. When Scofield saw the British army capture Jerusalem from the Turks in 1917 he expected great things to spring forth. “God has given us a sign,” he exulted. The reissue of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1967, with their speculative and intriguing marginal notes and coming the same year as Israel’s dramatic victory in the Six Day War and the Jewish capture of Jerusalem, fed a renewed interest in the dispensational, seven-era scheme for interpreting the Bible. As noted above, Bible teachers dating back to the Reformation had argued the need for this divine orchestration of history pivoting largely around prophecy yet to be fulfilled.
Such statements by Jesus as “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near” (Luke 21:20) had intrigued many prophecy watchers. This seemed to be a message for a generation that had witnessed four Arab-Israeli wars already (1848, 1956, 1967, 1973). But Hagee, like many in the pre-millennial tradition, drew on an even earlier interpretation of Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you.” In this theology, the Jewish people are still Chosen, still the apple of God’s eyes.
Thus Pastor Hagee recounted a Friday night in May, 1948 when his father heard the radio broadcast announcing the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel. “Son, today, is the most important day of the twentieth century,” the elder Hagee intoned. “God’s promise to bring the Jewish people back to Israel is being fulfilled before our eyes.”2
Often forgotten in these schemes bearing on the importance of the physical land of Palestine and the ethnic descendants of Jacob back in the land is the clear statement of Jesus to the woman of Samaria: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain (i.e. the Samaritan temple then on Mount Gerizim), nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father…God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24). Earlier Jesus had spoken of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem as being fulfilled in his body, just as Paul described Jesus as the Christian’s altar (John 2:19-21; Hebrews 13:10). In the realm of popular religion, however, prophecy teachers have never been able to resist the strong temptation to apply large sections of Daniel, Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation to today’s political match-up of forces in the Middle East.
This hasty but understandable reaction ahs made the Middle East in general and Jerusalem in particular, a quagmire for prophecy teachers.
Against these strains of speculation in the evangelical community, Herbert Armstrong had once again gone his own way. He was well aware of the crucial events unfolding in Palestine, but, as a strictly literal reader of the Hebrew prophets, he had interpreted the prophecies of Israel’s regathering as awaiting fulfillment after Christ’s return. The June, 1948 Plain Truth cover story asked,
“After 2,550 years…JEWS ARE A NATION AGAIN!...Prophecy Fulfilled?”
HWA was, as usual, informed but blunt:
“On May 15th the British relinquished authority and moved out of Palestine, the nation ‘Israel’ moved into power…This is not the prophesied great coming exodus of Israel back to Palestine, but man-made blundering and CONFUSION! This is not the restoration of Israel and the PEACE of the Holy Land, but strife, misunderstanding, bloodshed in open battle.”
Uncompromising as it was, this is a reading which still resonates. In this article Herbert Armstrong referenced his aforementioned meeting with Shiek Hafiz Wabba of Saudi Arabia at the founding meeting of the United Nations Organization in San Francisco. He also recorded a later three-hour interview in New York city with Itzhak J. Karpman, then the executive director of the World Confederation of General Zionists. Once again, HWA noted, both sides had logical and clear rationales for their respective positions. He concluded:
“In God’s own due time the Jews are to be released from their persecutions, their harrowing trials and re-established within Palestine IN PEACE!
But this is not that prophesied regathering of Israel!
This is merely a blundering human effort to do for themselves, before the time, what they will have to wait for God to do for them…At that time they will take captive their captors, and rule over those who had been ruling over them (Isa. 14:1-3 – see especially Moffatt translation; Jer. 30:16; 31:11). It will be a greater Exodus than the typical one under Moses – this one will be under CHRIST at His return…They will then be converted, changed from sinners into Spirit-filled beings living by God’s laws (Jer. 50:19-20; Ezek. 36:24-28).”3
No one ever doubted where HWA stood on these issues, though he would later become close friends with many in the Jewish state, including Golda Meir and Menachem Begin, two very different Israeli founders.
The rebirth of the nation of Israel on May 14, 1948 mightily stirred America’s Bible-reading community. “Israel is the very linchpin of premillennial eschatology,” writes Richard Kyle in his insightfully titled The Last Days are Here Again. ”Without the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, dispensational end-time thinking would make little sense.”5 For many the twentieth century was one long unfolding sequence of prophetic fore-shadowings – the British capture of Jerusalem in 1917, London’s promise to look with favor on a Jewish homeland, the Holocaust under the Nazis garnering sympathy for a Jewish homeland, Israel’s declaration of independence on May 14, 1948. All this seemed to be the time of which the prophets spoke. When the Israelis passed the Law of the Return in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, on July 5, 1950 it was indeed tempting to conclude that great things were afoot. The document encouraging Jews around the world to resettle in Israel quoted: “Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’ Bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth…” (Isaiah 43:5-6).
Herbert Armstrong was being true to the Biblical sequence of events when he saw these marvelous words as applying to actions taken by the God of Israel in the future, words most Christian teachers see as applying to the New Testament church. Indeed, as Paul Johnson and other historians have pointed out, and as Herbert Armstrong intimated, the events of 1948 “also created the Arab-Israeli problem, which endures to this day.” As Johnson summarizes: “According to UN figures, 656,000 Arab inhabitants…fled from Israeli-held territory: 280,000 to the West Bank of the Jordan…and 190,000 to the Gaza Strip.” 6 Most evangelical Christians, however, were not so easily dissuaded from seeing God’s hand in these bitter and tragic events. The Armistice that ended the first round of Arab-Israeli Wars (1948-1949) left the Old City of Jerusalem in Jordanian hands.7 When Israel captured the Old City in the Six Day War of June, 1967 many premillennialists were ecstatic. The Six Day War was heralded as “one of the most remarkable fulfillments of biblical prophecy since the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.”8 In fact, it was now possible, said some, for the Jewish Temple to be rebuilt! The summer of 1967 was thus a tantalizing time for many prophecy enthusiasts. As Russell Chandler summarizes:
“Unorthodox Jews say the temple, which was last destroyed in A.D. 70 under the Roman general Titus, must be restored before their Messiah can come. And some Christians, particularly American Zionists, believe the temple must be rebuilt before Jesus Christ can return to Earth at the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4).”9
Herein hangs a tale. While he could never be described as a Christian Zionist and while he later became close friends of many in the state of Israel, Herbert Armstrong was by no means unaware of the scattered prophecies that seemed to indicate some kind of temple being built in Jerusalem. Prophecies such as 2 Thessalonians 2, about a mysterious “man of sin” sitting in the temple of God, the cloudy references to Two Witnesses apparently operating out of Jerusalem in Revelation 11, and Jesus’ own teachings in the shadow of the Temple Mount – these texts had been part of his proclamation for decades… Note these words from his June 1967 PT “Personal” built around a transcript of the Bricket Wood Bible Study of May 1, 1967. Having just returned from the Middle East, the 75-year-old church leader was understandably excited. As usual, he minced no words:
There will be a Jewish Temple built in Jerusalem, with animal sacrifices once again bring offered, probably within about four-and-one-half years. It is going to take time to build such a Temple. And I don’t see how they have another month to spare in taking over the “old city” now in Arab hands – if they are going to have the Temple built by the time indicated by prophecy.
Note the time reference: “I don’t see how they (the Israelis) have another month to spare in taking over the ‘old city.’” Ever since 1948 Jerusalem had been a divided city with the Jewish leaders not wanting to offend Arab sensibilities by occupying the Arab sector which contained the Dome of the Rock Mosque, apparent site of the ancient Jewish Temple and one of the three holiest sites in Islam. The Wailing Wall just below the Dome was where centuries of Jewish pilgrims had lamented the destruction of the city by the Romans in 70 A.D. For HWA, “the time indicated by prophecy” was, of course, Worldwide Church of God speculation from the “1975 in Prophecy!” booklet and elsewhere that Christ could return as early as 1975. Calculating backwards to include 3½ years of the anticipated Great Tribulation – the 1260 days of Revelation 11:3 and other passages – produces the date 1972. Remembering that this Bible Study was given five years before 1972, in 1967, makes for interesting reading:
Once the Israelis do take over the Jordanian sector of Jerusalem, instantly the United Nations and the major individual powers, the United States, USSR, Britain, and France probably will stop further occupation of Arab countries by the Jews. I think they will get only as far as the main center within the walls of old Jerusalem, in Jordan before the UN intervenes. But the Jews will undoubtedly be allowed to hold the old city of Jerusalem, Jordan.
That, of course is shrewd insight into global power realities. Even more it is uncannily close to what actually did happen just five weeks after Herbert Armstrong spoke these words. No wonder Roger Lippross and the studious Edward Smith remembered it. No one gathered in the peaceful Bricket Wood gym for the weekly Friday night Bible Study suspected that the dramatic third war in the struggles between Israel and the Arab states was imminent. HWA was bearing down on events that have tantalized prophecy teachers from Cyrus Scofield to Tim LaHaye, John Hagee, and beyond:
For a long time the Jewish people have had in mind the rebuilding of the Temple, though they keep it pretty secret. And it must be built on the exact site of Solomon’s Temple. The wealthiest Jews in the world, in the United States, Britain, France and other parts of the world, are going to pour money into that.
HWA then turned briefly to Christ’s Olivet Prophecy, Matthew 24, with emphasis on verse 15: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the Holy Place…” This “Holy Place,” said HWA, has to be in the Temple. And in Jerusalem! That is, in the “old city” then, in May, 1967, occupied by the Arabs of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Continue Jesus’ prophecy: “…whoso readeth, let him understand, then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains…” That prophecy has a dual application. Its typical fulfillment was in 66-70 A.D. but its main and anti-typical fulfillment is yet to happen just before the second coming of Christ – for this follows the very sign of His coming.
“Duality,” as already noted, was one of HWA’s primary methods of making Bible prophecy relevant. As in USBC, previous historical events involving biblical figures were viewed as “types,” forerunners, of what would come later. There is some truth to this. There is a twofold structure running through much of the Bible – the First Adam and the Second Adam, Christ (1 Corinthians 15:45). There was the Old Covenant given at Sinai and the far greater New Covenant (Hebrews 9:15). There was Elijah, the forerunner of Elisha, and John the Baptist, the prophesied forerunner of Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 11:13-14). Type and anti-type; HWA had always seen that, even if he tended to overdo it. There are problems with applying this duality principle indiscriminately across the whole text of Scripture. Some events in prophecy have clearly happened only once (consider Joseph and the seven years of famine in Genesis 41:54). This principle, over-applied, plus the previously mentioned tendency to “hopscotch” across selected texts has the unfortunate tendency to allow Bible teachers to end up making the Bible say whatever they think it means…
And there in succinct summary form, inscribed from his own words is the essential prophetic message of Herbert Armstrong relative to Europe and the Middle East. It was striking. It was gripping. It was, in one way of speaking, at least, biblically-based. His growing body of readers and listeners could feel that the momentous events of the Six Day War in Jerusalem had come very close indeed to the scenario he had outlined on May 1, 1967.
That was certainly the reaction of 24-year-old Roger Clark in the English Midlands. “I well remember the June 1967 Plain Truth (indeed, I still have it), and reading HWA’s vivid account, including his turning back when on the way to the airport because of the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war.” Roger Clark spent his working life as an official for the Northampton County Council, but his memory of those stirring days is still fresh as he recalled in a personal communication of February 1, 2008. “I also remember GTA’s subsequent World Tomorrow broadcast (and I still have a recording of that too) explaining the need for a Temple to be built in Jerusalem.” He adds: “Although at that time I was not yet a member of the Worldwide Church of God, I did find all this [to be] exciting, riveting stuff. And all this just weeks before the pirate stations [see Chapter 12] and the World Tomorrow broadcasts to the UK were silenced. 1967 was quite a year.”
It was. It was indeed and the Armstrongs, with their notable nose for news and journalistic panache, seemed to be in the middle of it a full generation before John Hagee opened the first “Night to Honor Israel.”
The basic message outlined in this chapter HWA would proclaim till the time of his death. It would prove a constant thread in The Plain Truth and other WCG publications. It went into the collective memory bank of the Armstrong-led Worldwide Church of God, and for some still stays there to this day. One point hangs in the air, however: The Great Tribulation did not begin in 1972. Nor had it in 1935 as he had set down in print decades before. This leads to an inevitable question: Were there other ways to interpret the data HWA had so plausibly woven together from Matthew 24, Daniel 11 and 2 Thessalonians 2? The answer, of course, has to be Yes. At least four schools of interpretation exist of the end-time prophecies. It is possible to give a less dramatic coloring to these chapters. A brief summary follows below:
|1. The First Century View: Most prophecies were fulfilled in 70 AD at the fall of Jerusalem.||Many of Jesus’ statements make sense in terms of the destruction of the Jewish Temple by the Romans in 70 AD (Matthew 24:15-25).||Revelation 11:1, the Two Witnesses chapter is tied to the Temple either as existing still or referring to a future structure. Similarly 2 Thessalonians 2. Enigmatic statements made sense to the first hearers. (2 Thessalonians 2:5).|
|2. Idealist View: Matthew 24 and Revelation 13, 17 depict inspired literary sketches of the enemies of God’s people through time. They are “ideal types,” open texts that serve as warnings across time.||Revelation 18’s “Babylon” is a coded reference to Rome (Rev. 17:6) but the overall meaning is that the kingdoms of man will fail.||References to “anti-Christ” show it is as much of a spirit as a personality (1 John 4:3) but the typology is “open” to multiple fulfillments across history.|
|3. Historical View: Prophecies such as Daniel 2, 7 and Revelation 13, 17 refer to a series of world empires that culminate in the revival of the Roman system arising now in Europe. Often called “the Road Map” view.||The great image in Daniel 2 matches the four beasts of Daniel 7 and refers to the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greco-Macedonian and Roman Empires. John absorbs these symbols in Revelation 13 and 17.||The 10 horns of the Revelation 17 beast are the last ten dictators yet to arise in Europe. Indicated strongly in Revelation 17:12-14.|
|4. Dispensational View: History is moving in seven great “dispensations” that get minutely detailed as we near the end.||References such as the Great Tribulation (Mat. 24:21) and the 1260 days of the church’s disappearance are literal and to be fulfilled just ahead of us (Revelation 12:6).||We are now in the Church Age and waiting for the Great Tribulation to initiate the last sequences of events which will lead finally to Christ’s 1000 year reign on earth (Revelation 20:1-6).|
A biographer of Herbert Armstrong, however, can legitimately call attention to the plausibility of what HWA was proclaiming. Deceived he may have been as to the total picture but he does not seem to have been intentionally deceiving. Indeed, his weaving together of ancient history with Matthew 24 and Daniel 11 and injecting these into the ongoing Middle East crisis proved fascinating to many in the radio audience and to most readers of The Plain Truth. It was speculation, of course, but it was informed speculation. It drew on enough secular history and ancient literature to sound very convincing to the man in the street. And the writer himself was smack in the middle of the events he was describing. In short, Herbert Armstrong could tell a story. He could package his brand of Bible prophecy for the mass audiences. He was, in fact, an old hand at it three years before Hal Lindsey, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, produced his best-selling non-fiction work of 1970. The dynamic events flowing out of Jerusalem – the Israeli capture of the old city, the Jewish securing of control of the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall – all this set the stage for the wide acceptance of Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth.
But Herbert Armstrong had beaten him to the punch some three years before…
The bigger question, however, is why the Armstrong explanation of the Middle East in Prophecy did not completely ring true? With his fidelity to the text of Scripture, why did things not go exactly as Herbert Armstrong had foretold? Some events did—enough to render his scenario almost irresistibly appealing. But…the Temple was not rebuilt. And certainly not within the time frame he had enunciated. How could he have come so close – so near and yet so far? Since this question of the prophetic future of Jerusalem and the Middle East is still a happy hunting ground for prophecy teachers in American popular religion it is vital to attempt some broader, more wide-ranging answers. Is there another way—other ways--to read the text of Daniel? There are, indeed.
To explain why popularizers of prophecy get it wrong it is necessary to widen the canvas considerably. This involves the sometimes challenging task of bringing into the popular realm the sometimes abstruse and carefully reasoned insights from the world of Biblical scholarship. This analysis will draw on the work of Yale’s Old Testament expert Brevard Childs as blended with the work of J.J. Collins and John Goldingay. Those of a literalist bent should know: These writers held a healthy respect for the text of Scripture. Yet their approach to such books as Daniel is a good deal more sophisticated than was Herbert Armstrong’s “The Middle East in Prophecy.” Daniel 11 is the key chapter here and it is a long passage highlighting military conflicts between two personages codenamed the King of the North (Syria) and the King of the South (Egypt). In the King James and some other translations this detailed chapter of ancient power grabs seems to leap off the page and inject the notion of “the time of the end” (Daniel 11:40, AV). A good question to ask here is “which end is being referenced?” For strict literalists such as Herbert Armstrong and others, this phrase must be referring to the end of human history, the time when God intervenes in human affairs. Thus, the King of the North has been identified (erroneously as it happens) with such entities as The Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein or the President of Iran based on the simple geographic fact that these countries lie north of Jerusalem (“the glorious holy mountain” in Daniel 11:45). HWA wrote in June, 1967:
We must watch world news to see how and when it will happen. Then will come World War III and the occupation of Palestine and half of Jerusalem. A great European Church-State union will be in control of Palestine and the whole Western World. It will prohibit the truth…It will persecute and martyr God’s Holy People…It is the time of the two witnesses who will prophesy in the streets of Jerusalem for 1260 days, then be killed, and – just immediately before the return of Christ – be raised from the dead in the sight of the people…God will suddenly intervene in human affairs. He will put an end to this wicked idolatrous system.
This is one way to read the evidence, HWA’s analogy of the “jig saw puzzle” where the pieces have to fit together. The Childe-Collins-Goldingay approach, however, sets Daniel’s writings in a broader perspective than is possible to give in a 30 minute radio broadcast or in a magazine article. For starters, most careful scholars start with the whole context of the book of Daniel. For one thing, Daniels’s book does not appear in the “Prophet’s” section of the Hebrew Tanakh, or what is commonly called the Old Testament. It is placed instead in the third division of the Hebrew canon called “the Writings,” a section which includes some more colorful and imaginative productions such as Psalms, The Song of Songs, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.15 In Bible scholarship as in golf, a good rule is to “play the ball” where it lies. In addition to noting Daniel’s place in the more creative and literary part of Scripture it is good to note the clear division of the book into two sections, that of stories or narrative accounts (Daniel 1-7) and the other of visions (Daniel 7-12).16 There is also the fact that Daniel 2-7 is written in Aramaic, another factor that should give interpreters pause. Obviously, from the outset there is much more going on in Daniel than meets the eye.
Most crucially for setting up the parameters of how to approach Daniel 11 is the general consensus among scholars in proposing a “late dating” for the last part of the book especially. The argument is made that Daniel’s last six chapters were written in the Maccabean period of Israel’s history (c. 167-63 B.C.) rather than the time called for in the early chapters, i.e. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (605-562 B.C.). There is now a wide consensus that the “Later Daniel’s” purpose in writing was to give hope and encouragement to the Jewish people being savagely persecuted by the Syrian king to the north, the very Antiochus IV Epiphanes met earlier (175-164 B.C.). 17 Daniel was thus a direly needed text for the times. In his Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture Brevard Childs proposed that the theory of Daniel 11 and 12 being a later addition to the book – just as Proverb 25 and Proverbs 30 are additions to “the Proverbs of Solomon” – does not invalidate either the prophecy or the book. Childs, Collins and Goldingay reject the wild claim that Daniel is nothing but a “pious forgery.” They quite reasonably ask: How could a prophetic work of sheer fiction offer help to people facing possible extinction?
John Goldingay builds on this argument to show that there was indeed enough “partial fulfillment” in Daniel’s visions – Judah was indeed saved by the Maccabees (Daniel 11:1) – to guarantee its status as an inspired writing and lead to its canonization. Daniel’s message of ultimate deliverance after suffering thus finds a place among Scriptures that speak hopefully to both Jews and Christians. It “gave them the perspective” with which to view future crises that would arise.18 In Childs’ view, the author of Daniel 11 saw the fateful “crisis at the close of history” (his version of Daniel 11:40), as quite possibly occurring right then and there before his very eyes, an event signaled by the grisly Abomination of Desolation and the pollution of the temple by Antiochus.
The crisis that sparked the Maccabean revolt of pious Jews were desperate times indeed. In some ways it was the supreme crisis of Judaism up till then. The existence of the nation seemed at stake. Many Jewish believers could have wondered: Might this be the time foretold earlier in Daniel 2:44 when the God of heaven would intervene for his people and set up his eternal kingdom? This is an understandable reaction. It parallels what people too often think today when catastrophes occur: Is this the end of the world? Might the Messiah soon return? If the question hangs in the air today it very much hung in the air in the 160’s B.C. God’s people were very much in need of a “word from the Lord” that would speak to the crisis provoked by Antiochus. For Collins, Daniel’s visions in chapters 8-12 are primarily concerned about how God would deliver his people, a people whose existence hung in doubt. As Childs explains it:
The vision was a mystery, hidden from the human mind, which only God could reveal…Regardless of how sure the interpretation of these [symbols] may have seemed to the wise, nevertheless, they always required a translation. The vision itself remained veiled…Therefore, if Antiochus did not prove to be the Old Testament Antichrist and the Kingdom of God was not ushered in with his death, then for the canonical editors it was not the prophecy which was at fault, but the earlier identification with those specific historical events.19
In other words, the devout searchers of Scripture in the land, “the Wise who understand” (Daniel 12:10), of whom Later Daniel was one, says Collins, believed that the God they served, the God who “rules in the kingdom of men” (Daniel 4:17), was able to deliver. Moreover, this God was eminently capable of speaking a new word to his people. Perhaps he had spoken already in their sacred texts – texts such as Daniel 2-7. What was needed was a new application of such verses as Daniel 2:44 and Daniel 5:34-35, a reinterpretation that would offer a message in the present crisis. That message was always the same: “The Most High rules in the Kingdoms of Men!” This, claims Childs, is the background and motive for Later Daniel’s additions and his colorful recreation of the most recent past—most notably, the carefully detailed exploits of the Kings of the North (Syria) and the South (Egypt) in Daniel 11. This chapter is history but history described as prophecy. The account is given to lead to the sure conclusion that the God of Daniel 2-7 still rules in the kingdoms of men and that this same God, who delivered their forefathers, would yet deliver them. “Your people shall be delivered,” the vision concludes (Daniel 12:1).
Unquestionably Childs’ interpretation elevates Daniel 11 and 12 to a higher level than what too many modern hasty critics have called it – merely a ”pious fraud” or “a prophecy after the event.” Like all true prophets he is giving hope to his people in a desperate time. Childs explains:
Although the modern [scholar] can characterize the description…as a prophecy-after-the-event, the biblical writer came to his material from a totally different perspective…He was firmly convinced that what he now saw was intended by the original vision. By studying the sacred writings he was able to clarify the divine message. The writer did not view his own role as independent of the visions of Daniel…Rather, it arose from a profoundly theological sense of the function of prophecy which was continually illuminated through the continuing reinterpretation of Scripture.20
In Childs’ view, the author of Daniel 11 is writing in the spirit of early Daniel. He is as true to the spirit of Daniel just as “the men of Hezekiah” who added selected chapters to the book of Proverbs were true to the spirit of the Proverbs (Proverbs 25:1). Later Daniel takes his cue from a careful study of Early Daniel’s central claim that the “Most High rules in the kingdoms of men” and, incidentally, sets up over it sometimes “the basest of men” (Daniel 4:17, AV). To Jewish martyrs in the 160’s B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes fits that template perfectly. This is a word of force and power. What is the end mentioned in Daniel 11, then? The end of Antiochus Epiphanes with which the chapter concludes: “yet he shall come to his end, and no one will help him” (Daniel 11:45). Literature of such moral force and divine certainty will survive, the “Wise who understand” will see to that (Daniel 12:10). Thus, Goldingay’s claim that Later Daniel belonged in the canon as inspired because it gave God’s people “a perspective to view analogous crises” rings true. The prophecy of base men ruling not only hit home to the people in 167-165 B.C., it also spoke forcefully to people in the time of John Darby (Napoleon), Cyrus Scofield (the Kaiser), and Herbert W. Armstrong (Hitler and Mussolini).
The key to the survival of Daniel’s “history written as prophecy” (a similar device occurs in Revelation 12:1-6), is the creative link between prophecy and dire current events. While Later Daniel has no new prophetic word from God, says Childs, he nevertheless stands respectfully and devoutly in the tradition of the inspired prophets of the past, Daniel among them. Thus Childs, Collins and Goldingay propose that Daniel 10-12 is another inspired vehicle through which the living God, the Lord God of Israel, continues to speak to his people. In Later Daniel’s veneration for earlier writings (Daniel 1-7), current events make sense: The Most High still rules in the Kingdoms of Men! There are strong overlaps and continuities across the sacred text that remain. The Wise will always understand that. History and prophecy are indeed closely linked as seen by the fact that all through Daniel 1-6 the prophet interacts with various assorted pagan kings and rulers. It does indeed take a poet to express some of the deeper tides that are flowing in the prophetic books, as in the words of James Russell Lowell:
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne---
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
and behind the dim unknown,
keeping watch above His Own.21
“Later Daniel’s” veneration for God and His word grounds his call to give people a “word from the Lord” just as the original Daniel gave a prophetic word to Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius.
Admittedly, this is a sophisticated, subtle view yet one that has a high regard for the sacred text. It is one that helps explain why Daniel 10-12’s mysterious numbers and cryptic references were accepted as canonical. The preservers of Scripture saw the intention behind Later Daniel’s additions. It was to “confirm the earlier prophecy which he fully believed.” Nebuchadnezzar becomes a type or forerunner of the enemies of God’s people including Antiochus Epiphanes who (it could be hoped) was the last persecutor of the chosen people. The Childs-Collins-Goldingay approach sees Later Daniel as composed in the highest traditions of inspired Hebrew writing. The author of Daniel 11-12 is writing in the spirit of the prophets, interpreting current events as he goes, but trying above all to give guidance from God’s Word for the crisis he and his people are facing.
What this means for a biographer of HWA is important, even if approached from an admittedly oblique angle. If the adjusted Early Daniel/Late Daniel thesis is correct, and it has much to commend it, then it is possible to have at least a little more sympathy for prophecy teachers in American popular religion who “get it wrong,” and getting it wrong has been endemic among prophecy teachers from Luther to Wesley to Jack Van Impe. “Time after time across the history of the church we’ve had to go back and say, ‘No, we didn’t get that right,’” comments Marianne Thompson, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Fuller Theological Seminary.22
Speaking very broadly, the popularizers of prophecy from Cyrus Scofield to Herbert Armstrong to Hal Lindsey, down to Tim LaHaye and John Hagee at least have this in their defense: They have been “drawn in” by the intoxicating nature of the biblical texts themselves. The Hebrew Prophets are among the most thrilling and high octane writings known to the human race. This is a testimony borne out by atheists and advocates alike. “It lives on the ear like a music that can never be forgotten, like the sound of church bells,” a Catholic informer once wrote from England of the 1611 Authorized Version. The statesman Edmund Burke would read whole sections of Isaiah before speaking in parliament to set the mood. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the American best-seller in the nineteenth century, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, testified: “The wild, poetic parts of the prophecies, with their bold figures, vivid exclamations, and strange oriental names and images, filled me with a quaint and solemn delight.” John Ruskin saw the Bible as the “thought-energizer” of Europe and the atheist Aldous Huxley praised it for its “vast residuum of moral beauty and grandeur.”23
The biblical prophets are often, as Martin Luther allegedly remarked about Paul’s letters, “arms and legs to carry a man away.” They have certainly carried away scores of preachers in American popular religion. But in American popular religion – as opposed to seminary teaching and instruction – powerful preaching counts for a lot…
1 John Hagee, In Defence of Israel (Lake Mary, Florida: FrontLine, 2007), page 6.
2 John Hagee, In Defence of Israel, page 11; evangelical backers of Israel are sometimes called Christian Zionists. See Russell Chandler’s Doomsday (Ann Arbor: Vine Books, 1993), page 217.
3 HWA, PT (June, 1948)
5 Richard Kyle, The Last Days are Here Again: A History of the End Times (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), page 124.
6 Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (New York: Harper and Row, 1987), page 528;
7 Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004), pages 196-201.
8 John Walvoord quoted in Kyle, The Last Days are Here Again, page 125.
9 Russell Chandler, Doomsday, page 217.
15 Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text (Philadelphia/New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1985), page vii.
16 P.R. Davies, Daniel (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985, 1988), page 36. Davies sensible argues that one should keep the most obvious facts of the book as first a literary document arranged in a purposeful, methodical way.
17 J.J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Vision of the Book of Daniel (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1977), page 8. Collins bases his argument on the internal pointers and overall coherence of the book though he concedes Daniel 1-6 could be based on earlier material. See Desmond Ford’s Daniel (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1978) for a conservative rebuttal.
18 John Goldingay, Word Biblical Commentary: Daniel (Dallas: Word Incorporated, 1987), pages 312-313.
19 Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), pages 617-618.
20 Childs, page 618.
21 James Russell Lowell “The Present Crisis” quoted in James Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1968), page 692.
22 Marianne Thompson quoted in “Babylon: Past, Present…and Future,” videocassette by Plain Truth Ministries, 1996 (ISBN 1-889973-03-3).
23 Lawrence E. Nelson, Our Roving Bible: Tracking Its Influence Through English and American Life (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1945), passim.