Exploring the Prophecies of Moses and Daniel As Corroborating Authority for the "Great Tribulation" of Matthew 24:
A Contribution toward Understanding the Progressive Revelation of Prophetic Themes in Scripture
Oral Collins, The Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies
Box 1888, Lenox, Massachusetts 01240The article below is reproduced with some revisions by the author from the journal, Henceforth, vol. 1, no. 1(Fall, 1972), pp. 42-47. Original title, “Two Difficult Readings in Daniel 9:24; an Exercise in the Use of Source Texts in the Interpretation of Prophetic Passages.”
The New Testament must be read and understood against the Old Testament. This is a commonly recognized principle of biblical interpretation. It is true with regard to such general factors as community of subject (Acts 7 or Hebrews 11) or Old Testament quotations in the New (Luke 4:18). Moreover, New Testament writers were often conscious of setting forth particular interpretations of Old Testament texts (Acts 2:16-21). Jesus, himself, often used the Old Testament Scriptures for corroborating authority. While many such references are explicit, some are implicit only, and can be identified and understood only by careful investigation. In this last category are many references to the Old Testament prophecies. An example may be found in Matt 23:38, where Jesus said in his lament over Jerusalem, “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate” NASV).1 This is probably a quotation of Jer 22:5, but the prophetic theme goes back to Moses, whose prediction of the desolation of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation is found in Lev 26:31.
A comparison of the contexts of the passages in Jeremiah and Leviticus shows that Jeremiah enlarges on Moses so as to reiterate his prophecy dramatically and apply it to his contemporary situation. Moses’ words, “I will lay waste your cities . . . and make your sanctuaries desolate . . . “ (Lev 26:31), Jeremiah applies to the impending destruction of Jerusalem by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar: “I swear that this house will become a desolation. . . . I shall make you like a wilderness, like cities which are not inhabited . . .’ (Jer 22:5, 6b). Moses continues, “I will make the land desolate, so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled over it (Lev 26:32). This Jeremiah expands dramatically: “And many nations will pass by this city; and they will say to one another. ‘Why has the LORD done this to this great city?’ Then they will answer, ‘Because they forsook the covenant of the LORD their God and bowed down to other gods and served them’”(22:8, 9).2 The prediction of Moses concludes with the threat of dispersion: “You . . . I will scatter among the nations . . . “ and “you will perish among the nations“ (v. 38). At this point, Jeremiah not only continues the Mosaic outline, but he illustrates it specifically in terms of the exile of Judah's ruling monarch:
Do not weep for the dead or mourn for him, but weep continually for the one who goes away; for he will never return or see his native land. For thus says the LORD in regard to Shallum [Jehoahaz] the son of Josiah, king of Judah, . . . who went forth from this place: “He will never return there; but in the place where they led him captive, there he will die and not see this land again“ (22:l0-l2).
Jeremiah found in the final message of Israel's great lawgiver and prophet a prophetic philosophy of history for the Covenant Nation which he preached with divine authority in relation to the crisis of his time.
So Jesus, fulfilling the Messianic role of God's prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15), established His prophetic preaching largely upon the Mosaic foundation. Jesus, in citing Jeremiah's allusion to Moses in Matt 23:38 may have preferred Jeremiah's language, not only because it is more explicit, but because it had more concrete symbolic meaning in terms of the Babylonian destruction of Israel. In any case, He alludes to the prophetic law laid down by Moses and he applies it, as we will see below, to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.3
Jesus' quotation of Jeremiah in Matt 23:38 is extended into a substantial exposition of the Mosaic theme in Matthew 24 and in the parallel passage of Luke 21.4 Some excerpts from Leviticus and the passage in Luke will be sufficient to illustrate this point:
I will lay waste to your cities
. . . and make your sanctuaries desolate . . .
And I will make the land desolate, so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled over it.
You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you,
As your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste (Lev 26:31-33).
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, Then recognize that her desolation is at hand
There will be great distress upon the land, And wrath upon this people,
And they will fall by the edge of the sword, And will be led away captive into all the nations;
And Jerusalem will be trodden underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke 21:20, 23, 24).
We see above that Jesus' prophetic allusion to Jeremiah in Matt 23:38, as well as its expansion in chapter 24 and Luke 21, involves a compound relationship of both Jeremiah and Jesus to the prophetic statements of Moses, and that these relationships are not merely verbal but involve a rather extensive reiteration and application of a prophetic theme. Because any prophetic statement may contain allusive reference to earlier biblical material, we may suppose, as a matter of methodology, that we should seek to clarify obscure statements by earlier texts, especially from those attributed to that great Covenant prophet and lawgiver¾Moses.
Recognition of this last principle throws light upon the translation of a very difficult, obscure text, the Seventy Weeks prophecy of Dan 9:24 (the words in question I have italicized):
Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity.
The difficulty in this passage is reflected in the alternate readings that are offered in the margin. Translated according to the marginal readings of the NASV with the marginal words italicized, the passage reads as follows:
Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to restrain the transgression, to seal up sins, to make atonement for iniquity . . . .5
The first question, whether to translate “to finish“ (NASV text) or “to restrain“ (NASV margin), arises from different ways of understanding the Hebrew text. As vocalized by the ancient editors, the Masoretes, the Hebrew word in the text is lekallê’, The word as vocalized is understood either as the verb kâlâ, “to shut up,“ “to hold in store,“ “to restrain,” or a misspelled variant of kâlâh, “to be complete,” “at an end,“ “finished.”6 From the standpoint of the evidence for the Hebrew text, the reading which the NASB and most other modern versions prefer is the less probable, while the reading they put in the margin is the one from the Hebrew text and the one more likely correct. However, that reading is rejected because the translators have difficulty with the sense.7
With regard to the other question, the translation “to make an end of sin“ appears in the NASB and most other modern versions in preference to the alternative of the margin, “to seal up sins.” This choice again involves the adoption of the marginal reading in the Hebrew Bible (the Qerê) instead of the written text (the Ketib). The Qerê reads lehâtêm hattâ’t, “to make an end of sin,” whereas the Ketib when vocalized reads “to seal up sins.” Again, the conjectural reading is commonly adopted in order to effect the desired meaning.8 The passage is difficult, but in the writer’s opinion we are more likely to discover the intended meaning in the text rather than in the margin.
A study of the Seventy Weeks prophecy must consider carefully the prayer of Daniel which introduces the vision (9:4-19). Here Daniel is concerned about the end of the “desolations of Jerusalem.” For the concept of seventy years he is indebted to Jeremiah (25:11, 12; 29:10), but the general foundation for the predicted “desolation” is found in the sermon of Moses in Leviticus 26 and in the subsequent Mosaic prophecies, concluding with the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32. Daniel's concern with the Mosaic prophecies is explicit in his prayer:
Indeed all Israel has transgressed Thy law and turned aside, not obeying Thy voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses . . . (9:11; see also v. 13).
In the passage which follows (12-17), Daniel indicates that he is concerned with the end of the desolations of Jerusalem and the restoration of the' Lord's favor upon the nation of Israel. The final message of Moses on this subject is found in Deuteronomy 32. This Song of Moses in summary style reiterates the Lord's favor upon the nation of Israel (8-14), Israel's rebellion and idolatry (15-18), the Lord's promised execution of vengeance by a foolish nation (19-27; cf. 28:49-68), Israel's lack of understanding regarding her latter end (28-33), and the certainty of both vengeance and vindication in due time (34-43). God's vengeance will continue to be “stored up,” that is reserved for future execution, through the period of the Seventy Weeks. The Day of Calamity, when it arrives, is to be followed by a time for judgment (translation below), when God will have compassion on His servants (Deut 32:36; Dan 9:17-19).
With this background of the Seventy Weeks prophecy clearly in mind, let us return to Dan 9:24. If we translate this text in its most literal fashion, following the original, written text (the Ketib), we read:
Seventy weeks have been decreed
to hold in store the transgression,
to seal up sins [italics mine].
It is apparent immediately that the latter part of this passage is an almost verbatim quotation of the Mosaic text above-quoted from Deut 32:34, which text refers to the transgressions of Israel:
Is it not laid up in store with Me,
Sealed up in my treasuries? [italics mine]
S. R. Driver comments, “These transgressions are not forgotten1 or disregarded by Jehovah1 but (as it were) stored up with Him, till the day of retribution shall arrive.”9 In the text of Daniel, the verb, kâlâ, often translated “to restrain” (NASB margin), sometimes means “to hold under restraint” or “to put in prison” (see Jer. 32:2, 3 or 1 Sam 6:10). Here we take it to mean “to hold for future punishment.” The meaning of the parallel verb in Deut 32:34, kâmas, though it is attested only by the ancient versions, is understood in the same manner. (Daniel may have avoided kâmas in quoting Deuteronomy on account of its obscurity.)
The second verb in the passage, hâmas, “to seal up,” appears in both Daniel and Deuteronomy. The two passages are sufficiently close as to suggest that Dan 9:24 is intended as a direct allusion to the Deuteronomy text. If this is correct, the Hebrew text (Ketib) of Daniel may be accepted as written. The meaning of Daniel becomes clear in the light of Deuteronomy: Israel's apostasy must run its course while God keeps account of her transgressions against her great day of calamity and desolation, at which time the nation will again suffer judgment. The statement is the first of three sets of parallel lines, the first having regard to the judgment of the nation, the second to the Messianic atonement, and the third to the fulfillment of prophecy in the anointing of the Messiah.10
We have seen above not only that it is necessary to look to the Old Testament for understanding New Testament prophecies but that Old Testament prophets also allude to earlier texts, and especially that they draw substantially upon the prophetic sermons of Moses. This principle has an important bearing on our understanding of Matthew 23-24, as well as more obscure passages. We have illustrated the latter by an exploration of Dan 9:24, another text which in the revelatory process lies directly behind Matthew 23-24. A major translation problem with the Daniel text is solved and the passage is effectively illuminated by the discovery and careful study of earlier sources. We should not see the prophetic writers as slavishly dependent on such sources but rather as expanding on and clarifying for their contemporaries revelation previously delivered.
3R. T. France, in Jesus and the Old Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1971), pp. 38-80, surveys Jesus' typological use of Old Testament scriptures. For this study, see especially pp. 71-74.
4The Mosaic theme is of course not limited to Leviticus 26. It is developed extensively in Moses' sermon at the crossing of the Jordan, Deuteronomy 28-30, and in the Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32. Jesus alludes to Deuteronomy as well as to Leviticus. See, for example, his reference to the “days of vengeance” in Luke 21:22, an expression which is taken from the Septuagint version of Deut 32:35.
5Although we have used the NASB as our model here, substantially the same readings in question may be found in the NKJV, the NRSV, the REB, and the Jerusalem Bible; several of these translations offer no alternative readings.
6For the translation “restrain,” see C. F. Keil, Daniel (reprinted by Eerdmans, 1971) pp. 341-342; E. J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel (Eerdmans1 1949), pp. 198-199; for “to bring to an end,” see J. A. Montgomery, Daniel (C. Scribner's Sons, 1927), pp. 374, 376; S. R. Driver, Daniel (Cambridge U. Press, 1905), pp. 135-136.
7See, e.g., Montgomery's comment, “The parallelism requires this mng. of the vb. . . . .” (Daniel, p. 374), or for the opposite view, Keil’s statement that “the explanation: to finish the transgression . . . does not accord with what follows” (Daniel, p. 341). The ancient versions (the Greek Septuagint and the Aramaic Targums) support Montgomery and his school, but it is probable that a particular historical application of the prophecy may have influenced the translation of the text.
8See Driver, p.136. Montgomery (Daniel, p. 374) introduces manuscript data in support of both of the alternate readings for the texts in question, but the supportive manuscript material is very weak at best. However, the ancient versions support the variants but see above, note 7.
9 Commentary on Deuteronomy, 3rd ed. (T. & T. Clark, 1902), p. 37. Driver prefers to understand the passage beginning with verse 31 with regard to the transgressions of the heathen. There is great disagreement regarding the antecedents of the pronouns in vv. 28-35, but the best case rests with Keil, who applies vv. 32-33 to Israel in continuation of the theme of the larger passage (Biblical Commentary on the Pentateuch [Eerdmans, n.d.], III, 484ff.). Verses 28-30 should also be understood in this manner, as is indicated by v. 30b as well as by the thought of v. 29.
The problem text, “Their rock is not as our Rock” (31a), can best be understood of apostates in Israel (prophetic present) in distinction from Moses with the faithful remnant, thus continuing the language of v. 30. Verse 36 may be translated, “The LORD will judge his people, and have compassion on his servants,” understanding the parallelism progressively. The prophet sees the impending Day of Calamity as an act which will both punish the wicked and show compassion on his servants (cf. vv. 39, 43; see Keil, pp. 487-488).
10With regard to the last theme, the NASB translates welimshôah qôdesh qôdâshîm “to anoint a most holy place,” as do the REB and the NRSB (both without italics, which the NASB uses to indicate that the word “place” is not in the original text). The NIV and the NRSV offer alternate interpretations (“thing” or “one”) in a foot-note. The KJV, the NIV, and NKJV read, “the Most Holy.” Since the ascendancy of preterism which understands the text in terms of the Maccabean period (2nd cent. BC), and futurism which understands the text in terms of Antichrist in a future restored temple, the Messianic interpretation, “the Most Holy One,” has been largely displaced. Historicist interpreters, however, support this traditional interpretation.
The above article is reproduced with some revisions by the author from the journal, Henceforth, vol. 1, no. 1(Fall, 1972), pp. 42-47. Original title, “Two Difficult Readings in Daniel 9:24; an Exercise in the Use of Source Texts in the Interpretation of Prophetic Passages.”
Professor Collins taught biblical studies at Berkshire Christian College, 1951-1987 and since 1989 has served as Professor of Bible at The Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies. He holds the Ph.D degree in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University.
Copyright ã1972 by the Faculty, Berkshire Christian College. Revised edition copyright ã2000 by Oral Collins. All rights reserved without permission of the author.