26 May 2021

Desolating Abomination - Context

Literary context is vital for the understanding of the “Abomination that Desolates” in the book of Daniel - Daniel 9:27

Book Context - Photo by Mikołaj on Unsplash
The climax of the ‘
Seventy Weeks’ is the appearance of the “abomination that desolates.” But what is it? In Daniel, the reference to it in chapter 9 is neither the first nor the last word on the matter. Interpreting the “abomination” in isolation from the larger context will produce incomplete and even false answers to this question - [Photo by Mikołaj on Unsplash].

Daniel is not a loose collection of ancient stories but a well-structured work. Each vision is connected to the others by verbal and conceptual links.  No one vision tells the whole story, and a correct understanding can only be achieved by heeding the context overall context – the immediate, larger, and historical contexts.

For example, the “little horn” is found in the visions of chapters 7 and 8. In the first vision, the descriptions are symbolic and enigmatic. However, in the interpretation of the vision of the “ram and the goat,” clear historical references are included. The “ram” is the “kingdom of the Medes and Persians,” the “goat” is Greece, and the “little horn” is a malevolent king linked to one of the four subsequent Greek kingdoms that derived from Alexander’s conquests. Understanding BOTH visions is necessary in determining this figure’s identity.

The “abomination that desolates” is first described in the vision of the “ram and the goat”:
  • (Daniel 8:9-13) - “And out of the first of them came a little horn, which became exceedingly great against the south and against the east and against the beautiful land. It became great as far as the host of the heavens, and caused to fall to the earth some of the host and some of the stars, and trampled them underfoot; even as far as the ruler of the host showed he his greatness, and because of him the daily burnt offering was taken away, and the place of the sanctuary was cast down, and a host was set over the daily burnt offering by transgression, and faithfulness was cast down to the ground, and so he acted with effect and succeeded. Then, heard I a certain holy one speaking, and another holy one said to that certain holy one who was speaking, How long is the vision of the daily burnt offering as taken away, and the transgression which desolates for both sanctuary and host to be given over to be trampled underfoot?
Here, it is called the “transgression that desolates.” So, does this refer to something distinct from the “abomination that desolates”? Not necessarily. In both phrases, the term “desolate” represents the same Hebrew word, shâmén (Strong’s - #H8074). The same events are linked to both phrases, the cessation of the daily burnt offering, the profanation of the sanctuary, and the “casting down of the host.” In this passage, the “desolation” was to last for 2,300 “evenings-mornings” - 1,150 days – or a little over three years.

Regarding the “transgression,” in the interpretation of the “little horn,” the figure it represented only appears when the “transgressions have filled up their measure, and then a king of fierce of countenance and skillful in dissimulation will stand up.” Among other things, this ruler “corrupts the mighty ones and the people of the saints.” It was not the king’s “transgression” that caused the “desolation,” but the sins of the “people of the saints” - (Daniel 8:23-25).

Likewise, in the final “week” of the “seventy weeks,” a figure called the “leader” corrupted the “city and sanctuary,” erected the “abomination that desolates,” and caused the daily burnt offering to cease. These events occurred in the last half of the “seventieth week,” presumably, the final three and one-half years of the seventy “weeks” - (Daniel 9:26-27).

In chapter 11, a “contemptible” ruler “profaned the sanctuary,” removed the daily burnt offering, “erected the abomination that desolates,” and corrupted many of the people “with flatteries” - (Daniel 11:31-34).

Finally, in the conclusion of the book, an angelic figure declared that all these things would occur over a period defined as a “season, seasons, and part of a season,” which is interpreted as 1,260 days, then as 1,290 days. Why the additional thirty days were added to the final figure is not clear - (Daniel 12:7-11).

The final reference to the “season, seasons, and part of a season” connects the conclusion of the book to the vision of the “four beasts from the sea.” In its interpretation, the “little horn” was identified as the “king” who “waged war against the saints,” sought to change laws and “seasons,” and continued in this effort for a “season, seasons, and part of a season” - (Daniel 7:21-26).

The inclusion of the “abomination that desolates” and related events in its concluding section demonstrates its importance to the entire book of Daniel.

In Daniel’s visions, the references to the “abomination that desolates,” the profanation of the sanctuary, the cessation of the daily burnt offering, and the period of approximately three and one-half years connect all the visions of the last half of the book. Moreover, these events are all connected to the same figure called the “little horn,” the “king of fierce countenance,” the “leader,” and the “despicable one.”

In each case, based on the literary evidence, it is reasonable to assume the same events are in view. To argue otherwise is neither reasonable nor plausible unless evidence from Daniel itself proves that more than one “abomination that desolates” is intended.

By no means does our recognition of the links between the several visions resolve all our questions about the “abomination that desolates.” However, recognizing this reality is the starting point for doing so – Context is the key.