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Introduction to Alethea In Heart Ministries

The Revelation of John - DISSERTATION I.
Commentaries on the Entire Bible

By Rev. Henry Cowles
Professor of Church History and Prophesy at Oberlin College, and Main Editor of
The Oberlin Evangelist (responsible for giving us most of Finney's sermons).






Does the word "day" in prophecy mean a year?—And on the same principle, must other periods of time, e. g., months and years, be multiplied by three hundred and sixty to get the real time intended?—This is our question.—Technically and in short, this is often called the "day-for-a-year-theory;" but it is supposed to apply not only to the usage of the word for day, but equally to the word for month and at least to the word "time," which Daniel uses for a year. So that the broad principle is that prophetic notations of time must be multiplied by three hundred and sixty to get the real historic duration.—I am compelled to discard this theory as utterly baseless, false, and of course mischievous and delusive; for the following reasons:—1. All reasonable presumption is utterly against it. For prophecy comes from God to men in the common language of men. If it did not, it would reveal nothing, without a special revelation to explain it—a new revelation to teach the meaning of the new prophetic language. Symbols in prophecy are no exception. For in the statements made respecting these symbols, words are used in their well-known sense. The word "lion" means a lion, and the word "bear" means a bear. When a lion is seen in vision as a symbol, we fall back upon the known qualities of the lion and his known relations to other animals to find the significance of the symbol. But this is in no way peculiar to prophecy. We should do just the same in poetry, or in common conversation. So that symbols in prophecy are no exception to the common law that prophecy comes to us in merely human language, using its words in their established and well-known sense. Hence the presumption is entirely against this theory of day for year. If God speaks to men, the presumption is wholly in favor of his using the common language of men in its usual sense. The Hebrews had suitable words for both day and year, and they used them as correctly as we do ours. If God had occasion to speak to them of time in the future, why should he not use their language as they did?—2. No reason lying in the nature or objects of prophecy affords the least presumption in favor of this theory.—The only reason which I have ever heard of, or seen, assigned for this usage of day for year, is that God meant to make his statements as to time unintelligible until their fulfillment. That is, he meant to lock up this part of the truth and hide the key.—I reply, 1. There is no evidence that God has intended or tried to hide what he seemed to reveal. There is no evidence of his resorting to enigma lest prophecy should be understood too soon. It does not appear that he has been specially careful to hide the point of duration while professing to reveal it. When he chooses not to reveal the time of events, he manifestly forbears to give it; this is all-sufficient for that purpose. What would be gained by putting his revelations in the form of a puzzle or riddle? Not to say here that this would seem to be beneath the dignity of the great God, I still press this question; Why should the Lord thus tantalize his people and mock their desire to understand what he has said in prophecy as to the time of predicted events? Where the Lord sees fit to say nothing about the time, we bow to his wisdom. Where he has spoken of the time, why may we not try to understand what he says; and further, why should we not assume that he has revealed these notations of time to be studied and understood and not to puzzle and confound the honest inquirer? Yet further: the notion that God meant to put things in such a shape that the real time should come to light only after the event, and only by means of the event, is utterly without support; for there is no prophecy in that; it foretells nothing about the time; of itself it means nothing; and no good reason can be given why God should in this way profess to communicate prophecy and yet communicate nothing!

2. If this precise plan of day for year had been adopted, a few well-authenticated facts would have brought the key to light, and would have effectually frustrated the object of concealment. For, after the key is found, it is a very simple matter to use it. Nothing can be more simple or more certain in its results than a process of multiplication in pure mathematics. Multiplying a given period of time by three hundred and sixty is soon done and done surely.—The appearance of artifice in this scheme seems to me beneath the dignity of the great and holy God. It is altogether out of harmony with the rest of the Bible. All else is lucid, honest, and manifestly said in order to be understood by the docile, humble, diligent reader.—Nor let it be thought that the case of our Lord's speaking to the Jews in parables, and explaining them only to his disciples, refutes my position. For that was judicial judgment sent on self-hardened and self-blinded sinners because of their chosen blindness. But this prophetic theory, if true, would be a judgment on good men who love the truth, and who honestly wish to learn all that God has been pleased to reveal.

3. This theory is entirely without foundation. It has no legitimate evidence for its support. It is a castle built in the air.—There is not a single case of prophetic time, in which the fulfillment has verified this principle of multiplying the prophetic time by three hundred and sixty to get the actual time. It is thought there are some events yet future—almost ready to came—which will be in point and will prove it to every body's satisfaction; but they have not come, yet!—On the contrary there are numerous cases of prophetic time already fulfilled which prove that designations of time in prophecy mean what they say, and are to be taken in their usual sense.—These statements should be carefully considered and well supported. Let us have patience to examine in sufficient detail the alleged evidence that a prophetic day means year.—(1.) Appeal is made to Num. 14: 33, 34; "Your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years. After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years."—Is this a case of the word day used for year? or of the word day used for only one three hundred and sixtieth part of the time really meant? By no means. Nothing of the sort. Throughout this passage, the word day means a common day,—nothing more. The word year needs no multiplying three hundred and sixty to find the time intended.—The only prophecy in this passage—here in the form of a denunciation, or threatened punishment—is, "Ye shall wander forty years." But does this mean, Ye shall wander in the wilderness three hundred and sixty times forty years; i. e., fourteen thousand and four hundred years? Who can believe that? If God had said, "Ye shall wander forty days," and the event had proved that he truly meant forty years, using the word day to mean year, the case would have been in point. But he did not say that, and no good reason can be assigned why he should have said it.—Will the reader still ask, Does not the Lord say, "Each day for a year?" and is not that precisely what we claim?—I answer; Those are the words he uses; but their meaning is nothing like what you claim. He means only that the years of their wandering shall correspond to the days of their searching the land through their committee, the twelve spies. The one purpose of the Lord in this form of threatening was to make their punishment a perpetual reminder of their sin—a thing which he often does for the best of moral reasons. All through their weary wanderings, they could say; "Forty days our brethren searched out the land, and brought back that unbelieving report; we heard it, and, indorsing all its unbelief, we practically said, Save us from going there! The Lord gave us our prayer in judgment, and we have forty years before us in this dreary wilderness!" This is all.

(2.) Another proof text very analogous to the preceding is Ezek. 4: 4-6. Ezekiel is commanded to lie on his right side forty days and on his left three hundred and ninety days, before all Israel, to indicate that he bears (in symbol) the iniquity of Judah forty years, and of Israel three hundred and ninety. The language is, "For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days:—So shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. Then lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of Judah forty days:—I have appointed thee each day for a year."—But observe throughout this passage that in every instance the word day is used for a common day—never in the sense of year; and the word year means only one year; never three hundred and sixty years. True, the symbolic act of lying on one side forty days denoted that in this symbolic, representative manner he bears their forty years of sinning; but this extension of time from one day of symbol to one year of sin lies not in any peculiar use of the word "day," for there is no peculiar use of it here; but it is in the symbol, and is there only by special divine arrangement and statement.—If the Lord had said "forty days" when he meant forty years, it would be somewhat to the point. But he did not use his words so. There is no proof that he ever did. Certainly this case does not afford the least particle of such proof.

(3.) Another somewhat analagous passage is 2 Pet. 3: 8: "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day." Unfortunately if this means any thing to the purpose, it means far too much. For if it applies to the case in hand, the word day means, not one year only, but one thousand years! And then, further, one thousand years mean one day, and our long millennium is cut down wofully! And then it would be impossible to tell which way to work out this problem—whether we must multiply by one thousand or divide by it! Who could tell us whether in any given prophecy a day means one thousand years, or a thousand years means one day?—Happily that little word "as" relieves us of all our perplexities, showing that the passage has nothing to do with this theory that God says day when he means year.

(4.) Much the most important passage ever thought of as proof of the theory in question is Dan. 9: 24-27—the celebrated prophecy of the "seventy weeks." But this has been already examined in my commentary on the passage in its place, to which the reader can refer. He will there find these main points made, viz.: that the original word means in its singular number, a seven—a heptad; and this may be a seven of days or a seven of years: that the feminine plural is currently used for heptads of days; the masculine plural (which we have here) never by itself for the common week of days, but when a week of days is meant, the word days is appended, as in Dan. 10: 2, 3; and finally that after a word and a special form of a word which simply suggests the idea of a sevens seven of something, we must ask—a seven of what? and must look for our answer in the context—in the thought already before the mind. In the present case, there can be no doubt that this thought is, the seventy years of captivity. Then seventy sevens of years must be the sense of this phrase, and it involves no usage of the word day to mean year—no usage of any current notations of time in a way to need multiplying by three hundred and sixty to get the actual time.

(5.) All individual proof texts failing, some will still fall back upon the general idea that prophecy has a special fondness for highly figurative language;—so that they seem to themselves to make a pretty strong argument for their theory when they call it to instance of strong figurative language—such as abounds in prophecy.—But this is a simple fallacy. Those who say this fail altogether to notice what figures in rhetoric are. Perhaps they confound figures in rhetoric with figures in mathematics—two things most unlike in sense, however like in the word. If men would only notice that there is no rhetoric and no scope for the imagination in a mathematical process; e. g., in multiplying by three hundred and sixty, they might be disabused of this fallacy. Figures in language turn on some resemblances which only the imagination can recognize and appreciate. But figures in mathematics make no appeal to the imagination. This "day-for-a-year theory" needs no function of the imagination to solve and apply it. It requires only a short process in multiplication—in simple mathematics. Has this the least analogy with the use of the word "light" for what is joyous and "darkness" for what is sad? Not the east imaginable. The failure to note such distinctions may serve to mislead and delude; it can serve no other purpose.

(6.) Of the proofs from usage for the theory in question, all the rest, known to me, are in the class yet to be fulfilled and verified; or rather, like Mr. Miller's Second Advent in 1843—yet to be exploded. Those which assign the final fall of Romanism to A. D. 1866 are soon to follow Mr. Miller's. It will be soon enough to believe this theory on the strength of fulfilled prophecy when the cases of suitable sort and in sufficient number do actually occur.—It is simply amazing that this theory has obtained so much credence on absolutely not the least foundation. Against all reasonable presumption—in the face of the strongest prima facie evidence against it, there should be a very imposing array of substantial argument for it before it gains any credence. How strange, then, that it has gained so much without the first particle of reliable proof?

4. It still remains to assume the offensive against this theory and show that fulfilled prophecy is all against it. So far as Bible history gives us the fulfilment of Bible prophecy in which notations of time are involved, the "usus loquendi" proves that words in prophecy denoting time are used in their common, normal sense, and never in the enigmatical, peculiar way affirmed by this theory.—Thus the Lord through Noah predicted the flood after one hundred and twenty years (Gen. 6: 3). Did it turn out to be 43,200 years, or only 120?—Again in reference to this flood, the Lord said to Noah (Gen. 7: 4), "Yet seven days and I will cause it to rain forty days and forty nights." That would have been awful at forty years, and Noah and his company all that time shut up in the ark!—To Abraham (Gen. 15: 13) the Lord said, "Thy seed shall be a stranger in a land not theirs" (Egypt), "and they shall afflict them four hundred years." Does this need to be multiplied by three hundred and sixty? Was the actual time four hundred years, or one hundred and forty-four thousand?—In Num. 14: 34, the prophecy stands, "Your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years." Did it prove to be forty, or three hundred and sixty times forty—i. e., fourteen thousand and four hundred?—In Isa. 7: 8 is this prophecy: "Within sixty-five years shall Ephraim be broken that it be not a people." Was this really sixty-five, or was it "prophetic time" (so called), i. e., twenty-three thousand and four hundred years? Even sixty-five carries the end several years beyond the end of the kingdom as destroyed by Shalmanezer, B. C. 722, for the reign of Ahaz, son of Remaliah, lay B. C. 759-740. The prophet included a final crowning act by Esarhaddon, filling the country with colonists from other countries, and embraced this within the sixty-five years.—Isaiah (16: 14) predicted of Moab, "Within three years as the years of a hireling, shall the glory of Moab be contemned." Should this be accounted as really three years, or as one thousand and eighty years? But if this is three, why is not three and a half in Dan. 7: 25, and 12: 7, just three and a half?—In Jer. 25: 4 it is predicted, "These nations (Judah included) shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years." And Jer. 29: 10 reads, "After seventy years be accomplished at Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good words toward you, in causing you to return to this place." Now it was because these time-designations meant just what they said that Daniel could "understand by books the number of the years" of this captivity and adjust himself to it. It is plain that he had not a particle of confidence in this theory of a day for a year, and of one year named when these hundred and sixty years are really meant. If he had believed this theory, he would have set the restoration twenty-five thousand and two hundred years after the captivity i. e., 25,200—606 = A. D. 24,594—and he must have despaired of living in this world to see it!—And now shall it be assumed that after having had such welcome proof that God means just what he says when he gives dates and numbers in prophecy, he will himself darken his own dates by enigmas that none can understand? Or if it be replied, This was not Daniel but the revealing angel, then I ask, Would not Daniel have protested against it, saying, I have myself been exceedingly, comforted, aided and blessed by being able to understand by books when the divine numbers in prophecy would end; but how of this? No mortal can ever understand it! O, if Daniel might only speak out of heaven to those who so darken his plain words and so magnify his simple numbers, would he not rebuke them?—It can scarcely be necessary to refer to Ezek. 29: 11, 13, which predicts a temporary captivety of Egypt; forty years; not fourteen thousand and four hundred years; nor to Jonah's prophecy against Nineveh; "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown." It would have changed the ease very essentially it' he had meant forty years. But why in such a case should not the Lord say what he means, even as he expects and requires men to do? Is there any conceivable reason why he should say day when he means year? Is this according to truth? And what can be the use of it?—One case yet, more important than any other, is that of Daniel's own usage (Dan. 4: 16, 23, 25, 32). In each of these four verses it is predicted that king Nebuchadnezzar's insanity would continue "until seven times should have passed over him." So long he would be with the beasts of the field, would eat grass as oxen, and be wet with the dew of heaven. How long a period is this?—The advocates of the theory in question maintain strenuously that Daniel's "time, times, and the dividing of time," or "an half," (chap. 7: 25, and 12: 7,) equals three and a half years, and that these being prophetic years are really twelve hundred and sixty years. On no one point are they more united and strenuous than on this. Now the same writer, in the same book, will use the same word in the same sense. Unless there be some very great difference in the circumstances, this rule must hold good. No rule of interpretation can be more vital or more reliable than this. But in the present case no difference of circumstance can be shown. Both are prophecy. Both use the same word; therefore it must be used in both cases in the same sense. If three years and a half in prophecy is really of actual time twelve hundred and sixty years, then "seven times," equal to seven years of prophetic time, becomes, when converted into actual time, twenty-five hundred and twenty years!—a long time, truly, for one man to eat grass!—Some people will think there must be something very special and even mysterious in this word, "a time," when used for a year, and hence they readily admit this theory of (so called) "prophetic time," when applied to Daniel's word, a "time." But the seven "times" [years] of the king's insanity is just as truly prophetic time as the three and a half "times" [years] of ascendancy of Antiochus over the Mosaic institutions and sacrifices—"times and laws."—The cases above adduced are not culled out—a few of this sort from amid many of the opposite. There are none of the opposite sort. There is not one case in all the Bible in which fulfilled prophecy shows that prophetic time is estimated on the rule of a day for a year. The usage of the Bible goes solid against this theory. When, from its nature, this theory ought to have the very strongest support from Bible usage before it can be reasonably accepted, it has not the first particle of proof in its behalf, either from Bible usage or from any other source.—As we might rationally expect, all scriptural usage shows that when God has given prophetic time, he meant to have it understood, and therefore used the language of men as men use it. One of his special objects in giving prophetic time has been to afford to his people the benefit of knowing the duration, or the era, as the case may be, beforehand. Therefore, he could no more employ a myth or a riddle to puzzle his people over his dates, than he could give precepts and inculcate duty in so blind a way that none could understand him without a new revelation to reveal his meaning. Is it not a marvel that interpreters of prophecy could so far ignore the veracity and the sober honesty of the Holy One as to impute to him such a use of language as this theory involves?

5. There is yet one more objection to this theory, lying in the fact that its advocates apply it only to the periods of Zion's calamity and persecution: never, or almost never, to the period of her prosperity. They apply it to the prophecies of the sway of Antichrist; never to the prophecies of the true Messiah's reign. Scarcely a man within my knowledge has applied this enormous multiplier to the thousand years of Messiah's promised reign!—Now, it is bad enough to attempt to make capricious discriminations at all as to the usage of words, and say in one set of prophecies day means only day and year only year; while in another set, day means year, and one year means three hundred and sixty. This, I say, is bad enough at the best. But it is ineffably bad to apply this awful multiplier to the eras of antichristian rule and not to the duration of the Messiah's reign! Look at the reason why this discrimination is so revolting.—(1.) It assumes that God aims and plans to hide from his people the actual duration of their calamities until the time arrives; or, rather—worse yet—he purports to reveal it; gives us the usual words for well-known periods of time; but uses them so that his people will see only one three hundred and sixtieth part of the truth! He calls the time a day when really it is a year; he calls it three years and a half when really it is twelve hundred and sixty years!—Believe this of our God—who can?—If he had seen fit not to disclose the duration of the church's great calamity, very well. All his trustful children would bow submissively to his wisdom, and would still trust his love. But that he should profess to reveal it, and then state it at only one three hundred and sixtieth part of the actual time—that is simply horrible! And then to cap the climax, that he should state the duration of her prosperity in a way to make it seem all that it is,—this sets off the other usage in a still more strange and revolting light.—(2.) A second reason why this discrimination is so objectionable is, that it makes the reign of Antichrist relatively long and the reign of the real Christ relatively short. Antichrist triumphs twelve hundred and sixty years; Jesus Christ only one thousand! The eras of persecution, straitness and calamity, surpass the era of peace, truth, righteousness and salvation! I take it this is incredible. I have a full conviction that the greatness of God's mercy toward our world forbids it. The sure word of prophecy is absolutely and mightily against it—as witness what the Lord said by Isaiah (54: 7, 8); "For a small moment have I forsaken thee" (Zion) "but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with ever Everlasting kindness will have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer." Does a moment compare with everlasting duration, as twelve hundred and sixty pears to one thousand?—These points may, I trust, suffice to show why this theory never ought to be true and never can be.

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"Day" = year?