A New Interpretation of the Little Horn of Daniel 7
3 November 2018 |
Many prophetic articles we receive are restatements of what has been said by Adventists for 150 years. We have chosen to give a forum here to a novel and untraditional view. The authors of this piece are scholars known to the Adventist Today editors, who have asked to remain anonymous. Knowing the reception a new prophetic interpretation (particularly when it involves a controversial political figure) is likely to receive from the Seventh-day Adventist community, we have granted their request.
Like many articles published on Adventist Today, these are not necessarily the opinions of our editorial staff.
For years, we Seventh-day Adventists have held that the little horn of Daniel 7 was the pope of Rome. Yet we encounter a problem with this interpretation: in modern times no pope has shown an inclination to visit upon God’s people the persecutions that we’ve claimed the Vatican wants to do. For example, we Seventh-day Adventists, after a century and a half, are still worshiping on the Saturday Sabbath, almost everywhere without interference. In America, the blue laws of decades past are gone. Even where there is resistance to our Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath, it has not come from Roman Catholics.
We are suggesting here a contemporary and, we feel, more relevant interpretation of Daniel 7.
The Beast with Ten Horns
Daniel 7:7 “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left.
The traditional teaching is that this beast represents the Roman Empire, with the Vatican as its contemporary manifestation. Yet the Roman Empire is almost two millennia in the past, and the Vatican is not a military power. If you’re looking for a power that “crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left,” the United States of America has the most devastating military in the history of warfare. Romans with foot soldiers and chariots can’t compare to the American war machine that rolled over Europe and the Pacific in World War II, which was insignificant compared to what its military is capable of now. Large iron teeth? The United States has over 4000 nuclear weapons, with the ability to deliver them anywhere on earth in moments with pinpoint accuracy. Never before in history has the earth had a single military power capable of killing all life on the planet.
Daniel 7:23 “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it.”
If “different from all the other kingdoms” isn’t a description of American exceptionalism, we don’t know what is. As for devouring the whole earth, America has done that not only militarily (it has the most military bases in other countries) but also culturally: American politicians, celebrities, athletes and entertainers are known throughout the world.
What of the ten horns? For now, it’s enough to remember that they are “ten kings who will come from this kingdom” (24).
The Little Horn
Daniel 7:8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them… This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.
Daniel 7:20 I also wanted to know about … the other horn that came up … the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully.
We have advanced the interpretation that the beast with ten horns is the United States of America. Horns represent kings, which is what the prophet, from his viewpoint, would call presidents. What United States president can be described as having “a mouth that spoke boastfully”? No POTUS in history has been the braggart that the current officeholder is. No president has been as self-important, nor as self-centered, nor as regardless of the needs of others.
Thus we posit that the little horn of Daniel 7 is none other than Donald J. Trump. There has never been a United States president like him; of him could the prophet accurately say, “After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones” (24).
It is significant that when the prophet saw the little horn in vision, he notes his mouth. Trump’s bragging, pouting mouth is his most frequently caricatured feature.
Ten Horns and Three Horns
Daniel 7:24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings.
John F. Kennedy is a unique figure in the modern era. He was a charismatic, youthful president, the first to activate a younger demographic, the first to use television effectively. Significantly, he was the first Roman Catholic president; with Kennedy, the president’s religion became a factor in political life. The modern era of presidential politics and presidential religion can be traced to him. Not coincidentally, he is the first in a series of ten presidents—the ten horns—that ends with Barack Obama, immediate predecessor to Donald Trump.
The three horns that the little horn overthrows could be three of Trump’s living predecessors. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama he has attacked mercilessly, attempting not only to destroy their legacies, but reversing their policies and accomplishments. George Bush he has cowed into silence.
An Enemy of Faith
Daniel 7:25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws.
What does it mean to “speak against the most High”? Our traditional view does not apply this description to an atheist who openly blasphemes God, but to the pope of Rome, who has never openly denounced God but rather (according to Adventist interpreters) usurped the authority of God.
Nor does Donald Trump openly denounce God. Donald Trump’s war on faith has been to discredit the Christian faith by his endorsement of it. A serial adulterer who finds telling the truth nearly impossible, he has compromised evangelical Christianity by making its leaders his lap dogs. Of liberal-minded Christians, and those who expect morality from their political leaders, he remains contemptuous. As one journalist put it, Trump evangelicals have sold their souls. In a damning piece in The Atlantic magazine, Christian writer Michael Gerson mourns that the relationship with Donald Trump has damaged Christianity deeply and perhaps permanently in the United States. He writes of his Christian faith, “It is difficult to see something you so deeply value discredited so comprehensively.”
As for changing laws, there are many good and decent laws Trump has overturned. He has also threatened to unilaterally change many laws that he is not constitutionally allowed to do.
Seventh-day Adventists have long interpreted changing “times” as a change in the day of religious observance; however, it seems to us—in the absence of Sunday laws or any movement in that direction—that this may not any longer be a viable interpretation.
Then what does it mean to say he would try to change “times”? It could describe a change in culture, as the word is used in Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A-Changin’.” It could refer to Trump’s attempt to inhibit free speech by suppressing journalism—a reference to his threats against the New York Times, a newspaper which stands for all of the truth-tellers whose opinions he has attempted to suppress, and whom he has threatened to destroy.
But we see another possible scenario, even more frightening: that Donald Trump will attempt to change scheduled events that undergird American democracy, such as cancelling elections and congressional sessions and the sitting of courts—that is, to do away with American democratic processes. A “time” in verse 25 refers to a year. Could Donald Trump attempt to change the calendar as it concerns his allotted four years of office?
Related unconstitutional actions on his part might be declaring martial law, restricting the personal liberties of certain groups, unilaterally waging wars, or attacking other countries with nuclear weapons, all of which he has threatened to do.
Please notice that the text says he will attempt these things, not that he will necessarily succeed.
For How Long?
Daniel 7:25-26 The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time. But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever.
Here the prophecy is highly specific. Time, times and a half a time is a prophetic equation for 1260 days. As with all time prophecies, the question is when the prophecy commences. We can see four possibilities: Donald Trump’s announcement of his candidacy, when he was nominated by the Republican party, his election, or his inauguration.
|Event||1260 days begin||1260 days end|
|Candidacy||June 16, 2015||November 27, 2018|
|Nomination||July 19, 2016||December 31, 2019|
|Election||November 8, 2016||April 21, 2020|
|Inauguration||January 20, 2017||July 3, 2020|
How will his end come? Again, the prophecy is specific: it will be a court judgment against him. It hardly needs to be pointed out that various legal actions against Donald Trump commenced soon after his election and are ongoing.
Daniel 7:27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’
What happens after the little horn is removed from power? The text says that “all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people.” Along with these “holy people” the “Most High” will rule an “everlasting kingdom.”
For various reasons, however, we are not yet prepared to say with certainty that “then” means the Second Advent will coincide with the end of Donald Trump’s presidency with no time intervening.
We feel that our case for Donald Trump’s being the little horn of Daniel 8 is at least as viable as the previous interpretation held by Seventh-day Adventists, but with a contemporaneity that the earlier interpretation couldn’t claim. In this interpretation, we needn’t harken back to the long-defunct Roman Empire, or pretend that tiny Vatican City is its modern day manifestation. Nor do we rely on a biblically-questionable day=year formula. Instead, we take the little horn as it is presented: a vision of powerful braggart who will have a negative influence on true Christianity, the potential to do tremendous harm, whose power lasts thousands of days, not thousands of years, and who has sufficient power that his actions could well be apocalyptic.
We do not discount the influence of the Pope of Rome in the modern world, nor deny the Vatican’s possible appearance in prophecy; but in terms of the oppressive might of the little horn, we cannot see that organization matching the figure described in Daniel 7.
A Dynamic Reading
We believe in a dynamic reading of prophecy. Earlier interpretations of Daniel 7 have persisted even though the passage of time has shown them corresponding to nothing of significance in the contemporary world. The reliability of this interpretation can be judged by the dates and actions that we have identified, to see whether events in Trump’s presidency coincide in any way with them. If they do not, then our interpretation needs to be reconsidered.
- The biblical “time” [Hebrew iddan] upon which this calculation has traditionally been made is a 360-day year, not what we now know to be 365.25-day year. It is referred to in several scriptures and in various ways: as “a time, times and half a time”, “42 months”, or “1260 days. Cf. Daniel 7:25, Daniel 12:7, Revelation 11:2, Revelation 11:3, Revelation 12:6, Revelation 12:14, Revelation 13:5. ↑
- Note that this is near to the usual time for the party conventions to nominate candidates for the next election. ↑
- The rock cut out without human hands in Daniel 2 that appears to dash the statue’s feet of iron and clay is clearly God’s kingdom, but the time between the establishment of modern Europe and today has been nearly two millennia—and it hasn’t happened yet. ↑
- We give as an example the view advanced by Uriah Smith, that the prophecy ended with an obscure edict concerning the Catholic Church in Paris in 1798. This is two centuries in the past, and has no meaning to modern Christians. ↑
- Part of our commitment to a dynamic understanding is that we invite discussion of some details, such as the identity of the ten kings and the three kings, or the meaning of changing times and laws, that would fit with the identity of Donald Trump as the little horn. ↑