To understand the “Abomination that Desolates” in Daniel, it is vital to pay attention to literary context.
In Daniel, the climax of the “seventy weeks” is the appearance of the “abomination that desolates” in the final half of the “seventieth week.” But what, exactly, is this “abomination” and when did it appear? Is it a past or yet future event? We must begin with the information provided by the book of Daniel if we are to have any hope of answering these and similar questions.
Moreover, the “seventy weeks” prophecy is neither the first nor the last word on the matter in Daniel. Interpreting the “abomination” in isolation from the larger literary context will not produce accurate answers.
The book is not a loose collection of ancient stories, but instead, a well-structured work in which each vision is connected to the others by verbal and conceptual links. No one vision tells the entire story, and a correct understanding can only be achieved by paying heed to the immediate, larger, and historical contexts of the relevant passages.
For example, the “little horn” is found in the visions of chapters 7 and 8. In the first vision of the “four beasts from the sea,” the provided information is symbolic and enigmatic. But in the second one, clear historical references are provided. The “little horn” is connected explicitly to “Greece.” Understanding BOTH visions is necessary to ascertain the identity of the “little horn.” And the “abomination that desolates” is first described in the vision of the “ram and the goat” in chapter 8:
- “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?” – (Daniel 8:9-13).
Here, it is called the “transgression that desolates.” So, does this refer to something distinct from the “abomination that desolates”? Not necessarily. In both clauses, “desolate” represents the same Hebrew word, shâmén (Strong’s – #H8074), which means “desolate, desert, devastate, abandon.” And the same key 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 chapter 8, the “desolation” lasts for 2,300 “evenings-mornings,” that is, for 1,150 days or a little over three years.
In the interpretation of the “little horn,” the malevolent ruler that it represents only appears when the “transgressions have filled up their measure, then will stand up a king of fierce of countenance and skillful in dissimulation.” Among other things, this figure “corrupts the mighty ones and the people of the saints” – (Daniel 8:23-25).
Likewise, in the final “week” of the “seventy weeks,” a figure called the “leader” corrupts the “city and sanctuary,” erects the “abomination that desolates,” and causes the daily burnt offering to cease, events that occur 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, the “contemptible” ruler “profaned the sanctuary,” removed the daily burnt offering, “erected the abomination that desolates,” and corrupted many of the people “with flatteries,” again paralleling the events predicted in the visions of chapters 8 and 9 – (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 “season, seasons, and part of a season,” which he interpreted as 1,260 days (“And from the time that the daily burnt offering shall be taken away, and the abomination that desolates set up, there shall be a thousand and two hundred and ninety days”), or approximately three and one-half years – (Daniel 12:7–11).
The final reference to the period of “season, seasons, and part of a season” connects the conclusion of the book to the vision of the “four beasts from the sea” in which the “little horn waged war against the saints,” sought to change laws and “seasons,” and continued in his efforts to do so 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 centrality to the book. Its several references to the “abomination that desolates,” the profanation of the sanctuary, the cessation of the daily burnt offering, and a period of approximately three and one-half years connect all the visions from the last half of the book.
Likewise, the “little horn” or “king of fierce countenance” with his assault against the people of God and the “sanctuary” appears in the visions of chapters 7, 8, 9 and 11. This figure is the cause of the downfall of many “saints.”
Based on the literary evidence, it is reasonable to assume the same set of events is in view in each case. By no means does our recognition of the links between the several visions resolve all questions about the “abomination that desolates.” However, recognizing this reality is the starting point for doing so – Context is the key.
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