What is an “abomination of desolation”?
This resolves itself into three questions;
What is meant by “abomination”?
What is meant by “desolation”?
And what is the connection between them?
What is meant by ‘abomination’?
The Hebrew version of this word is found many times in the Old Testament.
I think the real heart of the concept can be found in the thought expressed in Deuteronomy ch13 vv13-14, where the name is applied to the proposal
“let us go and serve other gods”.
God’s first and primary directive to his people was “You shall have no other gods but me”.
Anything that breaks that command is offensive to God, and so might be called an “abomination”.
The term is used for the gods of other nations- “Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites”- 1 Kings ch11 v5.
It includes the idols associated with their worship- “Cursed be the man who makes a graven or a molten image, an abomination to the Lord”-
Deuteronomy ch27 v15
For that matter, it includes anything else that has been associated with the worship of other gods- gold or silver stripped from their statues, or
money brought in from sacred prostitution- Deuteronomy ch23 v18.
Finally, in Proverbs, it gets extended to any behaviour which is not really compatible with obedience to God, such as adultery and dishonesty-
Proverbs ch6 vv16-18.
The meaning of the English word is that something is detestable or loathsome.
In modern translations, we may find the phrase “disgusting thing”, which expresses a similar meaning more clumsily, and slightly weakens it.
Anyway, the word is expressing God’s forceful rejection of idolatry and idolatrous behaviour, a reaction which he wants his people to share.
What is meant by ‘desolation’?
The Hebrew version of this word goes back to a verb which means “to be desolate, laid waste”.
In some cases, like Ezra ch9 v3, translated as “astonished”- perhaps because the person’s ability to think has been “laid waste”.
The English word “desolation” comes ultimately from the Latin SOLUS- “alone”. It describes loneliness or bereavement or a sense of having been
A “desolate” land is an empty land. It might have been made empty, destructively (“laid waste”), or it might be permanently uninhabited, like
the wastes of Antarctica.
The derivation of the English word doesn’t tell us anything directly about the meaning of the Hebrew, but in this case we’ve also got a Greek
The Greek version of the phrase “abomination of desolation” is found in 1 Maccabees, in the Septuagint translation of Daniel, and in the gospel
The basic meaning of the word used to translate the second part of the phrase is “made uninhabited”, and it comes ultimately from EREMOS- which,
again, means “alone”.
This is important, because these passages were written by Jews, who obviously accepted that word as the best rendering of their understanding of the
This gives us good reason to understand “loneliness” as the real heart of the concept.
How does the Abomination bring Desolation?
When Antiochus Epiphanes set up an image of Jupiter in the Temple at Jerusalem, this was described as “an abomination of desolation”.
It’s been suggested that this phrase is a deliberate distortion of the title (“Baal of heaven”) which he would have given to the image.
Even if this is true, the words which were chosen for the distortion still have a meaning, and it’s still worth considering why they seemed
Obviously the image was an “abomination” because it offered an alternative object of worship, but in what sense did it bring “desolation”?
One common understanding links “desolation” to the wars that follow the event in the Maccabean histories, and the equivalent troubles described in
Daniel and in Matthew ch24.
This view is encouraged by Daniel ch9 v26, which associates “desolations” (in the plural) with war.
But this connection is rather indirect. It goes through the people’s reaction to what the king is doing, and the king’s reaction to their
reaction, and so on.
It seems to me, examining the passages closely, that when the abomination “makes desolate,” in Daniel ch9 v27 and ch11 v31, this is an immediate
effect, and something distinct from the wars described in the surrounding verses.
It’s possible to find a much more direct connection between “abomination” and “desolation” if we focus on the idea that “desolation”
is about loneliness and loss of contact.
To the Jewish people of the time, the Temple in Jerusalem was the primary contact point between the nation and their God, and the continual sacrifice
was the primary means of contact.
But the king had “stopped the sacrifices”. Or at least he had diverted them towards his own image, which comes to the same thing.
This had the appearance of breaking the contact between the Jewish nation and their God, leaving them bereft and isolated.
, I suggest, is what is meant by “making desolate”. Not a delayed effect, but the immediate consequence of setting up the image.
In that case, we can take the view that” abomination” and “desolation” are two different aspects of one and the same event.
The great sacrilege becomes an “abomination” by presenting an alternative object of worship.
At the same time, it makes a “desolation” by displacing the customary, legitimate, worship, on which the people have been depending.
To put it another way, “abomination” describes God’s own judgement on the sacrilege, and “desolation” describes how the same sacrilege is
experienced by God’s people.
So I suggest that anything being put forward as another “abomination of desolation”, whether it’s an event in history or an expected event,
needs to be able to match both those features.
It would need to be offering an alternative to the Biblical God, which would constitute the “abomination”.
It would also, at the same time, need to be obstructing the genuine worship of the Biblical God, which would be a cause of “desolation”.
edit on 30-4-2012 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)