Daniel's 70 Weeks - Part 1

Reprinted from eParousia #6, July, 2003

Last month we looked at the course of the nations as depicted in the visions of Daniel 2 and 7. This month and next month we will look at Daniel chapter 9 and see in great detail God's future plans for the nation of Israel. First we need a little historical context in which to understand the prophecies of Daniel 9.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

In Deuteronomy 28, before the Israelites crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land, Moses declared to Israel the blessings of obedience and the curses for disobedience. As we all know, Israel did not obey and worship only God, but went after the idols of the nations surrounding them. This history is recorded in the historical books of the Old Testament. The sin of Israel and Judah was the same; the people rejected God and worshiped the idols of the land, Baal, Ashtorah, Molech, Tammuz and Chemosh. Refusing to obey, they received the curses promised in the covenant (Deut. 28:36). The prophets Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel were sent to warn the people of God's coming judgment. They in turn were mocked, rejected and killed. Their punishment was destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, and captivity in Babylon for 70 years as prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11-12).

Daniel was taken captive in 605 BC and the temple was destroyed in 586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was in captivity for about 70 years, and served under several kings. The events of Daniel 9 take place in "the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus [Xerxes]." This would have been around the year 538 or 537 BC.

THE SEVENTY WEEK PROPHECY

The text of Daniel 9 tells us that he had been reading the prophet Jeremiah and realized that the 70-year prophesied time of captivity was about fulfilled. As Daniel contemplates the soon return of his people to Jerusalem, he begins to confess his sin and the sin of his people, Israel. He also makes request that God would have favor on Israel and restore the temple which is lying desolate.

As he is praying, God dispatches the angel Gabriel to Daniel in order to give him "insight with understanding" (Dan. 9:22) about the future of his people, Israel. Here is what Gabriel tells Daniel:

Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.

Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.

And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate. (Dan. 9:24-27)

Gabriel tells Daniel that "seventy weeks" have been decreed for the Jews and Jerusalem during which six things will be accomplished:

1. Finish the transgression
2. Make an end of sin
3. Make atonement for iniquity
4. Bring in everlasting righteousness
5. Seal up vision and prophecy
6. Anoint the most holy place

HOW LONG IS SEVENTY WEEKS?

How long is seventy weeks? The Hebrew word for "weeks" is shavuim and is best translated "sevens." This phrase refers to a period of seventy sevens, and it can mean days, weeks, months or years. How are we to know to which it refers? By the context.

There are several reasons why we understand this phrase to refer to seventy sevens of years, or a total of 490 years, rather than 490 days.

1. Daniel has been considering and praying about the seventy years of captivity that his people were just completing. He has been counting up the 70 years of the Babylonian captivity, assuming that the Kingdom would be established after this 70 years. Clearly, Daniel has been thinking in terms of years, not weeks or months. The Hebrew text presents a play on words: Daniel is told that not "seventy years" but "seventy sevens" of years must pass before the introduction of the Kingdom.

2. Why was Israel sent into captivity for 70 years? The law of Moses had commanded the Israelites to acknowledge every seventh year as a sabbatical year. The ground was to lie at rest (Leviticus 25:1-7). Apparently Israel had ignored that divinely-imposed regulation for centuries. There seems to be no example or record of their ever having honored the sabbath-year law. Thus, according to 2 Chronicles 36:21, the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity was assigned "until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths." If each of the seventy captivity-years represented a violation of the sabbatical-year requirement (every seventh year), this would indicate that Israel had neglected the divine injunction for approximately 490 years. The captivity period looked backward upon nearly five centuries of neglect, while Daniel's prophecy looked forward to a time — some 490 years into the future — when the "Anointed One" would "make an end of sins" (9:24).

3. Could the events of Daniel 9:24-27 fit into 490 days, weeks or months? Clearly the answer is "no." During this time would be the rebuilding of the temple and the coming and cutting off of the Messiah. We know that the temple took about 49 years to rebuild after the Jews returned from captivity and began rebuilding Jerusalem. And it was hundreds of years until the Messiah, Jesus, came. Clearly shabuim must refer to a week of years.

WHEN DID THE 490 YEAR CLOCK START?

Daniel was told, "So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress" (Dan. 9:25).

There were several decrees related to the return of the Jews and the rebuilding of their homeland. However, only one decree meets the details of the text: the decree was specifically to rebuild the city; the rebuilding would include plaza and moat; it would be rebuilt in times of distress. The book of Nehemiah gives us the record of just such a decree and the distressful circumstances under which the Jews rebuilt the city:

And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, "Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart." Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, "Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?" Then the king said to me, "What would you request?" So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, "If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it." Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, "How long will your journey be, and when will you return?" So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, "If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go." And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me. (Neh. 2:1-8)

Artaxerxes was king of the Medo-Persian Empire from 465-424 BC.This event occurred in 444 BC, nearly a century after the prophecy was given to Daniel.

UNTIL MESSIAH THE PRINCE…

Daniel 9:28 tells us that from the giving of this decree to rebuild Jerusalem until "Messiah the Prince" would be 69 "weeks" of years (7 plus 62) after which the Messiah would be cut off (killed). This was fulfilled when Jesus Christ came into Jerusalem at the triumphal entry, presenting Himself as Messiah. But He was rejected and crucified just four days later.

Harold W. Hoehner, professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, detailed the calculations that show the accuracy of the fulfillment of this prophecy. Using internal biblical evidence and historical documents, he determined the date of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem given to Nehemiah as March 5 (Nisan 1 on the Hebrew calendar), 444 BC. He also fixed the date of the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem (Luke 19:29-44) as March 30 (Nisan 10), AD 33. He then concludes:

Using the prophetic year the calculation would be as follows. Multiplying the sixty-nine weeks by seven years for each week by 360 days gives a total of 173,880 days. The difference between 444 BC and AD 33 then is 476 solar years… or 173,855 days. This leaves only 25 days to be accounted for between 444 BC and AD 33. By adding the 25 days to March 5 (of 444 BC), one comes to March 30 (or AD 33) which was Nisan 10 in A.D. 33. This is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. [1]

DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM

Daniel 9:26 goes on to say that after the "cutting off" of the Messiah, the city and sanctuary would be destroyed. This was fulfilled by Titus and the Roman Empire in AD 70. In the war against the Jews, the Roman army besieged and destroyed Jerusalem, burned the temple, and killed more than one million people.

Next month we'll look at verse 27 of Daniel 9 and discuss the final 70th Week of Daniel.

 

ENDNOTE
1. Hoehner, Harold W. "Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ: Daniel's Seventy Weeks and Hew Testament Chronology," BSac 132 (Jan-Mar 1975), p. 64.

 

This article was originally published through eParousia, Sola Scriptura's monthly end-times e-newsletter.

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