The book of Daniel is a unique book in the Old Testament. It contains visions, dreams and supernatural proclamations. There are some notions in the bible that are easy enough to understand but then there are also some notions that are hard to decipher. The prophecies of Daniel fall in the category of notions that are hard to understand. While commenting on the seventy sevens in the book of Daniel, John Walvoord said they were vital in understanding Old and New Testament prophecies.In the midst of all the great prophecies, the prophecy regarding the Seventy Weeks still stands out as the most mysterious. The 24th verse of the ninth book of Daniel has been a cause of debate as people have often stipulated whether the prophecies were about events that would take place in the time of Daniel or whether it would happen at the end of time. Just like with most prophecies, the exegesis of Daniel 9: 24–27 is twofold. The first is tied to how difficult the text is while the second has to do with the varied interpretations the passage gets.
It is believed by historians and theologians that Daniel chapter 9 took place around 538 BC. This was the year Babylon fell into the hands of the Medes and Persians. Daniel at this time was an old man in his eighties but he recalled from the book of Jeremiah when it was said that Jerusalem’s desolation would last 70 years. In the earlier verses of this chapter we see Daniel offering up prayers to the Lord on behalf of his people and the later verses of the chapter shows God answering the prayers. The Lord gave Daniel Jerusalem’s future through the prophecy by Gabriel. The time that was set aside for the future of Jerusalem was definite. Just as Jeremiah promised that their captivity would last seventy years, there were 70 sevens in the future. This bloc of time was further divided into three segments of seven, sixty-two and one. Another leader will arise after the 69th sevens and he will destroy Jerusalem. He will also put an end to sacrifice and offering in the middle seven.
The Contextual Setting
Any which way it may be viewed the prophecy of the seventy weeks remains one of the most focal points in the book of Daniel. It sounds off on many themes that can be found within the book of Daniel while still maintaining its own individual context. In studying the prophecies of the book of Daniel, one comes across a peculiar pattern that could be found in chapters 2, 7, 8, 10 and 11. They show the way the whole book of Daniel is tied together through their employment of similar language and motifs. It therefore stands to reason that Daniel 9:24-27 is not a stand-alone passage. A good example is the verb bin and its derived form habh which means “to understand” or “to cause to understand” This word is first used in the book of Daniel in the first chapter and the ability of Daniel to understand the vision. Then we do not see it again till we get to the eighth chapter. However in the 9th chapter Daniel is searching the books to understand the prophecy of the 70 years of Jeremiah. He uses it again in trying to understand the prophecy of the 70 weeks and in so doing was able to draw a bridge that connected both prophecies.
The Literary Structure
In this passage we see a seesaw of two events – the sins of the people and the sanctuary of Jerusalem. It is obvious in the events that are in the blocs of the seventy weeks and how it affected the people and their holy city. Accent is used in this passage to show the rhythm of the Hebrew language. Daniel was able to use parallel synthesism to show both negative and positive connotations existing side by side. One of such examples would be where “to finish the transgression” is seen to be in parallelism with “to bring in everlasting righteousness.” While it has been stated that the prophecy as a whole is encapsulated in the 24th verse while the other three verses draws upon verse 24, the Hebrew language makes it sometimes unclear which word exactly is used when.
The angel told Daniel in the 25th verse to “know therefore and understand.” The words knowledge and understanding are two important Hebrew words as they stress the importance of the passage that follows while giving the explanation. Using parallelism we can denote that the theme “people” in this passage discerns the figure of a Messiah while “Jerusalem” could be the historical destiny of the city and the end of its sanctuary. Messiah and Jerusalem are used alternatively to give the section its interwoven composition.
These seventy weeks referred to weeks of years and it is believed to span BCE 445 to the Messianic Kingdom. Seven of those weeks refer to the career of Nehemiah and the next sixty-two weeks leads to the first coming of the Messiah. The final week however speaks about the reign of the antichrist. A close study of the passage in question would show that God would bring an end to sin by ending all forms of rebellion as He also wipes out iniquity. Israel’s actions and behaviours in the Old Testament and New Testament fully reveal God’s desire to end rebellion which is an indication of Israel’s primary sin. He puts a stop to sin when He finally judges and condemns sin. The final act of the Messiah would be demonstrated when He wipes away iniquity. The second set of accomplishments was in His ability to bring everlasting righteousness, seal vision and prophecy and to finally anoint the most holy. The deliverance of the Jews from apostasy represented the righteousness and having to seal up visions and prophecy proved that there was no longer any need for more revelation as God has blessed Israel. Finally the anointing of the most holy was the consecration of the holy temple as a centre for worship and the millennial reign. F.F Bruce stated that The Seventy Weeks was not something that Daniel just thought of on a whim but that rather he had been contemplating this since he read Jeremiah. And then he received the prophecy through a vision in which he understood that the seventy weeks was not literal. He corroborated this fact with the claim that some of the events of the seventy weeks could only happen during the millennial reign.
The other verses just explain what happens in the seventy sevens. The seven sevens explain the time in captivity and this lasted for forty nine years. After that period we go into the period of the sixty-two sevens which is the timeframe from their release from captivity to the time of Yeshua’s advent. In verse 26 we are we are told that the Messiah would be cut off and the accuser will then present himself as the prince. He will lead the world into wars and then destroy the temple. The anointed one is a Hebrew translation for the word masiah from which we get the word Messiah and Christians have traditionally called the anointed one Jesus Christ. The final seven sees the antichrist bring about the tribulation as was spoken of in the book of Revelation. Daniel says that this final seven will be divided into two halves of three and a half years each.
No matter what the theorems may be, the seventy sevens talk about freedom from exile, Christ’s advent and the time of the Tribulation. The Jewish people understand the importance of the number seven. Hence Daniel translated the prophecy to mean the deliverance of Israel, the Messiah’s coming and various events that would occur during the reign of the antichrist.
The dispensationalists look to the seventy sevens as 490 literal years as they claim the prophecy can be read literarily. However in order for their time frame to align itself with the coming of Christ they look to a decree other than the decree of Cyrus. Robert Anderson claims that in order for the literal years to be accurate the decree he chose was that made in 445 BC by Artaxerxes. According to his calculations 483 years after that would be April 6, 32 AD which would be Palm Sunday. Others however look to the decree to be the one made in 458 BC by Artaxerxes I and in that case 483 years later would be in 26 AD and the baptism of Jesus.
The same theorists claim that a break came about at the end of the 69th year due to the rejection of the Jews of their Messiah. The ‘church age’ now came into being and the unfulfilled 70th week was held in abeyance. The 70th week will only come into play when the church age comes to an end and God reverts to his program with the Jews. This line of thinking says the 70th week will only begin once the church has been raptured or taken away. This seven year period is therefore what the book of Revelation calls the tribulation period. The dispensationalists therefore make their conclusions that the antichrist will be a Roman who will make a covenant with the Jews but shut down temple worship three and a half years into the seven year period. They also claim the tribulation will last for seven years. Many people put their trust and belief in this scheme with many books and preaching hinged on this interpretation.
Problems with the Dispensational Interpretation
One of the major problems with this interpretation is the fact that the years are seen as literal. Also hard to believe is their reason behind the break of the first sixty-nine weeks and the 70th week as it is hard to believe that God did not prophesy about the church in the Old Testament and as a result had a different plan for the Jews and a separate plan for the church. There are also suppositions that can and have been challenged which were set forward by the dispensationalists. Many of these suppositions make it even harder to see their complete interpretation as being true. Some of them are
- The literal numbering of the seventy weeks to be 490 years
- That anyone other than Cyrus gave the edict in verse 25
- The ruler spoken of in verse 26 was the eventual coming of the antichrist and not Titus
- It is the antichrist and not Christ that was spoken of in verse 27
- The long gap between the 69th and 70th week and the explanation behind it
While I have explained the theory of the dispensationalists, there are many other interpretations that seem to have more potholes than answers. The Liberal scholars claim the portion of the seventy weeks was written to present history and not prophecy and they too give explanations as to why that interpretation is correct. Other conservatives who also take the 490 years to be literal claim that the 69th week was the baptism of Jesus and the 70th week would be the time after his baptism to his crucifixion. An interpretation that creates a historical inaccuracy should be rejected, at least if another reasonable one can be found.
I however do not believe the years to be literal but rather agree that the 70 weeks is broken down into 7, 62 and 1. From the decree of Cyrus to the first coming will be the first 7 while the New Testament era which includes the church will be the 62. The final 1 will be at the end of time when the antichrist torments the world in a wicked way.
These critical four verses have been subjected to different types of interpretation as there has rarely been unity with regards its interpretation.
The Messiah from this passage is Jesus. Although some Jews do not see this to be correct the passage does tell us that the Messianic blessings were brought on by Christ. If it can be agreed that it is Jesus who atones for wickedness and brings everlasting righteousness, then those phrases in verse 24 were clearly speaking about him.
The Seventy ‘weeks’ or ‘sevens’ is not literarily 490 years. There are people who believe that the prophecy of the seventy weeks refers to a bloc of 49 years, 434 years and 7 years. The Hebrew word that is used to describe this is בוּעַ ָשׁ and it appeared 20 times in the Old Testament and speaks about week of days. But in the book of Daniel it seems to take on the meaning of week of years. There are other passages in the bible that corroborate that the destroyer will be ferocious for three and a half years which is equal to the first half of the last seven mentioned in the book of Daniel regarding the actions of the antichrist. Daniel 7:25 and Revelation 11:23 are two examples of such scripture verses.
While apocalyptic literature leads us to believe that numbers should not be taken literarily in all bible passages as we can see from the book of Revelation which tells us that 1000 years is as a day in God’s sight and how Genesis tells us that God formed creation on a day to day basis. The same can be applied to Daniel and his 490 year span – it need not be taken literarily as that bloc of time will not fit into the events they spoke about if taken literarily.
The “issuing of the decree” is the decree of Cyrus. A much debated point is the question of the decree that begins the 70 weeks. This is the decree (ר ָב ָד) of Cyrus in 538 BC. Although these debates have raised other suggestions of viable decrees, the edict of Cyrus stands out as natural choice as this decree was seen to be important enough to be mentioned twice in the Old Testament. Isaiah also predicted that Cyrus would be the one to bring about the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s city (Isa 44:28). Hag 1:4 also tells us that people were living in a rebuilt Jerusalem after the decree of Cyrus.
It is Christ and not the antichrist who confirms the covenant in the 27th verse. The two antecedents arise from the 26th verse where we are told in 26a that the Anointed one or in 26b where it is inferred that the ruler who would come. While many have suggested it to be the antichrist who confirms the covenant the ruler is written in a secondary position while the Anointed One is written as the chief figure and therefore the subject of the first verb in the 26th verse. However the following reasons helps bring to conclusion the fact that it was indeed the Christ who confirmed the covenant.
- The passage says that the person who will confirm the covenant will do so for one week. We have been able to deduce two things from this prophecy – that a week is seven years and the antichrist will only be given a half of that period and not a full week.
- Many believe that Titus will be the ruler who will come to destroy Jerusalem. In 70AD he led the Roman army but it is a far cry to believe that the antichrist comes in just after Titus as the person described in verse 26 could very well be Titus then.
- It is an easy concept to see Christ as the one confirming the covenant as the bible is filled with instances of him doing just that. A few examples would be the new covenant and the Last Supper. We have however never heard of the antichrist making a covenant.
In conclusion I would suggest that people pay more attention to the blessings of the Gospel and not as much on the chronology. This prophecy is one of hope and comfort for God’s people and it should be seen as such. The Messiah’s work made it possible for us to have the blessings of God that saves. He sealed sin completely (kethibh) as he put an end to it (qere). He covered our sins with his sacrifice through his atoning for our wickedness. He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and anointed the most holy place. While some suggest that this may refer to the Pentecost and the Holy Spirit, others claim it may be his paving a way for us into the heavenly tabernacle – whichever it may be it is indeed a cause to rejoice. This prophecy should be taken for what it is – a joyful message.
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