Daniel's Prophecy of The Seventy Weeks - Part 2
Andrew Wilson, Brisbane, Australia | Dunstable, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
DANIEL’S PROPHECY OF THE SEVENTY WEEKS
By ANDREW WILSON Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia
(UNLESS OTHERWISE STATED, ALL QUOTATIONS OF SCRIPTURE ARE FROM THE NEW KING JAMES VERSION)
Daniel chapter 9 verses 24-27
Introduction (Part Two): Restoration
The main theme of Daniel chapter 9 verses 24-27 is restoration. This idea of restoration is seen in Daniels’ prophecy in five ways:
- By the place of the prophecy in the book of Daniel.
- Within the context of Daniel chapter 9 itself.
- Within the prophecy itself, particularly in verse 24.
- By the use of the time-marker: the seventy weeks.
- Finally, by the place of the prophecy in its Old Testament context.
The Prophecy within the Literary Structure of the Book of Daniel
Various suggestions have been offered to explain the arrangement of the book of Daniel. Daniel is commonly thought of as six chapters of ‘histories’ followed by six chapters of ‘prophecy’. Additionally, in the first half of the book, Daniel is referred to in the third person (‘this Daniel’, 5. 12, etc.), whilst in the second half Daniel writes in the first person (‘I Daniel’, 7. 15, etc). One problem with this view is that, while we have twelve chapters in our English Bibles, in reality the book is composed of ten sections, for chapters 10-12 comprise one final vision. Another problem is that the first half of the book contains the prophecy concerning the great image in chapter 2. Thus, it is not true to say that the book balances history and prophecy in two equal sections. An alternative division of Daniel is based on the different languages that certain chapters were written in: Chapters 1, 2 verses 1-4 and chapters 8 to 12 are written in Hebrew, while chapters 2 verse 4 to chapter 7 are written in Aramaic (the lingua franca of the time). However, again, this division does not appear to offer any significant insights into the book. In fact, both of these two schemes highlight the difficulty in trying to establish any unified or coherent purpose behind the arrangement of the book.
A third and more suggestive structure involves grouping the ten ‘sections’ of the book into two groups, chapters 1-5 and chapters 6-12, based on certain points of correspondence as set out in the table below.1
Thus, in perhaps the strongest point of comparison, there is a clear correspondence between chapters 2 and 7 in the book: both focus on the four great world-empires of Gentile history. Other points of comparison include Daniel’s refusal to abandon godly habits in chapters 1 and 6, the self-exaltation or deification of Nebuchadnezzar, and the ‘little horn that becomes exceedingly great’ in chapters 3 and 8, with the attendant persecution of the saints (other passages in the Bible would appear to show that the ‘transgression of desolation’ of chapter 8 verse 13 involves an idol just as in Chapter 3), and the two concluding parts of each section with their picture of the eventual judgement of haughty rulers like Belshazzar and Antiochus Epiphanes IV.
What is this division of the book of Daniel intended to teach? Simply that history repeats itself: whether we look at Daniel’s resolute refusal to abandon godly habits under Nebuchadnezzar’s new Babylonian regime, chapter 1, or under the incoming Persian administration, chapter 6, or whether we look at the rise of powerful leaders who seek to be worshipped, chapters 3 and 8, or the eventual downfall of such idolatrous and blasphemous men, chapters 5 and 10-12, the patterns of history repeat themselves. This means, too, that history itself (because of its repetitive nature), predicts and points forward to the rise of a yet-future figure who will repeat, on a scale still greater, the same policies as Nebuchadnezzar and Antiochus Epiphanes IV: the Antichrist himself.
Our interest here, however, centres on the correspondence between chapters 4 and 9. In chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar is disciplined by God for a period of seven ‘times’ because of his sins. He is reduced to the state of a wild beast and driven from men, after which he is restored to his royal position. Similarly, in chapter 9, Daniel comes to understand that Israel’s seventy-year exile for its sins is about to expire, after which Israel was to return to its homeland. In response to Daniel’s prayer, God also promises that a period of seventy ‘sevens’ would elapse before God brings about Israel’s total restoration.
Thus we see, on two different scales, the same lesson being learnt, personally by Nebuchadnezzar, and by Israel nationally. Both Nebuchadnezzar, as an individual, and Israel, the nation, were banished for their sins, but both would ultimately be restored to their rightful position once their sins were acknowledged and dealt with. In view of the ultimate judgement that must fall upon Babylon and upon the kingdoms of Antiochus (and, by extension, Antichrist himself), as depicted at the end of the two sections of Daniel’s prophecy, we are asked to note in the penultimate sections, in chapters 4 and 9, that not all judgement is final. Rather, some judgement is intended to be restorative; there is forgiveness with God for those who are humbled under His mighty hand.
Restoration, therefore, is a significant theme in the book of Daniel, particularly in chapters 4 and 9.
The Prophecy in its Immediate Context:
Daniel Chapter 9
Turning to Daniel chapter 9 itself, we notice that the prophecy is given in response to Daniel’s prayer for the restoration of Israel from their Babylonian exile. As verse 2 tells us, this seventy-year exile was itself prophesied by Jeremiah; it was a punishment from God on the Jews for disobeying God’s laws and worshipping other gods. In verses 1-2, we read that Daniel, at the very end of this period of seventy years exile, comes to understand that the exile has nearly expired and soon God will allow His people to return home to their own land. In Jeremiah chapter 29 verses 12-13, after the promise of a return after seventy years from Babylon in verses 10 and 11,2 Jeremiah wrote that the fulfilment of the promise to return would be preceded by prayer, ‘Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me and I will listen to you’. As a result, Daniel starts praying, confessing his people’s sin and pleading for God’s forgiveness. He calls upon God to restore Israel’s fortunes by allowing God’s holy city and its temple to be rebuilt.
It is important to notice the emphasis in Daniel’s prayer upon two things: firstly, the city of Jerusalem and secondly, the people of Israel. Notice, firstly, the emphasis upon the city of Jerusalem:
- ‘O Lord, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain’, Dan. 9. 16;
- ‘for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate’, v. 17;
- ‘open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name’, v. 18;
- ‘Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name’, v. 19.
Then, secondly, notice that the restoration concerns Daniel’s people, the nation of Israel:
- ‘O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, as it is this day – to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those near and those far off in all the countries to which you have driven them, because of the unfaithfulness which they have committed against You’, v. 7;
- ‘Yes, all Israel has transgressed Your law, and has departed so as not to obey Your voice’, v. 11;
- ‘And now, O Lord our God, who brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and made Yourself a name, as it is this day – we have sinned, we have done wickedly’, v. 15.
- ‘Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name’, v. 19.
Thus, the words ‘city’, ‘sanctuary’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Israel’, and ‘people’ are mentioned fifteen times in Daniel’s prayer in verses 4 to 19.
The significance of this fact is seen when we notice the same words used in the prophecy itself: ‘your people’, v. 24, ‘your holy city’, v. 24, ‘Jerusalem’, v. 25, ‘the city’, v. 26, and ‘the sanctuary’, v. 26. It would hardly seem necessary to labour the point that these words used in the prophecy refer to the same subjects in Daniel’s prayer – except, sadly, for the fact that some commentators seem determined to avoid this inference, arguing that the prophecy does not really have to do with Israel nationally and territorially, but rather to the church spiritually. In particular, the amillennial approach which argues that Daniel’s prophecy is completely fulfilled in Christ’s death and the spiritual blessing of justification which flows from it seems to be a wholly inadequate interpretation of the passage. This is not to say that there is no spiritual element to Daniel’s prophecy, as we shall see. However, the context of Daniel 9 with its focus upon Israel’s national life means that limiting the prophecy to the spiritual is to give us but a partial view of the prophecy’s glory.
On the other hand, the prophecy deals not simply with the nation of Israel and their political restoration, but also with the deeper issue of their spiritual restoration through the forgiveness of their sins. Thus, Daniel chapter 9, and in particular Daniel’s prayer, makes reference to the words ‘sin’ (and its cognates) eight times, as well as synonyms, like ‘done wickedly’, ‘committed iniquity’, ‘rebelled’, ‘unfaithfulness’, ‘transgressed’, ten times, and to the word ‘confession’ twice. The idea of spiritual restoration is seen in the further fact that the angel Gabriel comes, in reply to Daniel’s prayer, ‘about the time of the evening sacrifice’, v. 21. It would appear significant that the answer to Daniel’s prayer should come at the time of sacrifice, signifying God’s means for making atonement and providing forgiveness.
Thus, the critical/liberal view which sees in the prophecy an historical account of the Jews’ political and military victory over Antiochus Epiphanes IV in the second century must also be considered fundamentally flawed (on this, as on other grounds) in view of the context of Daniel chapter 9 and its search for spiritual restoration. The events surrounding Antiochus’ reign of terror and the eventual victory of the Jews did not deal in any fundamental or final way with the problems of sin and righteousness.
The Prophecy Itself
Restoration is the key idea of the prophecy. The word itself is only used once in the prophecy, in verse 25, with the ‘command to restore and build Jerusalem’. This continues the emphasis upon national Israel that has been seen throughout the chapter, an emphasis that is repeated at the beginning of the prophecy in verse 24, ‘Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city’.
However, the thought of restoration dominates the prophecy, particularly the programme of six objectives outlined in the rest of verse 24: ‘to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy’.
These six objectives deal with primarily spiritual concerns, in particular the problem of sin. God promises that sin’s baneful effects will be undone and that righteousness will be restored. This spiritual emphasis, set alongside the national and territorial aspect to the prophecy, means that neither the amillennialist (purely spiritual) interpretation of the prophecy, nor the critical/liberal (politically localized) interpretation of the prophecy provide us with a satisfying sense of having adequately comprehended the entirety of what the prophecy is pointing to.
To follow Alva McClain’s argument, the fact that the prophecy has to do with a spiritual and national restoration for the Jewish people means that neither the cross nor the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 provide any real or complete fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy, ‘Even if we should adopt the “spiritualizing” scheme of interpretation, still the bed is too short and the cover too narrow. Where in the history of Acts, for example, can you find the finishing of Jewish transgression or an ending of Jewish sins? On the contrary, the transgression of the chosen nation increases by leaps and bounds’.3 We may extend McClain’s argument to encompass also the critical/liberal view: how do the events of Antiochus’ persecution provide an answer to the problem of Jewish transgression or point us to a solution for Jewish sinfulness?
The only interpretative framework that accounts for the dual national/spiritual focus of the prophecy is the premillennial approach that looks to the fulfilment of the prophecy in a Jewish national and spiritual restoration that must still await fulfilment in the future.
The Seventy ‘Weeks’
The fact that the prophecy is set to a timetable of ‘seventy sevens’ also indicates that Jewish restoration is its key thought.
In the Bible, the number seven is associated with completion, fullness and rest. This is seen not only in the weekly Sabbath, but also in the seventh Sabbatical year when the land was given its rest. Lev. 25. 1-7, and when slaves were set free, Exod. 21.
The Sabbath was of peculiarly Jewish significance. Ezekiel chapter 20 verses 12 and 20 tell us that the Sabbath was a sign between God and the Jewish nation, a sign of the special relationship between Israel and God. Sabbaths were not something God ever rebuked Gentiles or nations for failing to keep (and there are plenty of chapters in the Old Testament prophets devoted to God’s judgement upon the nations). The Sabbaths were peculiarly Jewish, reminding the chosen people that Israel’s God was the Creator and, therefore, owner of all things (including their land and possessions), reminding them of their redemption and freedom from Egyptian slavery, and pointing to a future promise of rest.
The Jubilee every forty-nine years, Lev. 25. 8, extended this principle; it was the year of restoration. Each person was able to return to his ancestral possession and slaves were free to return to their families. God said, ‘The land is mine’, Lev. 25. 23, and ‘they are my servants’, Lev. 25. 42.
Restoration in the year of Jubilee was based upon God’s sovereign ownership of His people and His land.
The prophecy of the seventy sevens presents an extension of this concept of restoration on an even grander scale. Israel as a nation had lost its ancestral inheritance and its people were slaves among the Gentile nations. The seventy ‘sevens’ is God’s programme for the restoration of Israel nationally (and internationally), as signified by the multiplication of the forty-nine years of Jubilee by ten.
The Prophecy in its Old Testament Context
Of course, restoration is a central hope of the Old Testament prophets. Thus, Isaiah foresees the nations streaming up to Jerusalem to learn God’s ways, 2. 1-3. Some interpreters take this to picture the blessing of the nations through the present day church. However, verse 4’s promise of international peace, ‘they shall beat their swords into plowshares . . . nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall they learn war anymore’, sees no fulfilment in the church or the preaching of the gospel. Hermeneutical consistency (and indeed the text itself, if words have meanings) suggests a future restoration of Israel exalted to be the head of the nations, which live in harmony under God’s laws. Micah repeats Isaiah’s words and adds that ‘the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever. And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem’, Mic. 4. 7-8. Similarly, Ezekiel’s message of Israel’s departure from their land, chapters 1-24, and the glory of God from the temple, chapter 10, is mirrored by Israel’s restoration to the land, chapters 34-39, and God’s return to the temple, chapters 40-48, particularly chapter 43.
The same is true of prophets like Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Zephaniah and Zechariah. Their hope involves a Jewish future restoration in distinctively ethnic, national (not individual) and territorial (as well as spiritual) terms. Such a hope seems millennial, for it is hard to imagine nation-states and national distinctions persisting in the eternal state. National distinctions like this (and between Israel and the church) are the basis (and definition) of so-called ‘dispensational premillennialism’.
Thus, Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks is in perfect keeping with this central hope of the Old Testament prophets: ethnic Israel’s national, spiritual and territorial restoration.
- Following the scheme of D. W. Gooding, The Literary Structure of the Book of Daniel and Its Implications, Tyndale Bulletin 32 (1981), pgs. 43-79
- The encouragement of verse 11 with its familiar words about ‘thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope’ is often applied by Christians to present-day situations
- Alva J. McClain, Daniel’s Prophecy of the 70 Weeks, BMH Books, 2007, pg. 36
AUTHOR PROFILE: Commended by the assembly at Bexley, Sydney, Australia, in 1994, and together with his wife, Gillian, has sought to serve the Lord in New South Wales, Australia, and then London, UK. Involved in evangelistic, children's and Bible teaching ministries. He now resides in Brisbane, Australia.