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Seventy Weeks Prophecy of Daniel and the Sabbatical Years

The seventy weeks prophecy of Daniel was given by the angel Gabriel in answer to a very fervent prayer. As the end of Babylon’s supremacy drew closer, Daniel had “understood by books” from the writings of Jeremiah, that 70 years would be accomplished in the desolations of Jerusalem, after which, there would be a restoration to the land and a rebuilding of the temple.

So Daniel fasted and prayed. Then Gabriel was sent to inform Daniel that the liberation of the the Jews from Babylon would set off a chain of events which would be intimately connected with the work of Messiah.

As a prelude, Daniel was instructed (9:23) to “consider the vision” of chapter 8. This chapter introduced the “Little Horn” power that would “make desolate” Judah and Jerusalem, because of Jewish “transgression” (v13) in the days of the Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles.

In Daniel’s day, the desolating power had primarily been Babylon – and although this desolation was about to end, Daniel was shown that a further period of desolation was ahead for the city of Jerusalem. But ultimately, when “the indignation” for Jerusalem and “the holy people” had been accomplished, the Desolator would have “that which is determined” poured upon him.

Most commentators that I have read, see the seventy weeks prophecy of Daniel as describing a period of 490 years (70 x 7). Because of this premise, they must begin the prophecy no earlier than BC 457 with the edict of Artaxerxes Longimanus, in this 20th year, to send Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, which were to that point, in ruins.

However, once we appreciate THE KEY to understanding this very interesting prophecy, we may look at the matter in an entirely different light.

The Key to The Seventy Weeks Prophecy of Daniel

So what is the key?  To answer this, please consider this quotation from Ben Zion Wacholder, Hebrew Union College Annual, Vol. XLVI (1975), pp. 202-203 where, discussing the subject of “ChronoMessianism”, he writes:

“The ancient Jewish exegesis of Daniel 9:24-27 differs from modern scholarship in two significant ways. With a few exceptions, all medieval and recent commentators translate the key word shavuá as heptomad, or a “week”, seven years. The ancient exegesis, it will be shown, understood shavuá to refer to the SEVEN YEAR CYCLE, the last of which was the “year of the Lord” (Lev. 25:2, the equivalent of the shemittah or release (Deut. 15:1-2) . . . The difference between the two interpretations is that, according to the former, any septennial number will do; according to the latter however, each seven year period had its FIXED PLACE IN A SERIES, precise in beginning and end . . . The ancients took it for granted that the numbers in 9:24-27 had to harmonize with their calendar of sabbatical cycles. No student would undertake to determine the day of the week without reference to the Jewish or Christian calendar; yet none of the 19th or 20th century commentators, I have concluded, tries to harmonize Daniel with the sabbatical cycles as they were uninterruptedly observed during inter-testamental and early rabbinic times.”

seventy weeks prophecy

Ben Zion Wacholder

The above understanding of “the ancients” is confirmed by the Hebrew terminology in Daniel 9:24. “Weeks seventy are divided” (See Roth. Gesenius). From the above qualifying comments we find that we have been set rather strict guidelines upon which to work, in attempting to understand the unique wording of the Seventy Weeks Prophecy of Daniel. It is unique indeed, for it speaks of “weeks of years”, thus emphasizing the importance of the sabbatical periods in God’s overall plan.

Even more unique, is its “division” of these “weeks” into three different portions – 7 weeks, 62 weeks and 1 week. We know of no other chronological prophecy that comes close to this type of expression. However, its form is not unknown to non-chronological prophecy. A thoughtful consideration of Daniel 8 will reveal that in each verse in which a new symbol is introduced, a great span of time and accompanying events, is often ignored at the expense of the theme of the chapter.

The time between the uprise of the four major “horn” divisions of Alexander’s empire after his death in BC 323 and the coming of the Roman “little horn” is about 200 years. Yet the events of the intervening years are ignored until chapter 11, where they are dealt with at length, but yet still conforming there to another theme.

The unique expressions of Gabriel in the seventy weeks prophecy of Daniel, indicate that his words are to be understood in a unique way. We will see that the foundation of interpretation is to divide its chronology into the 3 sections declared by the angel. Verse 24 properly lays out the objectives that were to be achieved once the 70 weeks had run their course. They would accomplish the work of atonement and justification and the fulfilment of the Mosaic system.

Why 70 Weeks?

But why was the number 70 chosen? Let’s consider the background. Daniel had “understood by books” that a period of 70 years would end the “desolations of Jerusalem” and then redemption would come. But this would not bring the true deliverance that would bring Israel to its “former dominion”. It would be but a shadow, a pattern, a “day of small things” (Zechariah 4:10) but one which nevertheless would point forward to the day when “The Lord shall inherit Judah, his portion in the holy land and shall choose Jerusalem again (Zechariah 2:12).

Daniel was made to understand that a greater period of seventy times seven (Hebrew of v24 is expressed this way) was necessary till Messiah’s work would bring redemption from sin and open the way for the promised Kingdom of God.

In the Bible, 70 is the number of the Gentiles and so the prophecy required that Messiah would confirm a covenant with “many”. Once the 70 weeks had expired, the Gentiles would be grafted into the stock of Israel’s Olive Tree under the New Covenant whilst Israel after the flesh would be “broken off” because of their unbelief (Daniel 9:27; Romans 11).

The Going Forth of the Command

So let’s examine the sense of Daniel 9:25. The Hebrew expression (mohtzah) translated “going forth”, does not merely refer to a single incident but rather a process. It is translated in 2Kings 2:21 and 2Chronicles 32:30 and Psalm 107:33, 35 and Isaiah 41:18; 58:11, as “springs”, literally the “going forth” of water – or in Psalm 19:6; Hosea 6:3 for the “going forth” of the sun. Consider also the way mohtzah is used in Deuteronomy 8:3, “man lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord”. Many of these words constitute the one-word of God which shall stand forever (Isaiah 40:8).

Gabriel says “from the going forth of the word” (“commandment” = Hebrew dabar). To which “word” does he refer? There were four specific decrees involved in the restoration of the holy people and city after the Babylonian captivity. These were:

  1. Cyrus’s decree in BC 539;
  2. Darius, in BC 519;
  3. Issued by the Persian ruler Artaxerxes Longimanus in his 7th year – BC 458
  4. 20th years of Artaxerxes, which was BC 445.

These four decrees were directly related to the words of Daniel 9 but for now, it is the first decree (of Cyrus) that is singled out in the Scriptures, and to which we are unavoidably driven. His decree was prophesied in Isaiah 44:28, “that says of Cyrus, he is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure, even saying to Jerusalem you shall be built”. Who can resist such conclusive evidence? Compare this with the words of Daniel 9:2 “that he would accomplish 70 years in the desolation is of Jerusalem” at the end of which, the Lord would have mercy on Jerusalem and she would be built again (Zechariah 1:12, 16). The words of Gabriel speak of a proceeding forth of decrees to “return and build Jerusalem”.

We particularly noted that Darius the Great, who was responsible for the second decree, did not issue a new decree. Rather, he upheld the decree of Cyrus, sending it forth in his own name and ensuring that its provisions were upheld.

Two Phases of Restoration, Divided by “Seven Weeks”

By the sixth year of Darius, the first phase of restoration had been completed and the Temple was dedicated (Ezra 6:15). Following this “issuing of the word” were “seven weeks” which is equal to 1 Jubilee cycle during which time there was little or no restoration work done.

Once this “seven weeks” (49/50 years) had run its course, phase two of the restoration began. Ezra the priest obtained an official decree from Artaxerxes in his seventh year (459/458 BC), to return to Jerusalem with about 2,000 teachers and things for the Temple. His work was in “the street” or “broad place” (Ezra 10:9) and his official capacity was to teach the Law of Moses, to beautify the house of the Lord and to set up magistrates and judges.

The work of Ezra was complemented by Nehemiah, who followed him. It is interesting to read Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1 and note the echoes from Daniel chapter 9. It seems Nehemiah understood the significance of his times and prayed in the spirit of Daniel for the fulfillment of Gabriel’s prophecy. His work was to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, which he did in the 20th of Artaxerxes (445 BC).

The work of Ezra and Nehemiah can be summed up by the saying that they were responsible for making the people and city “holy” (Daniel 9:24). This was done by teaching them the laws of Moses and building a wall of separation around them to keep them from the uncleanness of the Gentiles. Jerusalem was now fully restored. Firstly the temple and priesthood had been established there and now the commercial section of the city was completed and populated.

The Sixty Two Weeks

Following the second restoration, we must then identify another time span of “62 weeks”, which will bring us to “Messiah the Prince”. We must remember that the prophecy is in “weeks” or sabbatical cycles, not simply 62×7 = 434 years, otherwise we will undermine the unique terminology of Daniel chapter 9.

From BC 442 we proceed forward 434 years (62×7) inclusive, bringing us to BC 9. The next sabbatical cycle was going to be of great significance in human history. Commencing in BC 8 and ending BC 2 (inclusive), this seven year period saw the angel Gabriel who gave the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel, appearing again to announce the impending birth of John and Jesus.

The year of Herod’s death is very well documented by Josephus as BC 4 and the scripture indicates that Christ was born at least two years earlier (Matthew 2:16). We may ask at this point: how did the Magi (from Daniels Babylon?) know about the time of Messiah’s birth? How more, than if “the ancients” had understood the prophecy correctly in relation to the sabbatical cycles! Furthermore, we ask, why does Gabriel say that Messiah would be cut off “after 62 weeks” and not “69 weeks” (7+62)? Why? Because the two periods of “weeks” were not to be taken as one but as we have already shown were separated by 21 years of “troublesome times”.

The One Week

What then of the final “one week” of Daniel 9:27? This would be “after 62 weeks”. How long after we are not told, but the prophecy would unfold with the established sabbatical cycles. A series of events would then occur, leading to the destruction of Jerusalem “with a flood” in A.D. 70. The “one-week” specifically refers to the work of Messiah, who would “confirm covenant with many for one week” and also in “the midst” or “half” of the week, would “cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease”.

This does not mean that Christ’s ministry occupied the first or second 3 1/2 years of the “week”. In fact, his ministry to “the holy city” occupied only three years, beginning and ending with a cleansing of the temple at Passover. These three years were the middle three of the seven and effectively divided the “week” in two, leaving two years on either side as a remainder. Alternatively, should we divide the “week” directly in half, then Jesus was crucified in the second half, in the Hebrew month Abib, of AD 33. The “week” began in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1) with the work of John the baptizer. This was A.D. 28.

The seventy weeks prophecy of Daniel 9 is the sabbatical “bridge” between the chronology of the old and new Testaments.

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