The Bible Monthly vol 1
The period of "Seventy Weeks" mentioned in the book of Daniel is a most important one in the general prophetic history of God's earthly people. And in a the careful study of the scripture in its context and of other passages which will elucidate its meaning is commended to our readers, who should in this study prayerfully seek that wisdom and understanding which God gives through His word to those that wait upon Him.
It is suggested that it would be helpful if the following translation by J. N. Darby of the above passage should be compared with that of the Revisers, and the Authorised Version with both. It will be noted that the main differences in J. N. D.'s rendering are indicated by the italics: "Seventy weeks are apportioned out upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, to close the transgression and to make an end of sins, and to make expiation for iniquity, and to bring in the righteousness of the ages, and to seal the vision and prophet, and to anoint the holy of holies."
THE OCCASION OF THIS PROPHECY.
The announcement that a period of " seventy weeks " had been prescribed of God in connection with Daniel's people and Daniel's city was made to the prophet by Gabriel in answer to special confession of sins and earnest prayer by Daniel, as recorded in this chapter. We find (1) that the date of the communication of the prophecy to Daniel was in the first year of Darius, the king of the Medes (v. 1); and (2) that the immediate cause of Daniel's abasement and supplication was that the accomplishment of the desolations of Jerusalem as foretold by Jeremiah was at hand (v. 2). Gabriel was sent to the prophet in answer to this supplication (v. 23), and the communication which he brought had no assurance of a complete deliverance, but on the other hand contained a direct reference to the continuance of the desolations which had come upon the holy city and the sanctuary because of the transgressions of the people. Briefly, the further period assigned for the fulfilment of these judgments was " seventy weeks."
JEREMIAH'S PROPHECY OF SEVENTY YEARS.
Daniel, in his exile in Babylon, was a student of scripture. The prophecies of Jeremiah were specially sent from Judah to the Jewish people who were carried captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. xxix. 1). The word of Jehovah contained in these "books " or rolls was for their particular instruction in respect of the chastisement that had come upon them and the duration of their captivity under that chastisement.
There are two of the prophecies of Jeremiah which have special reference to the extent of Judah's captivity under the king of Babylon. From being the head of the nations, Israel became the tail. When Jehovah abandoned the kingdom of David because of its idolatry, the place of supremacy among the nations was entrusted by Him to Babylon in the first instance. Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold in the symbolic image of his own dreams.
The first of these prophecies declared that the people of Judah and the surrounding nations should serve the king of Babylon for seventy years, and that then Jehovah of hosts would punish the king of Babylon and make his land desolate : "This whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass when seventy years are accomplished that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nations, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and I will make it desolate for ever " (Jer. xxv. 11, 12).
This prophecy made it clear that at the expiration of seventy years the Babylonian empire would - be destroyed, and the servitude of the people of God to that empire would come to an end.
The second prophecy was contained in a letter from Jerusalem by Jeremiah to the elders of the captivity in Babylon, and this also related to their deliverance from bondage in due course. "Thus said the LORD, After seventy years be accomplished for Babylon, 1 will visit you, and perform My good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place " (Jer. xxix. 10, R.V.).
This prophecy, as the former, alluded to the tenure of the headship over other nations by Babylon continuing for a term of seventy years, and promised the subsequent restoration of the Jewish captives to their own land.
WHAT WAS DANIEL'S DIFFICULTY?
Daniel was familiar with these prophecies, and no doubt the knowledge of what God had foretold through Jeremiah concerning the downfall of the Babylonian empire after seventy years enabled him to interpret to Belshazzar the significance of the writing on the wall of his palace. At any rate, he did not ask for time to ascertain the interpretation, as in the case of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. ii. 16-19). The meaning of "Peres " was clear to him.
The same night Babylon was captured, Belshazzar, the king of the Chaldeans, was slain (Dan. v. 30, 31), and Darius, the Median, took the kingdom.
Now the displacement of this great empire by the power of the Medes was the appointed sign to the captives of Judah that the time of their deliverance was near at hand. They would in consequence be expecting that Jehovah would return to them and perform His promise. No wonder that Daniel habitually, three times a day, with his windows open towards Jerusalem, gave thanks and made supplication before his God (Dan. vi. 10, 11). This he did in spite of the king's decree to the contrary and the den of lions out of which he was delivered—a typical assurance that the whole people would also be delivered from their captivity to the Gentiles, if they would only be faithful to their God as Daniel was.
But Daniel received other light on the destiny of his people. Prior to the destruction of Babylon, in the first year of Belshazzar, its last king, the prophet had a dream which greatly troubled him (Dan. vii.), and even when the vision was interpreted to him he was still troubled, and like Mary with the words of the shepherds of Bethlehem, and of Jesus in the temple (Luke ii. 19, 51), kept the matter in his heart. Daniel, like every godly Jew, was hoping for the speedy fulfilment of the promises to Abraham and the establishment of Messiah's kingdom. By the vision on this occasion, however, he was instructed that four kingdoms or empires must pass away before the Son of man would set up His kingdom, which should never pass away nor be destroyed (vii. 13, 14, 27).
This dream corresponded in its general import with the dream which came to Nebuchadnezzar in the second year of his reign and which Daniel interpreted to the king (Dan. ii.). The great image of that dream pourtrayed a succession of four diverse Gentile empires which would ultimately be destroyed and succeeded by the kingdom set up by the God of heaven to stand for ever (ii. 44). Daniel therefore learned this relative order of events (1) at the beginning of the Babylonian supremacy through the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, and (2) towards the close of that supremacy, nearly seventy years later, through his own dream in the first year of Belshazzar.
But in the third year of the reign of Belshazzar, a further vision appeared to Daniel, betokening much trouble and oppression for his people from the future Gentile kingdoms. The prophet saw the double-horned ram of Medo-Persia, followed by the rough goat of Greece with bitter persecution of the holy nation and the desecration of the sanctuary. Daniel fainted at the prospect unveiled before him. He was astonished at this vision of further tribulation for his people, and none understood it (viii. 27).
Now the difficulty of the man of God after the fall of Babylon seems to have been to reconcile the prophecy of Jeremiah with the tenor of the various visions. Jeremiah had foretold the restoration of God's favour to the people of Judah on the expiration of the seventy years allotted to the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar. Now (Dan. ix.) Babylon had fallen, and the supremacy had been assumed by the second world-empire—that of the Medes and Persians. Still Jerusalem was not restored, and, moreover, the second of Daniel's visions (vii.), that of the ram and the he-goat,. showed that further desolations would come upon that city under the kingdom that would follow Persia, viz., Greece. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, and the effect of this prospect of prolonged oppression was to cast Daniel into the depths of despondency (viii. 27). But he was not altogether without resource, for he gave himself to the word of God and to prayer.
THE PRAYER OF DANIEL.
Feeling his inability to understand the times of which the Spirit of God had spoken in vision and prophecy, Daniel set his face unto the Lord God to seek instruction therein by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth and ashes. Earnestly he confessed his sin and that of his people, including in his confession not only the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but also the ten tribes of Israel scattered near and far (Dan. ix. 4-19).
The principal petitions of Daniel on this occasion were :—
While Daniel was speaking in prayer the answer was sent. The sanctuary and altar at Jerusalem had been laid waste, and no sacrifices could be offered to Jehovah, but it was about the time of the evening oblation (cp. Ps. cxli. 2) that Gabriel, whom he had seen in the vision at the beginning, touched the suppliant and delivered his message. The commission of the angel was to make Daniel skilful of understanding in things to come.
THE DECREE RELATING TO THE PEOPLE AND THE CITY.
Daniel had besought the Lord to make His face shine upon the desolated sanctuary on Mount Zion and the holy city, Jerusalem. The seventy years of Jeremiah's prophecy had now approximately run their course, and the first Gentile empire was overthrown. Was not Babylon to be succeeded by three other empires? Flow long would their supremacy last, and must the restoration of the nation wait until their rule was past?
These and other points of inquiry were met by the divine communication through Gabriel. This communication consisted of two parts, viz :—
The latter part (2) of this prophecy will be reserved for consideration in another paper (D. V.).
In the first part of this communication, Daniel was instructed briefly what was before his people. In former dreams and visions he had learned much concerning the rise, progress, and end of the four Gentile kingdoms, but now the subject-matter of Gabriel's message directly concerned Israel. The prescribed seventy years of chastisement of Judah and Jerusalem had passed, but there were still seventy weeks marked off in their future national history, in order—
From these words it would be clear to Daniel that much had still to happen to his people before the blessings of the millennial kingdom would be introduced, and before the promises made to the fathers of Israel would have their complete and glorious fulfilment.
Daniel had confessed to God the transgression and sins of himself and his people, but the cup of Israel's iniquity was not yet full. That climax would come about during the seventy weeks in the denial and crucifixion of their Messiah.
Expiation for iniquity could not be made until the soul of the Suffering Servant of Jehovah should be made an offering for sin (Isa. liii. 10).
In the millennial reign, Jehovah will perform His promises to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. He will cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David, who will execute judgment and righteousness in the land. Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely, and her name will be Jehovah our righteousness (Jer. xxxiii. 1416; xxiii. 5). Then will be brought in the righteousness of the ages.
Vision and prophecy will cease in that day, for all will know the Lord, from the least to the greatest. The revelation of God in His word will be complete, the sufferings of Christ having been finished and His consequent glories accomplished.
The anointing of the Holy of holies probably refers to the temple of the coming kingdom on which the glory of Jehovah will descend in a splendour exceeding everything known before. There the precious ointment will run down upon Aaron's beard and to the skirts of his garments. There the dew of Hermon will descend upon the mountains of Zion, when Jehovah commands the blessing of life for evermore (Ps. cxxxiii. 1-3. See also Ezekiel xxxvii. 26-28).
SEVENTY WEEKS OF YEARS.
The opening words of Gabriel to Daniel contained the statement of a definite period of time decreed or divided off, having special relation to the future destinies of the people of Israel. The times of the Gentiles began to run with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the exaltation of Nebuchadnezzar to the place of supreme rule among the kingdoms of the earth. And Jerusalem will be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke xxi. 24). Meanwhile, as Daniel is instructed, a portion of these times is divided off, during which special events will occur in the history of the Jews. " Seventy weeks," the angel said to the prophet, "are decreed upon thy people and upon thy holy city." It will be noted that in these communications Israel is spoken of as Daniel's people, and Jerusalem as Daniel's city, never as the people or city of Jehovah. The people were Lo-ammi, that is, not His people, as Hosea had declared (Hos. 9).
We may now inquire briefly what period of time is signified by the term, "seventy weeks." And this inquiry should be prefaced by the explanation that a literal translation of the Hebrew words would be "seventy sevens." When referring to time periods in the Old Testament, this word "sevens " is usually synonymous with weeks of seven days each. Indeed, this is its general usage, as in Exod. xxxiv. 22; Lev. xii. 5; Num. xxviii. 26; Deut. xvi. 9, 10, 16; 2 Chron. viii. 13; Jer. v. 24. The signification in these cases is clear from the context, as it is also in another place in Daniel (x. 2, 3).
Here, however, a term of seven days is obviously inapplicable. Seventy weeks of seven days each would be about a year and a half in extent only. And we know that the period from the edict to restore Jerusalem to the coming of the Messiah (v. 25) was far more than this. By the same test, seventy times seven weeks as well as seventy times seven months are found insufficient to reach unto the coming of Messiah the Prince.
It is different, however, when the " sevens " are regarded as sevens of years. So reckoned, the interval is covered. Seventy times seven years is 490 years, and we learn from the context that until the coming of Messiah the Prince is sixty-nine sevens, or 483 years. This period is in accordance with the facts of history, as we hope to point out in more detail in the second part of this paper (D. V.).
The following quotation may, however, be added to supplement the remarks already mad; "Daniel had made inquiry about seventy years of the captivity in Babylon; the answer speaks also of seventy periods, which in our English translation are called weeks '; the word, however, does not necessarily mean seven days, but a period of seven parts: of course, it is much more often used in speaking of a week than of anything else, because nothing is so often mentioned as a week which is similarly divided. The Hebrews, however, used a septenary scale as to time, just as habitually as we should reckon by tens; the sabbatical y ears, the jubilees, all tended to give this thought a permanent place in their minds. The denomination here is to be taken from the subject of Daniel's prayer; he prayed about years; he is answered about periods of seven years, i.e., the recurrence of sabbatical years.
"His prayer had related to the deliverance of Israel from their then captivity; the reply goes much farther; for it sets out, not from the release of the people, but from the edict to restore and to build Jerusalem, and it reaches through events of varied kinds, until the absolute and established blessing on the ground of righteousness and forgiveness is brought in."
THE SEVENTY YEARS OF CHASTISEMENT.
It might prove helpful in this connection to point out the references to the dates covered by the seventy years of chastisement predicted by Jeremiah. This period of penal servitude was distinct from and preceded the "seventy weeks " apportioned to Daniel's people and city. The latter period forms a special section of the "times of the Gentiles," at the conclusion of which the Gentile kingdoms will be overthrown and the full blessings of the new covenant introduced for Israel.
A concise history of the period of this particular chastisement under the Babylonian power is given at the close of the Chronicles. In the brief summary there introduced it is shown that the punishment began with the burning of the house of God and the destruction of the wall of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, who carried captive to Babylon those that escaped his sword. There the captives remained until Babylon itself was overthrown, and the kingdom of Persia set up. Meanwhile, the land lay desolate, "keeping sabbath " until the seventy years of Jeremiah had passed.
The passage in Chronicles is as follows in J. N. D.'s translation : "All the chiefs of the priests also, and the people, increased their transgressions, according to all the abominations of the nations; and the y defiled the house of Jehovah which He had hallowed in Jerusalem. And Jehovah the God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending; because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked at the messengers of God, and despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the fury of Jehovah rose against His people, and there was no remedy.
"And He brought up [against] them the king of the Chaldees, and slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and spared not young man nor maiden, old man nor him of hoary head : He gave them all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of Jehovah, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, he brought all to Babylon. And they burned the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all the palaces thereof with fire, and all the precious vessels thereof were given up to destruction. And them that had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they became servants to him and his sons, until the reign of the kingdom of Persia; to fulfil the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath, to fulfil seventy years.
"And in the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, that the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia, and he made a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia : All kingdoms of the earth has Jehovah the God of the heavens given to me, and He has charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever there is among you of all His people, Jehovah his God be with him, and let him go up " (2 Chron. xxxvi. 14 - 23).