31 December 2018

The First Sixty-nine Weeks (Daniel 9:24-25)

Ancient Babylon
The Hebrew clause reads, “sevens, seventy are divided...” Elsewhere in the Old Testament “sevens” (shabua) refer to seven day weeks or to time periods divided into seven segments (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:9; Daniel 10:2). In this clause, the stress is on the “sevens” (plural) that precede the numeral “seventy” (that is, “sevens, seventy are determined”). Idiomatically, “weeks, seventy in number are divided.”
     The seventy sevens cannot refer to normal seven day weeks or 490 days. The figure is related to Jeremiah’s prophecy of seventy years (Daniel 9:1-2), and 490 days is insufficient to complete the items detailed in verses 25-27, such as the rebuilding of the city.
     The Six Redemptive Goals: (Daniel 9:24) – “Weeks, seventy have been divided upon your people and upon your holy city, to put an end to the transgression, to seal up sin, to cover iniquity and to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the holy of holies.”
     The “half week” in verse 27 corresponds to the “time, times and part of a time” in Daniel 7:23, and to the “thousand and two hundred and ninety days” in Daniel 12:11. If the “half week” equates to three and one-half years, then the “seventy sevens” cannot be 490 days long. During the “half week” sacrifices are suspended (9:26-27), the same event is seen in Daniel 8:11-14 when a Greek ruler suspended the “daily burnt offering” for two thousand, three hundred “evenings-mornings,” 1,250 days or approximately three and one-half years.
     The general consensus among commentators is that the seventy sevens period represents seventy “weeks” of years or 490 years. This is based on Leviticus 26:33-35 and 2 Chronicles 36:19-21, and the latter passage interprets the Babylonian Captivity in light of Leviticus 26:33-35.

  • (Leviticus 26:33-35) – “And you will I scatter among the nations, and I will draw out the sword after you: and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. Then shall the land enjoy its Sabbaths, as long as it lies desolate, and ye are in your enemies’ land; even then will the land rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, even the rest which it had not in your Sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.”
  • (2 Chronicles 36:19-21) – “And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: to fulfill the word of Yahweh by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths: for as long as it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill threescore and ten years.”
     Identification of the “seventy sevens” as 490 years is the only real point of consensus on the passage among commentators; opinions diverge from this point. Does the figure represent 490 literal or symbolical years? In what year did the period begin? Are its three segments in verse 25 consecutive or concurrent?
     Verse 24 begins, “seventy sevens have been divided.” This translates a Hebrew verb found only here in the Old Testament (hathak) with a basic sense to “cut, divide, partition” Some English versions render it “determined,” but that is not its real sense. It is not the same Hebrew word used for “determine” in verses 26-27 (harats [“desolations are determined…a full end and that a determined one”]).
     Both “seventy” and “sevens” are plural in Hebrew, yet “divided” is singular when another plural is expected (the Hebrew number of a verb agrees with its subject). The singular form indicates that the “seventy sevens” comprise a single whole.
     Daniel had contemplated Jeremiah’s prophecy that Jerusalem would lie “desolate” seventy years, but at the end of that period, Jerusalem remains desolate (verse 17). This reality is explained to Daniel: a period of seventy sevens is necessary to complete the promised restoration. With the decree of Cyrus, the exiles began to return and to rebuild, but it was a mere trickle of what was to come.
     Daniel 9:25 predicts the start of the seventy sevens will coincide with the word “to restore and to build Jerusalem.” In view is the restoration of the city, not its further punishment. This distinguishes the period of “seventy sevens” from Jeremiah’s seventy years. Israel was to remain “desolate” for the seventy years, but Jerusalem will be built during the “seventy sevens.” The two periods are related and their beginnings may coincide, but their goals and contents differ. One is to punish Jerusalem, the other to restore it.
     Daniel is not reinterpreting or expanding Jeremiah’s seventy-year prophecy, but presenting a related but new prophecy. Jeremiah 29:10 promised the return of Jewish captives to the land of Judah but predicted none of the restorative goals now detailed in Daniel 9:24. The restoration of Jerusalem is a theme of Daniel 9:24-27, not its destruction and punishment.
     Gabriel gives the objectives for which the “seventy sevens” are “divided,” six stated goals to be reached by the end of the period. The angel uses six Hebrew infinitive clauses to present a pair of predictions, each consisting of three parts:

To put an end to the transgression,
     To seal up sin and,
     To cover iniquity.

To bring in everlasting righteousness,
     To seal up vision and prophecy and,
     To anoint the holy of holies.

     The three parts of the first prediction deal with sin, the three parts of the second prediction concern bringing in righteousness and restoration. The first, second and third parts of the first prediction correspond to the fourth, fifth and six parts of the second prediction (end transgression--bring in righteousness. Seal up sin--seal up vision and prophecy. Cover iniquity--anoint the holy of holies).
     All six items are redemptive, restorative or both. The goal is not destruction but restoration. An interpretation that ends the seventy “weeks” with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple misses the point.
     The first and last goals of the six are the most important ones; “to finish the transgression” and “to anoint the holy of holies.” This is indicated by their position as the first and last goals of the series.
"The transgression” in the Hebrew text is singular with the definite article or “the.” It refers not to transgressions in general, but to a specific known one. The Hebrew noun or pesha occurs only here in the book of Daniel in the vision of the goat with its “little horn”:

(Daniel 8:12-13) – “And the host was given over to it together with the continual burnt-offering by transgression…Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said unto that certain one who spoke, How long shall be the vision concerning the continual burnt-offering, and the transgression that desolates, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?”
     This transgression “cast truth to the ground,” profaned the sanctuary and constituted “the transgression that desolates.” This occurred on the orders of the “little horn” (7:8; 8:9), the “king of fierce countenance” that would “destroy the mighty and the holy people” (8:23-25).
     “To finish” the transgression represents the Hebrew verb kala, more correctly to “restrict; to restrain; to shut up.” In other words, “to shut up the transgression” and restrain it from causing further destruction.
     “To seal up sin” is to remove it from view; to conceal it. This idea dovetails with that of “restraining” the transgression. In Daniel 6:17-18 the king “sealed” shut the lions’ den into which Daniel was cast. Sin is removed from the sight of God and set aside.
     “To cover iniquity” refers to the collective iniquity of Israel that necessitated the Babylonian Captivity. “Cover” translates the Hebrew kâphar, “to cover over, to overlay” as was done with pitch on Noah’s Ark (Genesis 6:14). The idea is to “cover over” sin and thereby atone for it. The same Hebrew word is used in Leviticus to atone or to expiate the guilt of sin through animal sacrifices. Daniel prayed that the Captivity came upon Israel so “we might turn from our iniquities.” He prayed that God would turn His anger away from Jerusalem, which endured punishment “because for our sins and for the iniquities of our fathers.”
     “To bring in everlasting righteousness” is redemptive. In Daniel 8:14 the profanation of the sanctuary was to continue until it was “justified,” which translates the Hebrew verb tsadaq related to the noun translated “righteousness” in the clause, “to bring in everlasting righteousness.” In view is not the justification of individual sinners but the return of the Temple to a state of holiness.
     “To seal up vision and prophecy” uses the same verb as in “to seal up sin” (hatham). The same word occurs again when Daniel is told to “shut up the words and seal the book, even to the latter days” (12:4). The idea seems to be to shut it up or seal it until an appropriate time.
     “To anoint the holy of holies.” This translates the Hebrew phrase, qodesh qadashim, a combination of the singular and plural forms of qodesh or “holy.” This is the same noun rendered “holy place” in Daniel 8:13.
     Elsewhere “holy of holies” is applied to the altar of burnt offering (Exodus 29:37), the altar of incense (Exodus 30:10), the Tabernacle (Numbers 4:4), the show-bread (Leviticus 24:9), the flesh of sin offerings (Leviticus 6:17-25; 7:1-6), things devoted to Yahweh (Leviticus 27:28), and the inner sanctum of the Temple (Exodus 26:33-34; 1 Kings 7:50; 8:6; 1 Chronicles 6:49; 2 Chronicles 5:7; Ezekiel 45:3), always to objects rather than persons, and often to ones connected to the Temple.

     In Daniel 8:13 it refers either to the sanctuary’s inner sanctum or the altar of burnt offering that was defiled by the “little horn.” In this context “to anoint the holy of holies” means to consecrate or re-consecrate either the altar or the inner sanctuary.
     Before linking the six items to Jesus and his redemptive act for all humanity, we must recall that the seventy sevens were “divided upon your people and upon your holy city,” Jerusalem. Daniel presents a more focused and particular agenda.

(Daniel 9:25) – “Know, then, and understand; from the going forth of the word to return and to build Jerusalem until an anointed one, the Prince, will be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks the broad place and the ditch will again be built, even in troublesome times.”
    The division of the seventy weeks into three segments begins in verse 25 with the first two, one consisting of seven and the second of sixty-two “weeks,” 49 and 434 years respectively. The third segment is not specified until verse 26.
     The first segment begins from the time of “the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem” and ends with “an anointed one, a prince.” The second segment presumably begins with the termination of the first segment. Its contents concern the rebuilding of the “broad place and the ditch” during “troublesome times.”
     The starting point of the first segment is “the commandment to restore Jerusalem.” Identifying this “commandment” is necessary to determine the start date of Daniel’s seventy weeks. A common solution is to take it as a reference to a decree by a Persian king. The four competing alternatives are:

  1. The decree of Cyrus in 538 BC for the Jews to return to Judea (Ezra 1:1-4).
  2. The royal confirmation in 519 BC of Cyrus’ previous decree by king Darius Hystaspes (Ezra 6:1-12).
  3. Ezra’s commission in 458 BC by king Arataxerxes I to implement civil and religious reforms in Jerusalem (Ezra 7:11-26).
  4. A decree from Arataxerxes I in 444-445 BC to authorize Nehemiah to complete the restoration of the Temple (Nehemiah 1:1-4, 2:1-9).
     Each proposal assumes this “decree” was issued by human authority. However, the Hebrew noun rendered “commandment” in the King James Version is dabar (or “decree” in some versions), which has a basic meaning of “word” or “speech.” The text reads the “going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem.”
     The book of Daniel never refers to such a decree from a pagan ruler. In its ideology God reigns over the nations of the earth and gives them to whomever He pleases (2:21). To link the date of a key prophecy to a pagan ruler’s edict rather than to a word of Yahweh would be a major departure from Daniel’s core theology.
     Gabriel described how “at the beginning of your supplications came forth a word” (verse 23), a reference to a Divine word that authorized Gabriel to respond to Daniel’s prayer.
     The identification of the “word” is provided in the context. In verses 1-2, Daniel “understood by books (sepher) the number of the years whereof the word (dabar) of Yahweh came to Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.” “Books” translates the Hebrew noun sepher and “word” represents dabar. That “word” can be dated to either 605 BC or 598 BC. based on dates provided in the book of Jeremiah. Note the links between Daniel chapter nine and the two prophecies about the seventy years of Babylonian captivity, as follows:


  • (Daniel 9:1-2) – “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus…I, Daniel, understood by the booksthe number of the years whereof the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah the prophet, for the accomplishing (male) of the desolations (horbah) of Jerusalem, seventy years.” {538 BC}
    (Daniel 1:1-2) – “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem to besiege it.” {605 BC}
  • (Jeremiah 29:1, 10-14) – “Now these are the words (dabar) of the book (sepher) that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem…For thus saith Yahweh, that after seventy years be accomplished (male) at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.” {598-597}
  • (Jeremiah 25:1, 9-14) – “The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, the same was the first year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon…behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith Yahweh, and I will send to Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and I will utterly destroy them…And this whole land shall be a desolation (horbah), 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 (male) I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith Yahweh, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it desolate forever.” {606-605}
     If this train of thought is correct, Daniel coordinates the beginning of the first segment of the seventy weeks with one of Jeremiah’s prophecies about the seventy-year captivity, either to the one given in fourth year of Jehoiakim (606-605 bc) or to the reign of Jehoiachin in 598-597 BC (Jeremiah 25:1; Jeremiah 29:1-2;Daniel 1:1).
     “To return and to build Jerusalem.” The first Hebrew verb or shub has the basic sense “return, to bring back.” It elsewhere is applied to the “return” of the exiles to the Jewish homeland (Jeremiah 12:15; 29:10-14; 30:3). “To build” translates the verb banah. The clause is parallel to one in verse 24, “seventy sevens are divided concerning your people and your holy city.” “Return” refers to the return of Daniel’s “people” and “build” to the restoration of Jerusalem.
     The verb shub or “return” is used in Jeremiah 29:10 as part of God’s promise to return Israel to the land (“For thus saith Yahweh, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return (shub) to this place. And I will be found of you, says Yahweh, and I will turn again (shub) your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, says Yahweh; and I will return (shub) you to the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive”).
     The Hebrew text of Daniel 9:25 reads “until an anointed one, a leader,” not “unto the Messiah, the Prince,” as in some English versions. Neither noun has a definite article, that is, “the.” In Daniel’s time ‘Messiah’ was not used in an absolute sense for the future king of Israel, and such usage is not typical in the Old Testament. Both kings and high priests were “anointed” (Leviticus 4:3-5; 6:22 1 Samuel 12:3; Psalm 18:50).
     The term rendered “prince” (nagid) refers to one who leads, a “ruler” or “leader.” Derivative meanings include “prince, captain, commander.” Though it may refer to priests (Nehemiah 11:11; Jeremiah 20:1), most often nagid is applied to political, military and civil leaders (1 Samuel 9:16; 10:1; 1 Chronicles 9:20; 13:1; 27:16; 2 Chronicles 11:11).

     The three candidates often proposed as this “anointed ruler” are Cyrus the Great, Zerubbabel, and Joshua or Jeshua, the high priest who worked alongside Zerubbabel. Cyrus is Yahweh’s “anointed” in Isaiah (Isaiah 45:1; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23). He was the Persian king appointed by God to overthrow Babylon, free the Jewish captives, and facilitate the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, which makes him a good candidate (Isaiah 44:28-45:4; Ezra 1:1-4).
     Cyrus is an important figure in Daniel for establishing the book’s chronology (1:21; 6:28; 9:25; 10:1). If the “word” to restore and build Jerusalem is the prophecy from Jeremiah 29:11-14 in 597 BC, subtracting 49 years yields a date of 548 BC, within two years of Cyrus assuming the throne of the Medes in 549 
BC. But Daniel correlates the first year of Cyrus’ reign with his overthrow of Babylon (538 bc) and shows little interest in his accession to the throne of Media in 549 BC (Daniel 1:21; 10:1). However, the final downfall of what remained of Judah and the end of the Temple occurred in 587-586 BC. Subtracting 49-years from that date ends in 538 bc, the first year of Cyrus’ reign.
     Zerubbabel was a descendant of the House of David. He and Jeshua the priest were part of the first wave of Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem around 538 BC (Ezra 1:1; 2:1-2), and Zerubbabel was instrumental in rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 5:1-2; Haggai 1:12-15; Zechariah 4:9-10). Moreover, Zerubbabel and Jeshua are called “anointed ones” in Zechariah 4:14. But Zerubbabel was not a king or anointed to rule as one. He was a provincial governor appointed by the Babylonian authorities. The label “anointed” in Zechariah 4:14 is part of a vision in which God assures Zechariah that His Spirit would enable Zerubbabel and Jeshua to complete the rebuilding of the Temple.
     Jeshua’s story parallels Zerubbabel’s and more often than not the two are paired when mentioned (Ezra 2:1-2; 3:2; 3:8; 4:3; Nehemiah 7:7; Haggai 1:12-14). But neither man figures anywhere in the book of Daniel, while Cyrus is key to its chronology.
     The prophecy states there will be seven weeks “from the going forth of the word…until an anointed one.” Nothing more is said about this figure or what else transpires during the period.
     The structure of this clause parallels that of Daniel 1:21 and may be a clue to the identity of the “anointed one.” That verse reads, “Now Daniel was until (עד) the first year of Cyrus the king.” “Until” is prefixed to “year,” the point that Daniel and his work continued from the first year of Nebuchadnezzar until the first year of Cyrus.
     In the Hebrew text the preposition translated “until” (עד) is prefixed to the noun “anointed,” and the preposition “from” (מנ) to the noun rendered “going forth” (motsa). This leaves no option but to place the “anointed one” at the end of the first seven “weeks” or 49 years, however problematic this is to an interpretation. Proposed solutions that move the “anointed one” to the end of the second segment of 62 “weeks” violate the grammatical structure of the sentence. If the seventy “weeks” began hundreds of years before the first-century AD, then this “anointed one” cannot be Jesus.
     Of the known candidates that might fit this scenario, this leaves Cyrus as the best option. Of the three only he is mentioned in Daniel, though it never calls him “anointed.” While Cyrus acquired the throne of Media in 549 
BC, he was anointed leader of Persia in 559 BC.
     If the “issuing of the word” refers to Jeremiah’s prophecy of 606-605 
BC (Jeremiah 25:1, 10-14), and if Cyrus is the “anointed leader” and his reign began in 559 BC, the numbers are close. However, in 559 BC Cyrus became the king of Anshan, a vassal of the Median Empire and not an independent kingdom. He later rebelled against his Median overlords and by 549 BC established the empire of the “Medes and Persians,” which is how Daniel identifies this empire in his book (Daniel 5:28; 6:8; 6:12; 6:15; 8:20).
     If the “word” is the prophecy from Jeremiah 29:1 given in 598-597 
BC, and if Daniel links it to Cyrus’ establishment of the throne of the “Medes and Persians” in 549 BC, the seven “weeks” or forty-nine years fit the scenario very precisely.
     During sixty-two “weeks” Jerusalem “will be built again, with street and moat, even in troublesome times.” Rebuilding in Jerusalem began after the arrival of the first returnees from Babylon. The return was a gradual process that continued sporadically for decades. It was several centuries before the city began to resemble its former state of splendor and independence (Ezra 4:1-5).
     The “broad place” refers not to a street but to a central square or plaza typical of ancient near eastern cities, often where the marketplace was located (Jeremiah 5:1; 2 Chronicles 29:4; 32:6; Ezra 10:9). In the context of Jerusalem most likely in view is the wide space before the gate of the temple (Ezra 10:9; Nehemiah 8:16).
     The word rendered “moat” in the King James Version and “wall” in several other versions occurs only here in the Old Testament. Jerusalem was not known for its moats. It is a noun derived from a verbal root with the sense “to cut, to make incisions, sharpen, mutilate” (haruts), and abstractly “to decide, determine, judge.” This verbal form is the same word rendered “determined” in Daniel 9:26-27 and 11:36 (harats). It does NOT mean “walls.” In the later Mishnait refers to a “trench” in a field, so some commentators assume in view are defensive trenches dug below the walls of the city.
     “Broadway” and haruts are to be taken together. The former points to the wide and open space before the gate of the Temple. Haruts points to something cut off, hence limited. This is in contrast to the broad open space. The contrast is between “wide space” and narrow limited space. Possibly portrayed is the wide space before the Temple and the narrow streets of the rest of the city. This suggests a rebuilt and fully-functioning city.
     “Troublesome” translates a noun with a sense of “pressure, distress, constraint” (tsoq. Cp. Proverbs 1:27; Isaiah 30:6; Isaiah 8:22). This may refer to the same “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation” in Daniel 12:1, a time when Daniel’s people would be delivered. The events predicted in verses 26-27 demonstrate a time of trouble, however, they refer to things to occur during the final “week” of the prophecy “after the threescore and two weeks.” Ezra and Nehemiah both attest to the many struggles Judea experienced while rebuilding the city.
     Neither of the first two segments provides the reader with much information nor does either figure into the events of the last “week” in verses 26-27. First an “anointed leader” appears at the end of the first segment. What he does or what is done to him is not provided. Second, a longer segment is presented during which the city is restored, though during “troublesome times.”
     It appears the main function of the first two sections is to provide the chronological framework for the prophecy as a whole. Why the first sixty-nine “weeks” are divided into two sections rather than remain a single whole is not clear.
     A relevant question is whether the two segments run consecutively or concurrently. Do both begin at the “word to restore and rebuild,” or does the second section commence when the first one ends with the appearance of the “anointed leader?”

Why Three Divisions?
     The Seventy Weeks prophecy opens with the declaration, “Seventy weeks are divided” (9:24). This is precisely what the next three verses do; divide the “seventy weeks” into divisions of seven, sixty-two and one “week.” Restoration occurs during the long sixty-two “weeks” characterized as “troublesome times.” “Times” translates the Hebrew term ‘eth.
     The framework for this is Daniel 7:25 where the little horn “will wear out the saints of the Most High and think to change times and law, and they will be given into his hand until a time, times, and part of a time.” 
     The last description means a “part” of time, not necessarily “half,” though it could be half of a period. This corresponds to the divisions in Daniel: “time” (seven “weeks”), “times” (sixty-two “weeks”), “part of a season” (one “week”). The last week is also split into two halves in Daniel 9:26-27.

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