SYNOPSIS – The interpreting angel outlined six redemptive goals to be achieved by the end of the “Seventy Weeks” – Daniel 9:24.
In the ninth chapter of Daniel, the prophetic period of “seventy weeks” is divided into three divisions – An initial period of “seven weeks,” followed by a second division of “sixty-two weeks,” then a concluding period of “one week.” At the start of the prophecy, six redemptive goals or events are listed to be completed by the end of all seventy of the prophetic “weeks.”
The angel began by declaring that “seventy weeks are divided” for Jerusalem and its people:
(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.”
Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, the term “sevens” or shabua is used either to refer to seven-day weeks or time periods divided into seven segments, however long each “day” or segment is – (Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:9).
The “seventy sevens” is related to prophecy of Jeremiah about the seventy years of Judah’s captivity in Babylon, a passage already introduced at the start of the ninth chapter of Daniel. The book of Chronicles interprets this period as the fulfillment of a warning to Israel from the book of Leviticus:
- (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 you 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 you dwelt upon it.”
- (2 Chronicles 36:19-21) – “And they burnt the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels. 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.”
- (Jeremiah 25:10-13) – “Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the lamp. And 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 nation, saith Jehovah, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it desolate forever. And I will bring upon that land all my words which I have pronounced against it, even all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah hath prophesied against all the nations.”
- (Daniel 9:1-2) – “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans, in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years whereof the word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah the prophet, for the accomplishing of the desolations of Jerusalem, even seventy years.”
The preceding passages make clear that, as far as the book of Daniel is concerned, the prophetic period of “seventy weeks” represented seven weeks of years, or a total of 490-years. Whether this meant a period of 490 consecutive years without interruption is a separate question.
“Seventy sevens are divided.” The term rendered “divided” represents a Hebrew verb found only here in the Hebrew Bible, one with a basic sense of “cut, divide, partition” (hathak – Strong’s – #H2852). It is a different Hebrew word than the one translated “determine” at the conclusion of the prophecy – (“Desolations are determined…a full end and that a determined one”). This is what the angel proceeded to do – Divide the total number into three subdivisions of “seven,” “sixty-two,” and “one” weeks.
Daniel was contemplating the prediction by Jeremiah – Jerusalem was to remain “desolate” for seventy years, yet at the end of the appointed time it remained so. As the angel explained to the prophet, a period of “seventy sevens” – 490 years – was needed to complete the promised restoration. The mere trickle of Jews that began to return to Jerusalem after the decree of Cyrus was only a mere beginning of a much larger and longer process.
The start of the “seventy weeks” would coincide with the prophetic word – “To restore and to build Jerusalem.” Restoration was in view, not punishment. This distinguishes the period of “seventy sevens” from the original pronouncement of seventy years of captivity. Israel remained “desolate” for seventy years, but Jerusalem would be restored by the end of the “seventy weeks of years.”
The two periods were related. They may have had the same starting point and began to unfold concurrently. But their purposes differed. One was to punish Jerusalem, the other, to restore it. The angel was not reinterpreting Jeremiah’s prophecy but presenting a related but new one. In Jeremiah, Yahweh promised the return of Jewish captives to the land of Judah, but He did not predict the restorative goals detailed in the present passage.
The “seventy sevens” were declared “divided” and six redemptive acts to be achieved by the end of the period were announced. In doing so, the angel used six Hebrew infinitive clauses to present a single pair of predictions, each consisting of three parts:
- To put an end to the transgression,
- To seal up sin,
- To cover iniquity.
- To bring in everlasting righteousness,
- To seal up vision and prophecy,
- To anoint the holy of holies.
There is a literary structure to the list. The first section deals with sin, the second is concerning restoration. In the first section, the second and third parts correspond to the second and third parts the second section – That is, to “seal up sin” corresponds to “seal up vision and prophecy” – To “cover iniquity” corresponds to “anoint the holy of holies.”
All six goals were redemptive and restorative. Again, the goal was restoration, not destruction. Any interpretation that ends the “seventy sevens” with the obliteration of Jerusalem misses the point.
The first and last goals are the more important ones – “to finish the transgression,” “to anoint the holy of holies.” This is indicated by their positions as the first and last parts of the series.
In the Hebrew text, “the transgression” is singular and has a definite article, that is, “the.” It refers to a specific and known transgression, not to sin in general. The Hebrew noun pesha occurs in Daniel only here and in the vision of the goat with a “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?”
In Chapter 8, The “transgression cast truth to the ground” and profaned the Sanctuary. It was the “transgression that desolates.” The profanation occurred on the orders of the “little horn,” the “king of fierce countenance” that “destroyed the mighty and the holy people” – (Daniel 8:9, 8:23-25).
“To finish” the transgression represents the Hebrew verb kala – (Strong’s – #H3607), more correctly, to “restrict, restrain, confine.” In other words, “to shut up the transgression” and restrain it from causing more destruction.
“To seal up sin” is to remove it from view – To conceal it. This idea dovetails with that of “restraining” the transgression. For example, in chapter 6 of Daniel, the king “sealed” the lions’ den into which Daniel was cast. Thus, sin was to be removed from the sight of God and set aside.
“To cover iniquity” alludes to the collective iniquity of Israel that necessitated the Babylonian Captivity. “Cover” translates the Hebrew kâphar – (Strong’s – #H3722), “cover over, to overlay,” as was done when pitch was used to cover the outer surface of Noah’s Ark – (Genesis 6:14).
To “cover over” sin is to atone for it. This represents the same Hebrew word used by Leviticus for expiating the guilt of sin through animal sacrifices. In his prayer, Daniel acknowledged the 70-years captivity came upon Israel so “we might turn from our iniquities,” they prayed for God to turn His anger away from Jerusalem, which had endured punishment “for our sins and for the iniquities of our fathers.”
“To bring in everlasting righteousness” is redemptive. In chapter 8,the profanation of the Sanctuary would continue until it was “justified.” This translates the Hebrew verb tsadaq – (Strong’s – #H6664), which is related to the noun for “righteousness” – Also used in this clause. It refers to the return of the Sanctuary to a state of holiness, not to the justification of individual sinners before God.
“To seal up vision and prophecy.” The clause uses the same verb found in “seal up sin” (hatham). The same word occurred when Daniel was told to “shut up the words and seal the book, even to the latter days.” The idea is to close or “seal” something until the appropriate time – (Daniel 12:4).
“To anoint the holy of holies.” This represents 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” or “holy of holies” 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, NOT to persons.
The “holy of holies” refers either to the inner sanctum of the Temple or to the altar of burnt offering that was defiled by the “little horn.” In context, “to anoint the holy of holies” means to consecrate or re-consecrate either one.
Before linking the six redemptive items to Jesus and his sacrificial act for all humanity, we must recall that the “seventy sevens” were “divided upon your people and upon your holy city,” that is, Jerusalem. The described acts of redemption must be interpreted in their original historical and literary contexts. The goal was to restore Jerusalem and rededicate the “Holy Place” by the end of the “seventy weeks” of years.
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