Seventy Weeks


SYNOPSIS – The “word to return” that marks the start of the prophetic period refers to the original prophecy of the seventy-years captivity by Jeremiah – Daniel 9:25.

The key to a proper understanding of the “seventy weeks” of Daniel is the identification of the “start date” of the period. Whether the length of the prophetic period is 490 days, 490 years, or some other figure, when it began determines when it ends, to state the obvious. Fortunately, the interpreting angel provided Daniel with this information – “From the going forth of the word to return and to build Jerusalem.” Unfortunately, precisely what he meant by this “word” is not necessarily clear.

Complicating this is the division of the “seventy weeks” into three subdivisions of “seven weeks,” “sixty-two weeks,” and “one week,” presumably, three periods of 49, 434, and 7 years, or 490 years in total. As the angel declared – “Seventy weeks are divided upon your people and upon the holy city.” The intended outcome of the entire period is presented in verse 24 – The six redemptive goals. The first two subdivisions are dealt with briefly in verse 25. The third subdivision, the final or “seventieth week” is detailed in verses 26-27.

(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 prophetic period began from the “going forth of the word to return and to build Jerusalem.” One common approach is to assume this “word” refers to a royal “decree” by a Persian king, with one of four alternatives usually proposed:

  • In 538 B.C., the decree of Cyrus for the Jews to return to Judea – (Ezra 1:1-4).
  • In 519 B.C., the royal confirmation of Cyrus’ previous decree – (Ezra 6:1-12).
  • In 458 B.C., Ezra’s commission by Arataxerxes I to implement reforms in Jerusalem – (Ezra 7:11-26).
  • In 444-445 B.C., the decree by Arataxerxes I that authorized Nehemiah to complete the restoration of the Temple – (Nehemiah 1:1-4, 2:1-9).

This view assumes the “decree” or “word” was issued by a human ruler. However, the Hebrew noun rendered “commandment” or “decree” in some English versions is dabar, a noun that means “word” or “speech.” More accurately, the text reads – The “going forth of the word to return and to build Jerusalem.”

The book of Daniel never indicates that any “decree” by a pagan ruler marked the start of the period. In the view of Daniel, Yahweh reigns supreme over the nations and gives political authority to whomever He pleases. To link the date of a key prophecy to a pagan edict, rather than to a word from Yahweh, deviates from this perspective.

Happily, the identification of the “word” is provided by the context. Daniel “understood by the 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” – (Daniel 9:1-2).

Books” translates the noun sepher; “word” represents dabar. Thus, the “word” to return and build Jerusalem was the prophecy of Jeremiah that Daniel was contemplating. That prophetic “word” can be dated to 605 B.C. based on the dates provided in Jeremiah. Note the links between Chapter 9 of Daniel and the two prophecies about the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity:

(Daniel 9:1-2) – “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus…I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years whereof the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah the prophet, for the accomplishment (male) of the desolations (horbah) of Jerusalem, seventy years.” {538-539 B.C.}.

(Jeremiah 25:1-14) – “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, which Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah, and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying: From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even unto this day, these three and twenty years, the word of Jehovah hath come unto me, and I have spoken unto you, rising up early and speaking; but ye have not hearkened. And Yahweh has sent to you all his servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, but you have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear, saying, Return (shub) now everyone from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land that Yahweh has given to you and to your fathers, from of old and even for evermore; and go not after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, and provoke me not to anger with the work of your hands; and I will do you no hurt. Yet, you have not hearkened to me, says Yahweh, that you may provoke me to anger with the work of your hands to your own hurt. Therefore, thus say Yahweh of hosts – Because you have not heard my words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, says 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 the 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 B.C.}.

(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 (shub) to this place.”

In this way, Daniel linked the beginning of the “seventy sevens” to the seventy-year Captivity predicted by Jeremiah – The period of “seventy sevens” is built on the original prophecy of the “seventy years” of captivity in Babylon.

Moreover, both the book of Daniel and Jeremiah’s original prophecy are pegged to the “first year of Nebuchadnezzar” – approximately 605 B.C. For Daniel, the captivity began that same year when a Babylonian force subjugated the city, removed the “vessels of the house of Yahweh” to Babylon, and sent the first exiles to Mesopotamia:

(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. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God; and he carried them into the land of Shinar to the house of his god: and he brought the vessels into the treasure-house of his god.” {605 B.C.}.

To return.” The Hebrew verb rendered “return” – shub – has the basic sense of “return, bring back.” Elsewhere, it is applied to the “return” of the exiles to the Jewish homeland. In the present passage, it does not refer to the rebuilding of the city but to the “return” of the Jews to Jerusalem – (Jeremiah 12:15, 29:10-14, 30:3).

To build Jerusalem.” “Build” translates the verb banah. The clause is parallel to verse 24 – “Seventy sevens are divided concerning your people and your holy city.” That is, “return” refers to the return of the “your people,” and “build” to the restoration of “your holy city.” The two terms refer to distinct events – The return to Jerusalem, and the restoration of the city.

Until an anointed one, a leader.” The syntax of the Hebrew clause is clear. From the start of the “seventy sevens,” an “anointed” figure will appear after the first “seven sevens,” presumably, after the first 49 years. In the Hebrew, the preposition for “until” is prefixed to the noun for “anointed one” and cannot refer to anything else in the sentence.

In the Hebrew clause, there is no “the” or definite article with the noun for “anointed one.” In Daniel’s time, “messiah” was not used in an absolute sense for the future king who would sit on the throne of David.  Both kings and high priests were labeled “anointed ones” – (Leviticus 4:3-5, 6:22, 1 Samuel 12:3, Psalm 18:50).

The word rendered “prince” or “leader” is nagid, a generic designation for one who leads – “ruler” or “leader.” Derivative meanings include “prince, captain, commander.” Most often in the Bible, it is applied to priests, military, or civil leaders – (1 Samuel 9:16, 1 Chronicles 9:20, Nehemiah 11:11, Jeremiah 20:1).

Three candidates from this period might fit the description of the “anointed one” – Cyrus the Great, Zerubbabel, and Joshua the high priest. In the book of Isaiah, Cyrus is declared Yahweh’s “anointed,” the one appointed by God to defeat Babylon and free the Jewish exiles. However, Daniel has no verbal links to Isaiah’s prophecy – (Isaiah 45:1, Haggai 1:1).

Zerubbabel and Joshua fit the general timeframe, but neither is mentioned in Daniel. In contrast, Cyrus is a key character in the book. When the chronological range of Daniel is given, his “career” extended from the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign to the “first year of king Cyrus” – (Daniel 1:21).

The “anointed” one in verse 25 cannot be identical with the “anointed” leader in verses 236-27. The latter appears during the final or “seventieth week,” presumably, after at least 483 years, while the former figure appears after the first “seven weeks,” the first 49 years (7 x 7). This means the two characters were separated by several centuries.

If the “anointed one” is Cyrus, it may be significant that he is labeled “leader” or “prince” (nagid) and not “king.” Cyrus inherited his throne in 559 B.C., however, at the time, he was a minor ruler over the territory of Anshan and a vassal of the Median Empire. He rebelled against his overlord in 553 B.C. and defeated the Median Empire by 550 B.C., adding it to his own fledgling empire. It was at that time that Cyrus became the king of the “Medes and Persians,” the designation for his realm in the book of Daniel.

If Cyrus is the “anointed one,” subtracting “seven weeks” or 49 years from the date of Jeremiah’s prophecy yields a date around 556 B.C., a relatively close fit. Moreover, the prophecy of the “seventy weeks” is built on increments of ten years rather than precise dates.

The rise of Cyrus to power in 559 B.C. set the whole series of events into motion that resulted in the overthrow of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the return of the Jewish exiles to Jerusalem, and the long process of rebuilding the city and its walls.

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5 thoughts on “SEVENTY WEEKS – THE DECREE”

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