The “word to return and restore Jerusalem” is identified clearly at the start of the “seventy weeks” prophecy in chapter 9 of Daniel.
Daniel’s “seventy weeks” prophecy presents a 490-year period that culminates in the “abomination of desolation.” Crucial to dating it and its proper interpretation is the identification of the “commandment to restore and build Jerusalem,” and commentators have gone to great lengths to link it to one of several known decrees issued by Persian rulers.
But this “commandment” is in plain sight at the beginning of the chapter when Daniel refers to the “word of Jeremiah” concerning the end of the seventy years of Israel’s exile. Its description in verse 25 has nothing to do with any later royal Persian decrees. And there are definite verbal links between the relevant passages.
Nothing in the ninth chapter of Daniel indicates or even suggests that the reader will find this “word” to rebuild the city in any royal decree issued by a Persian or any other pagan ruler.
WORD OF JEREMIAH
The opening paragraph refers to a specific passage from Jeremiah, a prophecy that is datable to the first year of king Nebuchaddnezzar’s reign. Daniel was studying the scroll that contained Jeremiah and focused on the promised the end of the Captivity after seventy years:
- (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 kingdom of the Chaldeans: in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel perceived by the scroll the number of the years as to which the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah the prophet, to accomplish the desolations of Jerusalem, seventy years.”
- (Jeremiah 25:8-13) – “And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And when seventy years are accomplished, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation for their iniquity… I will bring upon that land all my words which I have pronounced against it, even all that is written in this scroll that Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations.”
For Daniel, the “desolation” of Judah began with the subjugation of Jerusalem in the first year of Nebuchadnezzar, 605 B.C., and the prophecy from Jeremiah is dated to the same year – “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem and besieged it” – (Jeremiah 25:1, Daniel 1:1).
Thus, the Babylonian Captivity had reached its prophesied end by the time Daniel studied this passage. And he understood from the “writings” of Jeremiah that the number of the years that Yahweh required “to accomplish the desolations of Jerusalem” was seventy.
“Writing” translates the Hebrew term sepher, meaning “scroll.” “Accomplish” renders the Hebrew verb mala or “complete.” And the English term “desolations” represents the Hebrew noun horbah. Both “desolation” and “accomplish” are prominent in the prophecy from Jeremiah:
- “This whole land shall be 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 (mala)…”
Daniel calls the passage the “word of Yahweh.” The term occurs again in verse 25, “the going forth of the word to return and to build Jerusalem.” In fact, Jeremiah’s prophecy is the text on which chapter 9 builds its interpretation of events and the portrait of the “seventy weeks” (the “going forth of the word to return and build Jerusalem”).
Jeremiah’s prophecy is dated to the “fourth year of Jehoiakim” and the “first year of Nebuchadnezzar,” the same year cited at the opening of Daniel when the pagan king captured Jerusalem and the Temple. And a related word by Jeremiah set the conditions for the release of Judah that forms the basis for Daniel’s supplication:
- (Jeremiah 29:10-14) – “For thus says Yahweh: After seventy years are accomplished for Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you in causing you to return to this place… You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart… and I will turn again your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you.”
Yahweh promised to release Israel after seventy years, but only if she repented, an act Daniel proceeded to do in chapter 9 as the representative of the nation. For him, the Captivity began with the first attack against Jerusalem in 605 B.C.
- “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem and besieged 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” – (Daniel 1:1-2).
The decree by Cyrus to release the exiles was issued in 536 B.C., seventy years after the deportation of Daniel and his companions to Babylon. Thus, in Daniel’s understanding, the time of release had arrived.
TO RETURN AND REBUILD
As for the “word” in verse 25, the Hebrew term often translated “decree” or “commandment” is dabar, which means “word, speech,” and not “decree” or “commandment.” It is the same Hebrew term rendered “word” in the opening paragraph of chapter 9 for the “word of Jeremiah.”
The Hebrew verb commonly rendered “restore” is shub, which means “return, turn back, repent.” It is the same term applied elsewhere 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).
As for the clause, “to build Jerusalem,” “build” translates the Hebrew verb banah, and the clause parallels verse 24 – “Seventy sevens are divided concerning your people and your holy city.” That is, “return” refers to the return of “your people,” and “build” to the restoration of “your holy city.” The two terms refer to distinct but closely related events – The return to Jerusalem and the restoration of the city.
Thus, Daniel places the “start date” of the “seventy weeks” at the commencement of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and his subjugation of Jerusalem in 605 B.C. This means that for a certain time, the seventy years of captivity in Babylon and the “seventy weeks” ran concurrently. If anything, the 490 years is an expansion of the original seventy years of captivity, and the fact that 490 is reached by multiplying 70 times 7 confirms this.
Rather than looking to decrees and proclamations by pagan kings, commentators need to start with what is written in plain sight, and this regardless of how it affects their interpretation and whatever difficulties it might cause.
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