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

Synopsis:  An analysis of the first sixty-nine of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel

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The first sixty-nine “weeks” of the prophetic period announced by Gabriel is described in Daniel 9:24-25. The opening Hebrew clause reads, “sevens, seventy are divided...”
Elsewhere, “sevens” (shabua) used in this manner by the Old Testament 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 divided.”
The “seventy sevens” cannot refer to normal seven-day weeks or a total of 490 days. The figure is related to Jeremiah’s prophecy of seventy years (Daniel 9:1-2); moreover, 490 days is insufficient to complete the items detailed in verses 25-27, including the rebuilding of the city.
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” from Daniel 7:23, and to the “thousand and two hundred and ninety days” of Daniel 12:11. If the “half-week” equates to three and one-half years, then the “seventy sevens” cannot be 490 days or seventy literal weeks.
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 consensus among commentators is that the “seventy sevens” period represents seventy “weeks” of years; that is, a period of 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 the 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.”
The identification of the “seventy sevens” as a 490-year period is the only real consensus among commentators on this prophecy. 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 that has the basic sense, “cut, divide, partition” (hathak). It is not the same Hebrew word translated “determine” in verses 26-27 (“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 number of a Hebrew verb agrees with its subject). The singular form indicates the two numbers comprise a single whole.
Daniel contemplated Jeremiah’s prediction that Jerusalem would lie “desolate” seventy years; however, at the end of the appointed period, Jerusalem remained 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.
Verse 25 predicts that the start of the period will coincide with the word “to restore and to build Jerusalem.” The restoration of the city is in view, not its punishment. This distinguishes the period of “seventy sevens” from Jeremiah’s prophecy. Israel was to remain “desolate” for seventy years, but Jerusalem would be built during the period of “seventy sevens.” The two periods are related; their starting points may coincide, but their contents and purposes differ. One is to punish Jerusalem, the other to restore it.
Daniel is not reinterpreting Jeremiah’s prophecy but presenting a related but new one. In Jeremiah 29:10, Yahweh promised the return of Jewish captives to the land of Judah but did not predict and of the restorative goals now detailed in verse 24.
Gabriel gave the objectives for which the “seventy sevens” were “divided,” six stated goals to be achieved 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 section deal with sin, those of the second concern the bringing in of righteousness and restoration. The first, second, and third parts of the first half correspond to the fourth, fifth, and sixth parts of the second (i.e., End transgression->Bring in righteousness. Seal up sin->Seal up vision and prophecy. Cover iniquity->Anoint the holy of holies). All six goals are redemptive, restorative, or both. The goal is restoration, not destruction. An interpretation that ends the “seventy sevens” period with the destruction of Jerusalem misses the point.
The first and last goals 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 parts of the series.
The transgression” in the Hebrew text is singular and has the definite article or “the.” It refers to a specific and known transgression, not to sin in general. The Hebrew noun or pesha occurs only here in Daniel and 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 in Chapter 8 “cast truth to the ground,” profaned the Sanctuary, and constituted “the transgression that desolates.” This 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, more correctly, to “restrict; to restrain; to shut up.” 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. 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, “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 expiate the guilt of sin through animal sacrifices. Daniel in his prayer acknowledged that the 70-year Captivity came upon Israel so “we might turn from our iniquities.” He prayed that God would turn His anger away from Jerusalem, which had 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 for “righteousness” in this clause. This refers not to the justification of individual sinners, but to the return of the Sanctuary to a state of holiness.
To seal up vision and prophecy.” This clause uses the same verb as the clause, “seal up sin” (hatham). The same word occurs when Daniel is told to “shut up the words and seal the book, even to the latter days.” The idea is to close or seal it until the appropriate time (Daniel 12:4).
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, “holy of holies” refers either to the sanctuary’s inner sanctum or to 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.
The “Word” to Return:
(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 begins in verse 25 with the first two segments; one consisting of seven and, a second, comprised of sixty-two “weeks”; that is, of 49 and 434 years, respectively. The third segment occurs in 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 one. Its concerns 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 the 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 B.C. for the Jews to return to Judea (Ezra 1:1-4).
2.   The royal confirmation in 519 B.C. of Cyrus’ previous decree by king Darius Hystaspes (Ezra 6:1-12).
3.   Ezra’s commission in 458 B.C. 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 B.C. 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 a human authority. However, the Hebrew noun rendered “commandment” in the King James Version is dabar (or “decree” in some English versions), a noun that 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 any decree from a pagan ruler. In its ideology, God reigns over the nations of the earth and gives them to whomever He pleases. To link the date of a key prophecy to a pagan edict rather than to a word of Yahweh would be a major departure from its core theology. Gabriel, for example, stated that “at the beginning of your supplications came forth a word” (verse 23), the Divine “word” that authorized Gabriel to respond to Daniel’s prayer.
The identification of the “word” is provided in the context of this chapter. 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 noun sepher; “word” represents dabar.
The prophetic “word” of Jeremiah can be dated to 605 B.C., based on dates provided by 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 books the 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 BC}
Thus, Daniel coordinates the beginning of the first segment of the “seventy sevens” with Jeremiah’s prediction of the Babylonian Captivity (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, bring back.” Elsewhere, it 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 as part of God’s promise to return Israel to the land:
(Jeremiah 29:10) - “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 verse 25 reads, “until an anointed one, a leader,” not, “unto the Messiah, the Prince.” Neither noun has a definite article, that is, “the.” In Daniel’s time, ‘Messiah’ was not used in an absolute sense of the future king of Israel; 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 for “prince” ornagid 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 (e.g., 1 Samuel 9:16, 1 Chronicles 9:20).
The three candidates proposed as this “anointed ruler” are, Cyrus the Great, Zerubbabel, and Joshua or Jeshua, the high priest who worked alongside Zerubbabel. Cyrus is declared Yahweh’s “anointed” in Isaiah. He was appointed by God to defeat Babylon and facilitate the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Isaiah 45:1).
Cyrus is an important figure in Daniel for establishing the book’s chronology. If the “word” to restore refers to the prophecy from Jeremiah 29:11-14 given in 597 B.C., subtracting 49 years yields a date of 548 B.C., within two years of Cyrus assuming the throne of the Medes in 549 B.C. (Daniel 1:21, 6:28, 9:25, 10:1).
But Daniel correlates the first year of the reign of Cyrus with his overthrow of Babylon and shows no interest in his rise to the Median throne (Babylon fell in 538 B.C.). However, the final downfall of what remained of Judah, along with the destruction of the Temple, occurred in 587-586 B.C. Subtracting 49-years from that date ends in 538 B.C., the date of the downfall of Babylon.
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 B.C.. Zerubbabel was instrumental in rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 1:1, 5:1-2; Haggai 1:12-15; Zechariah 4:9-10). Moreover, Zerubbabel and Jeshua are called “anointed ones” in Zechariah. But Zerubbabel was not a king or anointed to rule as one. He was a provincial governor appointed by the Babylonian authorities. The term “anointed” is from a vision in which God assured Zechariah that His Spirit would enable Zerubbabel and Jeshua to complete the rebuilding of the Temple. Neither man plays any role in the book of Daniel.
The prophecy of Daniel states that 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 the clause parallels the earlier statement, “Now Daniel was until (עד) the first year of Cyrus the king.” That is, Daniel and his work continued from the first year of Nebuchadnezzar until the first year of Cyrus (Daniel 1:21).
In the Hebrew text, the preposition for “until” (עד) is prefixed to the noun anointed, and the preposition “from” (מנ) is, likewise, prefixed 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,” presumably, forty-nine years. Theories that move the “anointed one” to the end of the second segment of sixty-two “weeks” violate the syntax of the Hebrew sentence. If the seventy “weeks” began hundreds of years before his birth, then this “anointed one” cannot be Jesus.
Of the known candidates that might fit this scenario, Cyrus is 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 B.C., he was anointed the leader of Persia in 559 B.C.
If the “issuing of the word” refers to Jeremiah’s prophecy of 606-605 B.C. (Jeremiah 25:1-14), and if Cyrus is the “anointed leader” whose reign began in 559 B.C., the numbers are close.
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 around 538 B.C. 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 (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. In the context of Jerusalem, most likely in view here 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 (or “wall” in several other versions) occurs only here in the Old Testament. Jerusalem was not known for any moats. The noun is 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 verses 26-27 (also, Daniel 11:36). It does NOT mean “walls.” In the later Mishna, it is used to refer to a “trench” in a field, so some commentators assume Daniel refers to defensive trenches dug below the walls of the city.
Broadway” and “trench” (haruts) are to be taken together. The former points to the open space before the gate of the Temple, “trench” or haruts to something cut off, hence, limited. The two terms provide a contrast between a wide and a narrowly limited space. The contrast may be between the broad space before the Temple and the narrow streets of the city. Together, they point to a rebuilt and functioning city.
Troublesome” translates a noun with a sense of “pressure, distress, constraint” (tsoq - compare Proverbs 1:27, Isaiah 30:6, Isaiah 8:22). This may refer to the “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation” described in Daniel 12:1. The events predicted in verses 26-27 describe a time of trouble; however, they refer to events that occur during the final or the seventieth “week” of the prophecy (“after the threescore and two weeks”). Ezra and Nehemiah attest to the struggles Judea experienced while rebuilding the city.
Neither of these first two segments provides the reader with much information. An “anointed leader” appears at the end of the first forty-nine years but what he does is not stated. During the second segment, the city is restored in “troublesome times.” But the main function of the first sixty-nine “weeks” is to provide the chronological framework for the prophecy.
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?
Why Three Divisions?
The Seventy Weeks prophecy opens with the declaration, “Seventy weeks are divided.” This is precisely what the next three verses do; divide the “seventy weeks” into three segments of seven, sixty-two, and one “week.” Restoration occurs during the long sixty-two “weeks” section, which is characterized by “troublesome times.” The framework for this is from Chapter 7 where the little horn would “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.” 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 (Daniel 9:26-27).

[The Seventy Weeks - Daniel 9:26-27]