Word to Return

The “word to return” that marks the start of the prophetic period refers to the original prophecy of captivity in Jeremiah – Daniel 9:25

Understanding the “start date” of the “seventy weeks” period is vital to its interpretation. When the period began determines when it will end. Fortunately, the interpreting angel provided Daniel with that information: “From the going forth of the word to return and to build Jerusalem.” Unfortunately, precisely what he meant by this “word” is not immediately clear.

Complicating the matter is the division of the period into three subdivisions of “seven weeks,” “sixty-two weeks,” and “one week,” presumably, three periods of 49, 434, and 7 years, or a total of 490-years.

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 by the six redemptive goals.

  • (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.” The Hebrew noun rendered “commandment” or “decree” in some English versions is dabar, which more accurately means “word” or “speech.”

Happily, the identification of this “word” is provided by the context. Daniel “understood by the books (sepher) the number of the years whereof the word (dabarof 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,” again, 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 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) - “I understood by the books the number of the years whereof the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah the prophet, for the accomplishment (maleof the desolations (horbahof 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 Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylonwhich Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah, and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem… 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 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 (maleI 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 (dabarof the book (sepherthat Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem… For thus says 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.”

Thus, Daniel linked the beginning of the “seventy sevens” to the seventy-year captivity predicted by Jeremiah. 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 the army of Babylon subjugated the city, removed the “vessels of the house of Yahweh,” and sent the first exiles to Mesopotamia - (Daniel 1:1-2).

To return.” The Hebrew verb rendered “return,” or shub, has the basic sense of “return, to 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 rendered “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, a “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, or Joshua the high priest. In Isaiah, Cyrus is declared Yahweh’s “anointed,” the one appointed by Him 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 26-27. 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). That 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., though 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 he became the king of the “Medes and Persians.” 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.

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.


Destruction of Babylon

Gog and Magog