In Daniel 8 we learned that the prophet was taken in vision to Susa and shown several things, including the conquest of Babylon by Medo-Persia. Chapter 9 occurs after the new empire established world supremacy. We are in the year 538 B.C. when Cyrus rules Medo-Persia, with Darius as cogent in Babylon.[i] Prophetic messages had been given to Israel before Daniel and he was familiar with them. In this particular year, he specifically took note of Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the end of Jewish captivity.
1In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. (Daniel 8:1-2)
The prophecy Daniel references here is recorded in Jeremiah 29:10-12, but before we go there we need to also recall the prophecy of Isaiah 44-45 concerning Cyrus.
Isaiah 44-45: The Role of Cyrus in the Restoration of Israel
Isaiah had prophesied that Cyrus would be an instrument in God’s hand to bring about the end of the Jewish captivity. That would be massively significant for an exile, no? This is how unmistakably Isaiah describes the role of Cyrus in the restoration of Israel:
28who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built, and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’ 1Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: 2 ‘I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. 4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me (Isa. 44:28-45:4, emphases mine).
Who says this of Cyrus? The Lord Himself. Isaiah 44 was God’s address to Israel, the people chosen by God (Isa. 44:1), formed in the womb by God (Isa. 44: 2), and guided and protected by God (Isa. 44: 3-5). Yet Israel was also the people who turned to idolatry and broke the covenant with God, which led to their captivity (Isa. 44: 9-20). Despite the sad historical episode, Isaiah reiterates the origin and purpose of the chosen people, encouraging them to fear not, for the Creator God—the only living God—will forgive their transgression and restore Israel and Jerusalem. That divine intervention played a role in Medo-Persia’s easy conquest of Babylon may be hinted at in Isaiah 44:27 (“who says to the deep, ‘Be dry; I will dry up your rivers.’). Clearly, Cyrus’ rise to power was a sign, and Daniel searched past prophecies to understand the present time.
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Jeremiah 29:10-12: Seventy Weeks and Seventy Years
Jeremiah’s prophecy was of great importance at this time in history. As Daniel states in verse 2, he was intrigued by a number in this passage: the number of the years … for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. (Daniel 8:2) What had Jeremiah said about this period of time?
10 … thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you (Jeremiah 29:10-12, emphases mine).
Basically, according to Jeremiah, God had declared that the Jewish captivity will end after seventy years. The Babylonian captivity began in 605 B. C. when the Chaldeans defeated Egypt and the kingdom of Judah (composed of the last two unconquered tribes of Israel). In 538 B. C., roughly 67 years later, the ascent of Cyrus to the throne was promising, given his prophetic role as foretold in Isaiah.
Naturally, Daniel concluded that the time for Israel’s restoration was near. Yet, as far as he could tell, things went on with the new empire as with the old with no evident change in the future of the exiled Jews. Hope and despair settled deeply within Daniel. What can one do in such circumstances? The answer lied in Jeremiah’s prophecy: “you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.” (Jeremiah 29:12). This is precisely what Daniel did.
Daniel Prays, God Answers
Profoundly mindful of God’s supremacy and mercy, and keenly aware of Israel’s total failure and disloyalty, Daniel prayed to God one of the most heart-wrenching prayers in Scripture. This is the seventh, the last, and the longest prayer in his book. By using the inclusive plural pronoun “we,” Daniel identifies himself with God’s sinful people even though his life had been a constant testimony of his allegiance to God.
As intercessor for Israel before God, Daniel embodies their sins himself. His intercession for them is passionate, as he is himself implicated in the destiny of his people.[ii]
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The prayer contrasts the rebellion of Israel with God’s faithfulness and mercy in an intense petition built on genuine repentance and trust in God’s fulfillment of his covenant. Israel sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly, and rebelled, turning aside from [God’s] commandments and ordinances. They disregarded God’s servants the prophets and transgressed [God’s] law, committing unfaithful deeds, and as a consequence open shame was brought upon them.
Despite the calamity, Israel still has not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from [their] iniquity and giving attention to [God’s] truth. But God, who is great, awesome, and righteous, who shows compassion and forgiveness, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness, is begged to turn His anger and wrath away (Daniel 9:4-16). Daniel concludes his prayer with a most heartfelt supplication: “O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.” (v. 19)
When did God answer? And how did God answer? In regards to time, He answered: “while [Daniel] was speaking and praying” (v. 20), “while [he] was still speaking in prayer … about the time of the evening offering” (v. 21). What a beautiful testimony of divine love that does not delay in relieving this genuine spirit! As for the “how,” God answered with comforting words (vs. 21-23) and instructive revelation:
24 ‘Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. 25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 27 And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate’ (Daniel 9:24-27).
The Ultimate Liberator
This vision seems at once explicatory and confusing. Daniel presented a plea based on a prophecy foretelling the end of seventy years of captivity, yet Gabriel spoke about seventy weeks. What is the connection between these two and the relevance of one for the other? Well, the connecting point between these two periods of time seems to be the Messiah.
Now, a messiah was a person anointed to fulfill a role in the liberation of God’s people. In the Torah, the term was used in reference to priests, prophets, and kings, such as Aaron, Isaiah, Saul, David, and Cyrus.[iii] Daniel’s eyes were set on the physical liberation of Israel from captivity as promised in prophecy. While offering him reassuring comfort about this truth, God revealed something much more significant not just for Israel, but for the entire human race. There was one Messiah who would bring about not only temporal deliverance but eternal redemption.
The prophecy of the 70 weeks comes as an answer to the prophecy of the 70 years and as the ultimate solution. It is not just a messiah we are dealing with in this context, but the Messiah. Consulting the prophecy of the 70 years, Daniel expected one particular messiah, Cyrus. But the prophecy of the 70 weeks is the universal version of the prophecy of 70 years…. The messiah in this passage is the Messiah, encompassing all other messiahs … the Messiah of all peoples, the Messiah who will save the world.[iv]
The mission of this ultimate Messiah, infinitely more important and consequential than the roles of human messiahs, was accomplished by a divine being. At the same time, this mission was accomplished through a historical event tied to a particular time in earth’s history. Thus, in answering Daniel’s prayer, God went beyond confirming the authenticity of Jeremiah’s liberation prophecy and reveled to Daniel two crucial phases in the timeline of the salvation of humanity.
Phase One of Salvation: Seventy Weeks and Christ the Messiah
The beginning of the 70-week period was the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (v. 25). Three such decrees were given: the first in 538 B.C. by Cyrus, which allowed the first group of exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1:1-4), the second in 519 B.C. by Darius I, confirming the first one (Ezra 6:1-12), and the third in 457 B.C. by Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:11-28). Since this last decree effectively accomplished the goal and is overt about God’s role, it serves as the starting point for the seventy weeks.[v]
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Another key temporal marker is one of duration: seven weeks and sixty-two weeks marks the period from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince. Since these weeks are prophetic, one day corresponds to one year,[vi] so from the decree in 457 B.C. until the coming of the Messiah there would be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks, that is, sixty-nine weeks, that is, 483 years. This brings us to the year 27 A.D., the year of Jesus’ baptism and anointing (Luke 3: 21-22).
A third important event is referenced via two temporal markers: after the [seven weeks and] sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off (v. 26), and more specifically, in the middle of the [seventieth] week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering (v. 27). In the middle of week seven, that is, in 31 A.D. (three years and a half after 27 A.D.) the Messiah died a sacrificial death, terminating the temple sacrificial system and the Jewish theocracy.[vii]
Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the end of Jewish captivity after seventy years is echoed by Daniel’s prophecy concerning the end of humanity’s bondage to sin accomplished by Jesus Christ. In seeking prophetic answers, Daniel himself becomes a prophetic messenger for the most important event in earth history, and possibly in the history of God’s infinite cosmos: the atoning death of Christ. As we will see in the next article, this first phase of salvation is intimately connected with a second phase of salvation where Jesus Christ again plays the key role.
Secrets of Success
Two events recorded in Daniel took place during the first year of Darius’ rule: Daniel’s rescuing from the lions’ den in chapter 6 and the prayer and prophecy noted in chapter 9. It is unclear from the text whether Daniel’s trial, sparked by envy and hatred against his ethnicity and religion, was chronologically prior to his prayer and seventy-weeks vision, or whether it came after. In either case, this eventful year may not be entirely accidental. The powers of darkness which were revealed in Daniel’s prophecies have been active in the history of humankind since before our beginning. This is a power that would seek to destroy God’s messengers through any possible means.
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Loyalty to God comes with a cost, and while God sometimes intervenes, other times we have to pay the cost or part of it. Are we willing to? Are we willing to suffer envy, betrayal, hostility, humiliation, and, if needed, even death, for the sake of remaining devoted to God? As one of the most inspiring characters in the Bible, Daniel is an example of this. The secret of his endurance and perseverance was not in any visible things, but in a powerful, invisible connection with divinity—yet with clear and consequential visible effects. This connection enabled him to become not only a messenger of God to his people but an intercessor for his people before God. His knowledge of the true God was a foundation of strength, love, compassion, and complete dedication. What is the knowledge of the true God for you?
[i] Darius’ identity is not entirely clear; some suggest that he is Cyrus, others that he is Cyrus’ general who governed over Babylon after its conquest. Doukhan considers Darius as cogent of Cyrus. See Jacques Doukhan, Secrets of Daniel (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), p. 135.
[ii] Ibid, p. 137-138.
[iii] Ibid, p. 140. See Ex. 28: 41 Lev. 16: 32 (Aron), Isa. 61:1 (Isaiah), 2 Sam. 1:14 (Saul), 1 Sam. 16: 6, 13 (David), and Isa. 45:1 (Cyrus).
[iv] Doukhan, p. 140 – 141.
[v] Ibid, p. 142-143.
[vi] See Doukhan, p. 143-145.
[vii] Ibid, p. 148-150.