Daniel’s Seventy Sevens

For more study see commentary on Daniel 9.

Throughout Daniel we have seen the power of God in the rise and fall of nations and empires. History has played out exactly as God told Daniel it would 2600 years ago. One thing that has been missing from the equation is what happens to the nation of Israel. In Daniel 9, we are finally given the answer. Not only does God give an outline of what is to come, he gives us the exact day that it will take place.

Daniel 9:1-3

1 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

On the surface it might not appear that there is much to grasp in these couple of verses but they are in fact full of important information. The first thing to notice is the timing. The year is 539 BC. The Babylonian empire has fallen and Daniel has been a personal witness to the event. He has witnessed the fulfillment of the first part of God’s prophecy to both he and Nebuchadnezzar. So this is significant in itself but there is even more with regard to the date that we’ll hit on in just a moment.

Daniel is reading from the Scriptures. Well, what scriptures? The Bible didn’t exist and the Old Testament had not even been completed yet. A lot of people wonder how we got the Bible that we have and if certain writings may have been left out by accident. This shows us that God supernaturally preserves scripture. Even though Jeremiah was essentially a contemporary of Daniel, Daniel knew that the writings were from God.

The same thing happened in the New Testament. We have around a dozen letters written by Paul but these certainly aren’t the only ones that were written during all of this work. As a matter of fact, there is even reference to other letters written to the Corinthians that we no longer have. The church recognized some writings as divinely inspired and circulated them among the churches. Other writings, while important to whom they were addressed, were not deemed as divinely inspired and were not circulated.

Jeremiah has been circulated and brought to Babylon as Daniel reads his writing. Daniel is reading from Jeremiah 25. Put yourself in Daniel’s place as I read verses 8-14

8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, 9 I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. 10 I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
12 “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever. 13 I will bring upon that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. 14 They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.”

Daniel has been a firsthand witness of all of this. He experienced the cruelty of Nebuchadnezzar as he came and destroyed Jerusalem. He was a servant of the king of Babylon from the very start of the attacks on Jerusalem.

But now Daniel has seen the fall of Babylon as well. Perhaps Daniel has not read this passage in a long time and as he reads it now, a light comes on as he realizes that these things are being fulfilled before his eyes.

Daniel realizes that the time is almost up because the Babylonians have been punished. Daniel believes in a literal fulfillment of prophecy and we should too. Jeremiah declares that Israel will be in captivity for 70 years.

The question is, when did the clock start ticking? Did it start in 605 BC when the invasions first started and the first captives were taken into exile, Daniel among them? Or did the clock not start until 586 BC when Jerusalem fell and all of the people were carried away to Babylon? The truth is, Daniel doesn’t know but either way the time is drawing near for the release of the people of Israel.

As we’ve seen numerous times in the book of Daniel, God is in control of the events of history. He is sovereign over all things. But I fully believe that the Creator of the Universe also responds to man. I believe that this is why Daniel begins praying to the Lord in the next verses which we won’t examine even though it is one of the more beautiful prayers in all of scripture.

God has the option of using the early date for the seventy years or the later date. Either one would fulfill the prophecy. If the Israelites are not repentant and need to stay in Babylon for an additional 19 years, then God can use the 586 BC date. Daniel prays that the time is almost up and that God would forgive his people of their sins.

Even though the timing is difficult to completely understand or pin down, Cyrus issued a decree in his first year that the Israelites could return to their homeland. Here is where we need to remember that a) we don’t view time as God does and b) we don’t view time as the ancient world does. We would say the Israelites were carried away in 605, if they are in captivity for 70 years, they would be allowed to return in 535. But the Israelites count partial years. We do as well to some extent. I would say that Merissa and I have been married two years even though we haven’t celebrated our second anniversary yet because it’s only a couple of months away.

This counting is the same way that we say that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. By our counting, Friday to Sunday is two days. But Jesus was dead on Friday, he was dead on Saturday, and he was dead on Sunday until he rose – hence three days in the counting of the ancient world.

So, if Cyrus issues his decree near the end of his first year (and his first official year didn’t begin until 538 even though they took over the land in 539) and it takes some time for the Israelites to prepare and actually travel back to Israel, they will have been exiled for seventy years. And if that math doesn’t suit you, then just say that God was gracious and allowed them to round up, thereby cutting their exile short.

So, all of that from three little verses. And I didn’t even get to what I consider the most interesting part of Daniel 9.

Daniel launches into a passionate prayer for his people. I encourage you to read this prayer on your own time because it is tremendous. Let’s pick up with the last line of the prayer in verse 19.

Daniel 9:19-23

19 O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill— 21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the message and understand the vision:

Sometimes we wonder if God hears our prayers. This should be an answer to the question. Daniel has not completed his prayer when Gabriel comes to him. Daniel asked that God not delay and He didn’t! Also consider what Gabriel tells Daniel when he says that he is “highly esteemed.”

James 5:16 says Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

And 1 Peter 3:12 says “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

I don’t believe that we should read too much into these verses and reach the conclusion that the better a Christian you are, the better chance you have of having your prayers answered. But I believe that we can conclude that God is not required to answer the prayers of non-Christians.
As for Christians who are living like non-Christians, I believe that God would have every right to reject their pleas if He so chose. They didn’t want anything to do with Him last week and they won’t pay attention the next week, they only ask when they are in need. There is a difference between the Prodigal Son who has learned his lesson and the wayward Christian who still wants to wander and God knows the difference.

Daniel’s prayer is immediately answered because He is highly esteemed by the Lord.

Verses 24-26a

24 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.
25 “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing.

Here is where I get blown away by scripture. And frankly this is a lot to take in in one sitting so if you have follow up questions just jot a note down and ask me later. We have dealt with the future of other nations of the world. This outlines God’s plan for Israel, and I paused where I did in the middle of verse 26 for a reason as you’ll see.

Seventy sevens are seventy sets of seven years or 490 years total. God operates in sets of seven. The Israelites were to operate on a seven year calendar with every seventh year being a Sabbath year in which they were not supposed to plant. Today, we know that it is helpful to rotate your crops so that the nutrients aren’t all used up in the soil. A Sabbath year would have had the same effect by giving the earth a year to replenish itself naturally. And interestingly enough, weather patterns operate on a seven year cycle. Last year was an el nino cycle and this year is la nina. We have had two rainy springs even though last summer was dry. I fully believe that the weather patterns are set so that if the Israelites would have observed the Sabbath years that the two years prior to the year off would have been an abundance so that they wouldn’t have needed to harvest on the off year.

But back to Daniel. There are 490 on God’s calendar for Israel. This clock begins with the issuing of the decree to rebuild the temple. This decree is issued in Nehemiah 2:1, “in the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes.” The first day of the month of Nisan is March 5, and the 20th year of King Artaxerxes is 444 BC. This is the say that the clock start ticking in Daniel’s prophecy of seventy sevens.

The seventy sevens are broken into three parts. There are seven sevens, sixty sevens, and one more seven which we will look at in a moment.

The first seven sevens concern the rebuilding of the temple. Ezra and Nehemiah concern this time and they confirm that it takes place in times of trouble as Daniel prophecies. Following this is another sixty two sevens when the Anointed One will be cut off.

The Anointed One is Jesus. We use the names Jesus and Christ interchangeably but technically Jesus is His name and Christ is a title. Christ and Messiah both mean Anointed One. When you say Jesus Christ, you literally mean Jesus the Anointed One.

So, from the issuing of the decree to rebuild the temple there will be seven sevens and sixty sevens until the Anointed One is cut off. This is a period of 483 years. This is where it gets interesting.

Start counting 483 years from 444 BC and you arrive at 38 AD (remember there is no year 0.) This is close to the time of Christ but every biblical scholar agrees that He had been crucified by this time.

However, the Jewish calendar only had 360 days in it. I don’t completely understand how it works, only that they added days into their year every few years so that their seasons weren’t thrown off. Nevertheless, when they referred to a year, it was 360 days.

If you do the math – and I didn’t, somebody else did for me – and you multiply 483 years X 360 days, you’ll end up with 173,880 days. Now, start counting 173,880 days from March 5, 444 BC and you’ll end on March 30, 33 AD. March 30, 33 AD is a Sunday, five days before the Jewish Passover. The day that this portion of the prophecy ends on is Palm Sunday.

John 12:12-19

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the King of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
15 “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

On Palm Sunday it appears that all is well for Jesus as He rides into Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna. But the truth is that the day that He rides into Jerusalem, He does so as a dead man. It is this event that spurs the Pharisees to realize that they will not stop Jesus unless they kill Him. They have rejected their Messiah and in their eyes He is a dead man now and they will stop at nothing to kill Him. It is this day that the prophecy of Daniel is fulfilled and the Anointed One is cut off.

Verses 26-27

The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”

I’m just going to breeze through these last two verses. There is a pause in the prophetic timeline at the moment that the Anointed One is cut off. Sixty nine of the seventy sevens have been completed but the final seven years are still future.

The final seven concerns the time known as the tribulation. The antichrist will confirm a covenant with many for a period of seven years. He will reestablish sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. But in the middle of these sevenyears he will break his covenant and abolish the sacrifice. He will instead set up an abomination on a wing of the temple. This is most likely an image of himself that he demands people worship, much like Nebuchadnezzar once did.

There is plenty more we could discuss about the period of the tribulation but that isn’t the point here, only that it is the final seven in the prophetic timeline and God’s plan for Israel.

We do learn one important detail concerning the future from this passage though. The antichrist will be Roman. There are lots of different proclamations and the famed Left Behind series has him as a Russian but note what the second half of verse 26 says. “The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.” We have to work backwards on this one. The people who destroy the city of Jerusalem and the sanctuary are Roman. In AD 70 Jerusalem is set ablaze and the temple is destroyed to the point that not one stone is left atop another. The ruler to come is a reference to the antichrist. If the people who destroyed the temple are Roman and the ruler to come is of this group, then the antichrist must be Roman.

Whew, that was a lot, and probably more than you can take in in one morning. For now, let’s close on one thought. Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. We remember it as the beginning of the final week of Jesus’ life. But none of this took Jesus by surprise. Daniel gave us the exact date that the Anointed One was to be cut off! When Jesus entered into Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna, He did so knowing that His fate had already been decided. While crowds praised Him, the Pharisees were plotting His death.

As we’ll see on Thursday, this was all a part of God’s plan. And as we’ll celebrate next Sunday, Jesus’ death was just the beginning of a new life for all of us.

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