By: William Jackson
The book of Daniel is a treasure trove of prophecies. Over the ages many scholars have attempted to break down it’s complex revelations. There is chapter 2’s statue in King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream1, then there are Daniel’s dreams in chapters 7 and 8, one about the four beasts2 and one about a ram and a goat3. All three dreams depicted future world empires portrayed in chronological order leading up to their destruction by God. Chapter 9 also renders a futuristic demise but this foretelling has something different – numbers. These numbers, could be used to determine actual dates. This gives us what the other prophecies do not, a possible time line. Chapter 9’s prophecy, often termed “Daniel’s 70 Week Prophecy”, gives way to many interpretations. Some of these are eschatology (end day prophecies) and others are actual events that would take place within the 500 years after Daniel penned his book. Our analogy of Daniel’s chapter 9 will use the Tanakh and recorded historical events to interpreted his dream.
A major component of the 70-week prophecy of Daniel are three specific time frames listed in Danial 9:24-27. For the benefit of the analysis, I have broken Daniel 9:24-27 into three specific phases:
Phase I: The seven sevens prophecy, Daniel 9:25
Phase II: The sixty-two seven prophecy, Daniel 9:25-26
Phase III: The last seven prophecy, Daniel 9:26-27
Another point that requires clarity is the term week or weeks in Danial 9. The Hebrew root word “shabua”4 is used for the word weeks throughout Daniel 9:24-27. This can either mean seven days or seven years. If we are referring to weeks, as in days, usually the plural word “shavuot” would be used. Since the plural of weeks in Daniel ends in the masculine it implies years in Hebrew. Next begs the question “why did Daniel calculate all these time frames with shabua (seven year increments)?” The reason for this might be that the number seven in scripture is considered a sign of perfection and completion5. Such as seen in the branches of a menorah (Exodus 25:37, 37:23) or how a week ends on day 7, God’s holy day, the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8).
The stage is set in Daniel 9:24, where Daniel tells us it will take seven seventies (490 years) for God to “…terminate the transgression… end sin… expiate iniquity… and bring eternal righteousness…” to the Israelites. This appears to be the punishment God promised almost a millennium earlier in Leviticus 26:14-39 if Israel disobeyed Him. As we know from the prophets Joel through Jeremiah, Israel had issues with disobedience as we all do. God would enact these curses. Jeremiah also confirms this in Jeremiah 25:11-12.
In phase I (Daniel 9:25) Daniel talks about the seven sevens which is equal to 49 years. This would probably have begun with the Babylonians captivity of Israel which started 587 BC. After the Israelites did their 49 years of atonement in Babylon, King Cyrus (Daniel 5:31) would defeats Babylon thus freeing the Israelites. Let us remember that Jeremiah said that Israel would be cursed for 70 years not 49. Both are actually right because the initial suppression of Jerusalem happened years before its captivity thus explaining the difference in times.
Phase II, starts with the end of verse 25 talking about a special person initiating the rebuilding of the Temple. This verse is targeting a person who is “a ruler” and “the Anointed One”. The term anointed in Hebrew is mashiach or messiah. Many Christians hear messiah and immediately assume that it is their messiah. Messiah is used when talking about a person or a thing sanctified by God. For example, King Saul (1 Samuel 24:7, 11; 26:9, 11, 16, 23; 2 Samuel 1:14, 16) and King David (2 Samuel 19:22; 22:51; 23:1; Psalm 2:2; 20:7; 84:10; 89:39, 52; 132:10, 17)6 were considered messiahs. In Isaiah 45:1, Isaiah predicts King Cyrus, by name, as the anointed one or messiah that will defeat Babylon. This prediction happened 173 years before the actual event. King Cyrus is considered both a Ruler and a messiah by the Jewish people. King Cyrus also authorized the reconstruction the Temple (Ezra 1:1-3, 5:13, 6:3 and Isaiah 44:28) which fits this verse.
Phase II talks about the sixty-two sevens, which would equal 434 years. It is said that in 536 B.C. the foundations of the second temple was laid, thus ending the 70-year captivity. However, the construction of the Temple did not take place immediately and there were some delays with it. After these delays, construction was continued in 353 BC7. During this second Temple period Israel suffered under Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman occupation which supports the verse that the Temple will be rebuilt “…despite the perilous times” (Daniel 9:25). The second Temple period will last 420 years.
Phase II would land us seven years before the destruction of the 2nd Temple by the Romans. Thus Phase III would be initiated in 63 AD when Rome occupied Israel and started a seven-year period of tyranny. This is the last seven Daniel talks about in Daniel 9:27. At the beginning of Daniel 9:26 it states “…the anointed one will be cut off…”. Anointed could be either sacred object, Priest or King and “cut off” means being separated from God (Genesis 17:14, Exodus 12:15, Leviticus 7:20) or destroyed (Job 27:8, Ezekiel 25:7, Zechariah 13:8). Historically, this could be one of the following or all of the following things:
- Phannias ben Samuel, the last Jewish High Priest, was killed during the Temples destruction, which supports verse 26.
- Some say that this might have been Agrippa, the king of Judea who was killed during the destruction of Jerusalem. Agrippa curried favor with Rome which might support the phrase “…appearing to have accomplished nothing” (Daniel 9:26) but Agrippa died in 44 AD probably from an assignation8.
- Holy artifacts were removed from the Temple by the Roman in 66 AD. These were both anointed and cut off.
Also supporting the final portion of this same verse is the fact that Jerusalem, the Temple and the High Priest were destroyed at the hands of Rome, “… a ruler will arise whose armies will destroy the city and the Temple.”. (Daniel 9:26).
Verse 27 continues with “…For half of the week he will put a stop to the sacrifice and the grain offering…” which implies a shift from bad to worse in the last half of the seven years as well as stopping the Temple offerings. This did actually happen when Florus, the last Roman procurator, stole vast amounts of religious objects from the Temple in 66 AD. This infuriated the Jewish community which inspired riots that would eventually grow into a full scale revolt against the Romans. While this was going on, the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem did almost nothing9, which speaks to Daniel 9:26 “He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ (1 year) …” This last half of Daniel’s seven is consistent with the First Jewish–Roman War or Great Revolt (66 – 70 AD).
In conclusion I believe that with the numeric code given to us in Daniel the idea was to portray something specific not something ambiguous like some other theories. God deals in finite detail, look at the building of the Tabernacle, Exodus 25:1-40, 35:1-35, 39:32-40:38. When He spoke through Daniel in the rhythm of weeks it meant something precise. Although I believe that “Daniel’s 70 Week Prophecy” is talking about the Babylonian captivity followed by the Second Temple Period ending with the Roman destruction of the Temple, this could be repeated again. Often in scripture significant events are repeated. This might be a dress rehearsal for our “end times”
Phase I, 49 years, Jewish Captivity in Babylon
Phase II, 434 years, Jewish rebuilding the Temple, the 2nd Temple Period
Phase III, 7 years, Roman occupation of Israel.
Phase III second half: Roman crushes Israel’s revolt and destroys Temple.
- Mandel, David. “Nebuchadnezzar.” My Jewish Learning. Accessed April 16, 2016. Doi, Page 2.
- Davidly, Yair. “Daniel-7: Beasts.” Hebrew Nations -. Accessed April 16, 2016. http://hebrewnations.com/articles/bible/daniel/daniel7.html. Jerusalem, Israel
- “Daniel, Book of.” Daniel, Book of. Accessed April 16, 2016. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0005_0_04854.html
- “Strong’s Hebrew: 7620. שְׁבֻעַ (shabua) — a Period of Seven (days, Years), Heptad, Week.” Strong’s Hebrew: 7620. שְׁבֻעַ (shabua) — a Period of Seven (days, Years), Heptad, Week. Accessed April 14, 2016. http://bibleapps.com/hebrew/7620.htm.
- Dennis, Goeffrey, Rabbi. “Judaism & Numbers.” My Jewish Learning. Accessed April 16, 2016. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/judaism-numbers/.
- Price, Randall. “The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament.” Accessed April 15, 2016. doi: Page 1.
- “The Second Temple Is Built.” – Tisha B’Av and the 3 Weeks. Web. 14 Apr. 2016
- Cooley, M. G. L., and B. W. J. G. Wilson. The Age of Augustus. London, England? London Association of Classical Teachers, 2003.
- Telushkin, Joseph. Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History. New York: W. Morrow, 1991.