SIXTY-NINE WEEKS OF YEARS
I. THE HISTORICAL SETTING
A RAPID survey of the principal messianic predictions found in the Pentateuch has awakened in our hearts a desire to know the time specified by the prophets when Messiah would make His first appearance. To this investigation we shall now turn.
We are told upon good authority that "a text apart from its context is a pretext." The correctness of this statement immediately becomes apparent, when one notes the present day use of the Scriptures. All too often a verse of the sacred Word is snatched from its setting and is used as a basis for a lecture or sermon. Very frequently only a portion of a sentence is selected because certain words appearing within the statement seem appropriate as a title for the subject to be discussed. Such a practice led one of my seminary professors to remark on many occasions, "I know the Bible is true because it has survived so very much poor preaching." In view of this abuse of Scripture texts, I shall give herewith the entire oracle which forms the basis of the present discussion that the reader may have the entire picture before his mind as we enter into the study of this most intriguing passage which unfolds before our vision an outline of the ages beginning with the times of the prophet.
9 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans, in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years whereof the word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah the prophet, for the accomplishing of the desolations of Jerusalem, even seventy years.
And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. And I prayed unto Jehovah my God, and made confession, and said, Oh, Lord, the great and dreadful God, who keepeth covenant and loving kindness with them that love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned, and have dealt perversely and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even turning aside from thy precepts and from thine ordinances; neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, that spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of face, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou has driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee. O Lord, to us belongeth the confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness; for we have rebelled against him, neither have we obeyed the voice of Jehovah our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even turning aside, that they should not obey thy voice; therefore hath the curse been poured out upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against him. And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil; for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem. As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet have we not entreated the favor of Jehovah our God, that we should turn from our iniquities, and have discernment in thy truth. Therefore hath Jehovah watched over the evil, and brought it upon us for Jehovah our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth, and we have not obeyed his voice. And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly. O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, let thine anger and thy wrath, I pray thee, be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are round about us. Now therefore, O our God, hearken unto the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake. O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name; for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness, but for thy great mercies' sake. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God, because thy city and thy people are called by thy name.
And while I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before Jehovah my God for the holy mountain of my God; yea, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he instructed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee wisdom and understanding. At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment went forth, and I am come to tell thee; for thou art greatly beloved; therefore, consider the matter, and understand the vision.
Seventy weeks are decreed upon thy people and upon thy holy city to finish transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy. Know therefore and discern, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the anointed one, the prince, shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks; it shall be built again, with street and moat, even in troublous times. And after the threescore and two weeks shall the anointed one be cut off, and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and even unto the end shall be war; desolations are determined. And he shall make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and upon the wing of abominations shall come one that maketh desolate; and even unto the full end, and that determined, shall wrath be poured out upon the desolate.
As we approach the study of this marvelous prediction, we must keep in mind that God fulfills His prophecies as written and not as interpreted by the speculations of men. In studying this prediction, we shall also bear in mind that there is but one rule by which we may be guided in order to arrive at the correct understanding of any passage. This principle is called "The Golden Rule of Interpretation," which is: "When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the context indicate clearly otherwise."
The scientific method of Bible study is what is known as the historico-grammatical exegesis. Those who approach a question from this standpoint and who ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their study of a given passage will in most cases arrive at the correct interpretation. We shall therefore begin this study by looking at the situation which gave the occasion for the uttering of this oracle.
In order for one to understand the meaning of a given passage, whether in profane or sacred writings, he must study the historical circumstances which called forth the utterance. Especially must one study all of the antecedents which have any bearing upon a prediction in order to arrive at its meaning. If the historical background of any passage be ignored, it will be absolutely impossible for one to understand its full import. In keeping with this scientific principle we shall first study the predictions spoken by Jeremiah on this point.
A. Prophecies of Jeremiah 25 and 29
Jeremiah has rightly been called the weeping prophet. He lived through the crisis of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. His heart was crushed on account of the sins of his people and the hardness of their hearts. Although he constantly called his people to repentance and confession of their sins, his messages were unheeded. Finally, the Lord, speaking through him, said that the nation, having gone so very far into rebellion and evil practices, could not escape the punishment due for her sins.
1. Original Prediction
In the fourth year of Jehoiakim king of Judah, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the twenty-third of Jeremiah's ministry, the prophet foretold the Babylonian captivity, which, said he, would continue for seventy years. In his original prediction (chapter 25), he made it very clear that the captivity and its sufferings were the results of Israel's sinfulness and rebellion. The Lord called Nebuchadnezzar His Servant--not an obedient and willing servant, but one whom He would use in forwarding His plans and purposes. His using this heathen king is analogous to the way in which He later used Cyrus king of Persia. In 25:9,10 a distressing picture of the final collapse of the nation under Nebuchadnezzar is presented. This prediction is followed by a definite statement concerning the length of the exile in Babylon. "And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years." In verse 12 of this same chapter the prophet promised that at the expiration of this period the captives would be restored to the land of their fathers.
2. Jeremiah's Letter to the Captives
The letter referred to in the heading of this section was written by Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon after Jehoiakim together with the nobles of the land had been deported to Babylon. He sent this communication by the hands of Elasah and Gemariah, who were dispatched by King Zedekiah of Judah on a special mission to Nebuchadnezzar. Of course, these faithful men of God delivered the letter to "the residue of the elders of the captivity," while they were in Babylon conducting the royal business. Jehoiachin's captivity occurred in the year 597 B.C.E. of the popular, current chronology. This letter was not sent until Zedekiah had come into power, for the two men carrying it were dispatched to Babylon by him. We cannot say in just what year the document was drawn up. The oracle found in the preceding chapter (28) was spoken of in the fourth year of Zedekiah. This chapter recounts Jeremiah's conflict with the false prophets in Jerusalem. Since the letter deals with the impostors who were active in Babylon among the captives and since it is placed immediately after this account, it is likely that it was written about the same time, namely, the fourth year of Zedekiah.B. Daniel's Study of Prophecy
Daniel and those who were deported with him had already been in exile between 10 and 15 years. During this time false prophets had arisen among the exiles, who were speaking presumptuously in the name of the Lord, insisting that the captives should not settle down to a regular and ordered life, for, they affirmed, the captives would soon be permitted to return to their native land. At the same time, the false prophets in Jerusalem were predicting a speedy return of their brethren from Babylon. For instance, Hananiah said that within 2 years they would be restored. Of course, Jeremiah refuted these lying predictions. It was with this thought in view that Jeremiah wrote the letter which now is incorporated into his work as chapter 29. In this message he repeated the prediction of seventy years for the exile.
In order that we might see the situation as it was, I wish to examine verses 10-14 of this chapter.
"For thus saith Jehovah, After seventy years are accomplished for Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith Jehovah, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope in your latter end. And ye shall call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith Jehovah, and I will turn again your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith Jehovah; and I will bring you again unto the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive."
In verse 14 we see that the captivity was to continue for seventy years, and that at the expiration of this period God would visit the exiles in causing them to return to the land of their nativity. The restoration would, of course, be according to God's good word to them. According to verse 11 the prophet declared that Israel's return after the seventy years was absolutely necessary in order to the carrying out of the eternal plan of the Almighty for her. God has a plan of the ages, and Israel is the principal actor upon the stage of this world drama during the past and future eras; therefore, the prophet declared that it was necessary for the Lord to restore the exiles at the end of the seventy years of their residence in Babylon. His thoughts for Israel are for good; --to give her hope in the latter end. He could not do that, should the captives remain there perpetually.
We must note particularly that the restoration after the seventy years is blended with the hope of Israel in the latter end. The peculiar literary phenomenon found in this passage is characteristic of the prophetic word. Thus the picture of the return of the captives under Zerubbabel after the seventy years is blended with that of the final and glorious restoration of the entire nation at the end of the age. If this verse were the only passage dealing with this subject, one would naturally conclude that Israel would remain in Palestine until the latter days, when God will completely fulfill and perform His good word concerning the Chosen People.
In verses 12 and 13 the Lord promises Israel that, when she calls upon Him, He will answer; but at the same time He insists that the repentance be genuine and their calling upon Him be in faith. If the prediction had ended with verse 13, one would have I thought that Jeremiah was simply looking to the end of the Babylonian captivity when the Lord would restore the captives, and that Israel's calling upon Him at that time was the thing which the prophet here mentions.
When we read verse 14, however, we see that the captivity concerning which he was speaking is one that involves a world-wide dispersion from which she will at the end of the age be gathered. "And I will be found of you, saith Jehovah, and I will turn again your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations," etc. These words clearly indicate that he had in mind the final and permanent regathering of Israel from the four corners of the earth. This is the same mighty restoration of which he spoke in chapter 23:7,8.
"Therefore, behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that they shall no more say, As Jehovah liveth, who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, As Jehovah liveth, who brought up and who led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries whither I had driven them. And they shall dwell in their own land."
Isaiah likewise foretold the same national restoration (Isa. 11:11,12).
Unless one is very careful to note every particular in the development of the thought as he reads verses 10-14, he will not differentiate between the return of the captives from Babylon at the end of the seventy years of exile and the final restoration of the entire nation at the end of the age. Jeremiah's letter to the exiles is immediately followed in this great prophetic book by an extended prediction concerning the new covenant which God will make with both Judah and Israel at their final restoration. The conversion of the nation is likewise foretold. The picture of the future presented in these chapters is tinted with the bright colors of the glorious kingdom age. The casual reader will probably not observe the delicate blending of the pictures of the two restorations, which we know, from our present point of view, are separated thus far by approximately 2500 years, but will see only one return--the one at the conclusion of the Babylonian exile.
We who are living between these two restorations can see that the new covenant was not made with Israel at the time of the return from Babylon, for when this prediction is fulfilled Israel will never again be rooted up from the land. Since she was cast out of it in 70 C.E. and has been scattered among the nations for approximately 1900 years, we know that the latter part of this prophecy has not yet been fulfilled. To us the restoration from Babylon after the seventy years was only a foreshadowing of the final and glorious one in the end time. In reading these chapters we must not look at them from our point of view, but from that of the prophet and his contemporaries. Could the casual hearer or reader at that time see these two restorations and the intervening period? In this connection I will leave this question unanswered, but in the proper place (Section D) shall discuss it.
"In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans, in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years whereof the word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah the prophet, for the accomplishing of the desolations of Jerusalem, even seventy years" (Dan. 9:1,2).
Daniel said that he understood from the books the number of years for the desolations of Jerusalem. Evidently, he had been studying several works, one of which was the writings of Jeremiah. But he understood from the books. What other volumes did he have that might give light upon the subject? The final chapters of II Kings and II Chronicles tell about the years of the captivity, especially the passage in II Kings 24. Furthermore, since Isaiah foretold that Cyrus was the one who would issue the decree for the rebuilding of both the temple and the city, we may be certain that Daniel had read this prediction. With a fair degree of certainty we may be sure that the books referred to included all of these.
It is important that we understand these facts in order that we may correctly evaluate the word year. What kind of year did Daniel have in mind when he read these records? There is but one answer: the type of year that is given in these historical books. The years of which we read in them were the regular solar years consisting of the four seasons. We have already seen that the Hebrews adjusted their calendar by observation of the crops and the seasons. Hence the years of which Daniel had read were the regular solar or tropical years. As we shall all see in this discussion, the message of the angel Gabriel must be interpreted in the light of Daniel's thinking, which was based upon the idea that the word year conveyed to him by the historical books. Because of the importance of this fact I cannot lay too much emphasis upon it. But more will be given later.
Daniel informs us that he was reading the book of Jeremiah in the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes. This year was the sixty-eighth of the seventy-year period of exile. Hence within 2 years of the restoration Daniel was reading the writings of his older contemporary, who had been left in Jerusalem and the latter part of whose life overlapped that of his own. Why did Daniel consume his time reading the forecasts of Jeremiah?
1. The Purpose of Prophecy
There are design and wisdom in everything which the Lord does. Hence we conclude that there is a purpose served by the prophetic word. He through Amos said that He would not do anything unless He first revealed the matter to His servants, the prophets. The fundamental principle underlying the Lord's making His plans and purposes first known to His servants before putting them into execution is that He has taken His people into a very close and intimate fellowship with Himself. "The friendship of Jehovah is with them that fear Him; And He will show them His covenant" (Ps. 25:14). Prophecy then is not given to satisfy idle curiosity but to cause the Lord's people to understand His plans that they may conform their lives thereto. This fact is beautifully illustrated by Daniel's sincere confession and earnest petition recorded in verses 3 to 19 of chapter 9. At a casual glance we see that he began to confess his own sins and shortcomings together with those of his people and at the same time to plead for an extension of the Lord's mercy toward the whole nation. The prophetic word, therefore, has a definite purpose in the plan of God; namely, that of enabling His people to cooperate with Him in unfolding His plan of the ages. Thus when one reads the predictions with spiritual discernment, he will naturally be led to pray in regard to the matters revealed and will adjust his life and activities in accordance with the divine program.2. Literal Interpretation of Prophecy
This circumstance furnishes us with one of the clearest examples of how to study and understand the prophetic word. In the original prediction God said that the exiles should remain in captivity seventy years. Daniel read this oracle, believing that the Lord said what He meant and meant what He said. He correctly understood that the expression "seventy years" meant exactly seventy years--nothing more and nothing less. This observation brings me back to the fundamental principle which I often mention, and which I feel is necessary for us to observe in order that we may understand any writings, profane or sacred. The basic principle of interpretation is that each word must be taken at its original, primary, literal, usual meaning unless there are indications in the connection showing that such is not the case. We should never assign any signification to a given passage other than the usual meaning without warrant from the facts presented in the context. There is nothing in the message of the original prediction indicating a departure from the literal meaning of the words. Hence Daniel correctly understood that the expression seventy years* was to be taken literally. Knowing that within less than 2 years the period of exile would come to a close, this faithful servant of God immediately began to confess both his own sins and those of the people and to plead for forgiveness and divine favor. C. Daniel's Prayer and Confession
When one reads the Scriptures, he should think seriously. Daniel believed them implicitly. To him they were the very WORD OF GOD. Hence when he read it, he applied it to his own life. Unless our reading the Word brings us into a closer fellowship with the Lord, our study of the Scriptures is a failure. Invariably when we read them conscientiously, they will bring us to the point of confession and intercession, not only for ourselves, but also for all the people of God. The primary object of God's giving us His Word is that we should know more perfectly His will to the end that we may fit our plans into the divine purpose and conform our wills to His. Of course, to learn the marvelous and wonderful things revealed in the Word is a source of great satisfaction and joy, both spiritual and intellectual. The primary object of God's revealing His Word to us is not to feed morbid curiosity concerning things past and future, to gratify a purely intellectual craving for knowledge and wisdom, and to satisfy the ambitious longings of the carnally-minded intellectuals, who are simply seeking cultural advantages, but to show us the way back to Himself and to real joy and contentment. It fully meets and completely satisfies the longings of the honest truth-seeker. It also challenges the mental acumen of the profoundest philosophers and scholars and meets their souls' demands. The one purpose the Lord had in mind in giving us His Word is to draw us into a closer fellowship with Himself as was exemplified in the case of Daniel.D. Gabriel's Mission
When Daniel began to pray, the angel Gabriel was dispatched from heaven to answer his cry. His petition can be read in four minutes. Thus the angel made the long journey through space to his side in this inconceivably short time. This deduction is correct, provided we have the prayer recorded in full. According to the Word of God, the angels are God's messengers for good to those who acknowledge Him. "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, And delivereth them" (Ps. 34:7).
In Daniel 9:22,23 we have recorded the language of the angel to the prophet upon his arrival. In his introductory speech we find an echo of the fact that Daniel had misunderstood what he had read.1. To Instruct Daniel
Gabriel immediately informed Daniel that he had been sent forth "to give thee (Daniel) wisdom and understanding." From the entire context it is clear that, since Daniel was reading Jeremiah's prophecies, and since the angel came to give him wisdom and understanding, the prophet evidently did not understand what he had read; i.e., he did not comprehend the full import of Jeremiah's prediction. Concerning Gabriel's message Daniel, in the beginning of verse 22, said that the angel had instructed him. To instruct one means to impart knowledge which one does not already possess; therefore we legitimately conclude that Gabriel gave the prophet knowledge concerning the things which he had just read, and which he did not understand. Daniel's statement is, of course, reinforced by Gabriel's, concerning the purpose of his visit. Had the prophet thoroughly understood Jeremiah's writings, Gabriel certainly would not have come to Him.
His misunderstanding the oracle leads me to make the following observation. The prophets were not always inspired. This fact becomes evident when one reads their messages and the statements which they frequently made concerning the coming of the word of the Lord to them on given occasions. Many of their predictions are dated. At times the people went to them and sought information. These men of God would then go to Him in prayer, and He would respond. Whenever the Spirit was upon them, they spoke infallibly. Under these conditions they could make no mistakes. On other occasions when the Spirit was not inspiring them, nor the hand of the Lord was upon them, they could and did draw wrong conclusions concerning certain matters.
* A popular hypothesis, current in many circles, is known as "the year-day theory." This doctrine assumes that a day in prophecy foreshadows a year in history. Numbers 14:34 is presented as proof of this position. "After the number of days in which ye spied out the land, even forty days, for every day a year shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my alienation." Ezekiel 4:4-8 is likewise offered as positive proof of this theory.
In the first instance it is quite evident that a day did foreshadow a year in history. Are we warranted from these two exceptional cases to conclude that everywhere a prediction involving the time element is made, a day stands for a year in history? In order to test this hypothesis, let us apply it to the seventy years of Babylonian captivity. The exponents of this theory claim that the prophetic year consists of 360 days, and that each foreshadows a year in history. According to this position we must multiply seventy by 360, the result of which calculation is 25,200. Since by hypothesis each of these so-called prophetic days foreshadows a year in reality, Israel was to remain in Babylon for 25,200 years; hence the restoration from that exile is yet far in the future. As the logical conclusion of the theory proves to be an absurdity, we see that it is not applicable in this instance. Let us test it once more. In Genesis 15:13 we read of the Lord's telling Abraham that his seed should be sojourners in a land not their own and that they should serve the people of the land. The oracle also foretold that this period of affliction should last 400 years. According to the theory, these 400 years would be equivalent to 144,000 days each of which would signify a year of actual history. Therefore by hypothesis, the Israelites have a very long time yet to remain in Egyptian bondage.
In these two instances we observe that this theory reduces itself to an absurdity. If it should be applied to other passages in which a definite time is stated, we should find that in each case an application of this hypothesis would produce a ridiculous absurdity; therefore, I must reject this theory as unscriptural so far as a general principle for interpreting the prophetic word is concerned. This theory will come up for full discussion in chapter XXI. (Ed. Note: refers to chapter XXI of Messiah: His First Coming Scheduled.)