The seventy sevens — Daniel 9:22-27

The seventy sevens

Daniel 9:22-27

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, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:

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 Place.

25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out 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 put to death and will have nothing. 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 at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”

COMMENTARY — Daniel 9:22-24

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, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:

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 Place.”

Seventy sets of seven — contours of the enhanced punishment

In the moment that Daniel’s prayer reaches a passionate crescendo,[1] the angel Gabriel swiftly approaches to reveal to Daniel the vast span of God’s plans. When Gabriel returns to explain more fully what Daniel has found in Jeremiah’s writings, he reveals a much bigger context of Yahweh’s discipline for the Jews and looks far into the future to the end of all such judgment. In doing so, Gabriel not only answers Daniel’s short-term concern but also unveils the much larger picture of how God’s ultimate judgments will unfold and when they will end.

This chapter concerns not only the end of God’s punishment for his people but the end of his tolerance for human rebellion. In effect, Gabriel reveals that God’s people are nearing the end of the original 70-year punishment, but the seven-fold enhancement of their penalty still lies in Daniel’s future (as well as our own).

Miller calls verses 24-27 “four of the most controversial verses in the Bible.”[2] A detailed discussion of the four major views is beyond the scope of this study guide but may be found in Miller’s commentary.[3] We will begin by clarifying terms.

All four views depend upon the interpretation of the very first word in verse 24, the Hebrew noun shabu’, which means “period of seven (days, years), heptad, week.”[4] Because translators prefer the simple, self-explanatory nature of the word “week” to the more accurate phrase “period of seven,” quite a few English versions (ESV, NET, CEB, NASB, HCSB) start verse 24 with the words “Seventy weeks”. But “weeks” is a poor choice since multiples of 7 years are what the interpretation of the passage requires. We must congratulate NIV for saying, “Seventy sevens,” but the grand prize goes to NLT for saying, “A period of seventy sets of seven”.

Commentators generally agree that Daniel was speaking in terms of sets-of-seven-years. Recall that Hoehner said, “Each year of captivity represented one seven-year cycle in which the seventh or Sabbath year had not been observed.”[5] Daniel has already shown his understanding from Jeremiah (25:11-12; 29:10) that the Babylonian captivity would last 70 years. And we have established from the Law of Moses both the requirement of giving the land rest in the seventh year (Lev. 25:4) and the seven-fold enhancement factor for disobedience (Lev. 26:18, 21, 28).

So, if commentators generally agree Daniel is dealing with multiple periods of seven years, what is the reason for their splitting into four different views of the passage? The answer is that differences of opinion exist about (1) whether the years are literal or figurative, and (2) when the periods of time begin and end.

Since the meaning of years related to this passage is literal, we agree with Miller[6] and Wood[7] that the interpretation must also deal with literal years and that the last of those years will end with the second coming of Christ. We will briefly show that this interpretation gives a coherent understanding of what God has revealed to Daniel and to us.

Daniel 9:24 “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 Place.”

We have already explained that the sevens refer to multiple periods of seven years. So, seventy sevens is a period of 490 years (70 x 7 = 490). Hoehner[8] rightly points out that, by looking toward the past from Daniels day, we see a scattered series of seven-year-periods for which the Sabbath-year rest commanded by God was not observed. Since this happened 70 times, we are talking about 490 years in all. Gabriel looks forward from Daniel’s day and sees a scattered series of seven-year-periods also totaling 490 years. At various points within the seventy sets of seven-year-periods, the events listed in verse 24 will all take place, most of them positioned at the end.

It is vital to realize that the seventy sevens have been imposed upon “your [i.e., Daniel’s] people and your holy city” (verse 24a). Wood explains, “It should be noted that Gabriel said the 490 years will be in reference to the Jewish people and the Jewish capital city, which would seem to exclude any direct concern with Gentiles.”[9] In other words, the terms of the prophecy should be interpreted in relation to the Jews and Jerusalem; how they relate to the church or to people who live in the 21st century is a separate issue. We cannot hijack the prophecy!

Six things will be accomplished in relation to the Jews and Jerusalem:

“to finish transgression” — Miller explains, “It would probably refer to Israel’s rebellion against God.”[10] Chisholm agrees by translating “putting an end to rebellion.”[11]

“to put an end to sin” — Miller notes, “This prophecy cannot be fulfilled in any real sense until Christ personally returns to earth.”[12]

“to atone for wickedness” — This must surely be a reference to the cross of Christ, the Messiah of Israel. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith (Rom. 3:25). Only at the Messiah’s second coming does Israel turn to him.

“to bring in everlasting righteousness” — Miller says, “As the prophecy pertains to Israel specifically, it indicates that at the end of the seventy sevens the nation as a whole will have received permanently a right relationship with God.”[13] That is not possible until Jesus returns.

“to seal up vision and prophecy” — Perhaps better is NLTs translation “to confirm the prophetic vision” since the verb means either “seal up” or “confirm.” Wood observes: “The words taken together refer to the final fulfillment of revelation and prophecy; i.e., when their functions are shown to be finished. The time in mind can only be the final day when Christ comes in power.”[14]

“to anoint the Most Holy Place” — The exact phrase given as “the Most Holy Place” is one that occurs thirty-nine times in the Old Testament, always in reference to the Tabernacle or Temple or to the holy articles used in them.[15]

COMMENTARY — Daniel 9:25-27

25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out 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 put to death and will have nothing. 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 at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”

Seventy sets of seven — the unfolding timeline

Daniel 9:25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out 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.”

In this verse Gabriel gives a starting point — “the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” — as well as an ending point — “until the Anointed One, the ruler comes.” Gabriel further reveals that the interval between these two events is “seven sevens, and sixty-two sevens.” Opinions differ at this point depending on whether the years are taken figuratively or literally. Those preferring the figurative view of years cannot make good sense of the numbers, but they question the assumptions of those who attempt exact calculations. Both views are possible, but we prefer the literalist or numerical approach.

We follow the traditional view of the church in saying “the Anointed One,” or “Messiah” (HCSB), is Jesus; verse 26 makes this identification even stronger. The specific analysis of dates that makes the most sense is that given by Hoehner.[16] He starts with the words of the Persian king Artaxerxes I to Nehemiah, the man who led the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and biblical data place that conversation in March/April 444 B.C. (Nehemiah 2:1-9).[17] The king specifically authorized rebuilding Jerusalem, but the project later ran into a lot of local opposition from the Samaritans and others.

Hoehner demonstrates that using a 360-day year, having 12 months of 30 days each, is a model that has biblical support. With a starting point defined and a year composed of fixed elements, Hoehner is well able to do the math and arrive at an ending date for the seven sevens, and sixty-two sevens of March 30, A.D. 33, the time of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Not all agree, but his analysis holds its own. By this reckoning, 69 sevens-of-years end when Jesus enters Jerusalem to die.

Daniel 9:26 “After the sixty-two sevens, the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. 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.”

Note that the death of the Messiah comes after the 62 sevens-of-years; the vital word after arises from a particular word in the Hebrew text and not from the sense of the passage. In the view of the world, Jesus died as a capital criminal, the ultimate shame. Since honor was paramount in the Mediterranean world of Jesus day, he died with nothing.

Note carefully that it is “the people of the prince who will come” who destroy the city and the sanctuary, not the prince.[18] We have already said that the Roman general Titus totally destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in A.D. 70. The Roman Empire in some renewed form is the one repeatedly presented by Daniel as the one to emerge in the last days with the Antichrist (called “the prince who will come”) at its head. As Miller says, “[Verse] 27 makes clear that this ruler will be the future persecutor of Israel in the seventieth seven.”[19]

A covenant with a treacherous man

Daniel 9:27 “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 at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”

At last we find the seventieth seven-of-years, and it lies in our future. The unpredictable nature of the onset of the seventieth seven fits Jesus words: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). Often, the seventieth seven is called the tribulation and the last half of it is called the great tribulation. Although there is a sharp theological debate about whether Christians will be on the earth at this time, Gabriel says nothing about that. His focus is on the Jews and Jerusalem.

Some have been critical of the gap between the first sixty-nine sevens and the seventieth seven, a period of almost two thousand years. This criticism overlooks the spotty occurrence of the missed sabbath years as well as the gap between the seventy years of captivity and the authorization to begin rebuilding Jerusalem. These sevens-of-years are part of the seven-fold enhancement of the original punishment, and God may place them as he chooses.

The “he” who will confirm a covenant (verse 27a) is “the ruler who will come” in verse 26; we know him as the Antichrist. We agree with Miller that, in this context, “‘the many’ is best taken as a description of the Jewish people as a group.”[20] The Jews will likely agree to a seven-year treaty with the powerful renewed Roman Empire to have security from their enemies.

After half the period is over — three and a half years — the Antichrist will end any worship activities (verse 27a) presumably being conducted on Temple Mount (whether or not a temple is actually standing). What happens next is not clear, but it will involve the most profane possible activity in defiance of Yahweh. The NIV follows the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, in saying “at the temple,” but the Hebrew text says nothing of the temple. CEB offers: “… he will stop both sacrifices and offerings. In their place will be the desolating monstrosities until the decreed destruction sweeps over the devastator” (verse 27bc). So, for three and a half years that part of Jerusalem most associated with Yahweh will be dreadfully desecrated until the time appointed for the Antichrist to be destroyed.

It is easy for us to underestimate the effect of this astounding revelation on the elderly Daniel. We know that he understood, based on Jeremiah’s prophecies, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years (Dan. 9:2). Is it possible that he did not understand the seven-fold enhancement of the seventy years — 70 x 7 = 490 years, seventy units-of-seven years for further desolation, as declared in Leviticus 26? In verses Dan. 9:17 and 9:18 he asks Yahweh to look on the desolation of Jerusalem and the temple. But Gabriel repeats that word in Dan. 9:26 and 9:27 (twice) to refer to further desolations of Jerusalem to come. This news must have been appalling to the elderly Daniel.

[1] Miller, Daniel, 249.
[2] Miller, Daniel, 252.
[3] Miller, Daniel, 2537.
[4] BDB, shabu, period of seven, q.v.
[5] Hoehner, Daniels Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology, 49.
[6] Miller, Daniel, 257.
[7] Wood, Daniel, 244.
[8] Hoehner, Daniels Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology, 49
[9] Miller, Daniel, 259.
[10] Miller, Daniel, 260.
[11] Chisholm, Handbook on the Prophets, 313.
[12] Miller, Daniel, 260.
[13] Miller, Daniel, 260.
[14] Wood, Daniel, 250.
[15] Wood, Daniel, 250.
[16] Harold Hoehner, Daniels Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology, Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (JanuaryMarch 1975) 4765. This material also appears as chapter 6 of Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978).
[17] Hoehner, Daniels Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology, 59.
[18] Wood, Daniel, 255.
[19] Miller, Daniel, 268.
[20] Miller, Daniel, 271.

Exposition of Daniel 9:15-21, Daniel’s prayer — the desolation of Yahweh’s holy hill

15 Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

17 Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, 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.

Having spoken of God’s greatness and his peoples sin, Daniel turns his attention to specific actions he is seeking. Specifically, he asks that Yahweh withdraw his wrath from Jerusalem (verse 16) and treat both Jerusalem and the desolate temple there with his favor (verses 17-18). This request rests upon God’s promise in Lev. 26:42b.

Verse 18b deserves special attention: “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” Everything we need starts with God’s mercy. As Christians, we do not stand on the same ground as Daniel. Because Jesus has died for our sins, the Scriptures say, “Let us then approach Gods throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We are not descendants of Abraham, as Daniel was, but we rely on Gods mercy as surely as he did. Even better news, Yahweh is full of mercy!

In the moment that Daniel’s prayer reaches “a passionate crescendo,”[1] the angel Gabriel swiftly approaches to reveal a vast span of God’s plans. In effect, Gabriel will reveal that God’s people are nearing the end of the original 70-year punishment, but the seven-fold enhancement of their penalty still lay in Daniel’s future.

Copyright 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Miller, Daniel, 249.

Exposition of Daniel 9:1-6, The context of Daniels prayer

Daniel 9:1-6

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. 4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:

Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

Daniel follows his normal practice of connecting to historical events by providing a date tied to the name of a ruler (verse 1). NIV is almost alone in giving the rulers name as Darius son of Xerxes, where the italicized word is the Greek for the name Ahasuerus. Both Xerxes (Greek) and Ahasuerus (Hebrew) are transliterations [spelling in another language] of a throne-name similar to Pharaoh or Caesar.[1] In another 2500 years our word President will similarly need explanation.

Although the matter is disputed, we identify this ruler, Darius son of Ahasuerus (ESV), as Cyrus the Great, also known as Darius the Mede (Daniel 5:31) and Cyrus the Persian; Cyruss mother was Median and his father was Persian; because he was a great success, everyone claimed him! The first year of his reign was 539-538 B.C., at which time Daniel was likely more than eighty years old.

God keeps his word — all of his word

It is important to realize that the issues presented in Daniel 9 did not begin with Daniel or even with the deportation of Judah to Babylonian captivity. By studying the words given by Yahweh to Jeremiah the prophet, whose messages Daniel heard while living in Jerusalem, Daniel uncovers a fraction of the history leading to his peoples captivity in Babylon.

In verse 2, Daniel understands from Jeremiahs prophecies (Jeremiah 25:11-12) that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. Other Scriptures, such as Dan. 9:11b and 9:13, inform us that the reason for this number 70 was that Gods people had failed to obey the Law of Moses. In particular, 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 relate the captivity years to sabbatical years (NET). What does that mean? To answer this question we must return to Mount Sinai where the exodus generation was being instructed how to behave in the land God had promised but not yet given to them, the land of Canaan.

At Sinai, Yahweh told Moses that the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord (Leviticus 25:2). Every seventh year in the land, the people could not sow their fields or prune their vines. They would live on the bounty granted in the previous year to let the land rest during the seventh year. Further, the people were required to count off seven sabbath years seven times seven years so that the seven sabbath years amount to forty-nine years (Lev. 25:8). That forty-ninth year was a sabbath year, and was followed by the Jubilee Year when slaves were freed, debts forgiven, and land returned to those who received it from Yahweh as their inheritance in Canaan.

Eventually, the people neglected these sabbath years and often failed to observe them. That was a grave mistake that brought severe consequences. As Harold Hoehner, a New Testament scholar and historian, puts it, Each year of captivity represented one seven-year cycle in which the seventh or Sabbath year had not been observed.[2] Yahweh keeps track of everything going on with his people, and with everyone else as well.

In the first instance, those seventy ignored sabbath years determined the length of the captivity in Babylon and the desolation of Jerusalem. But that is not the full story! In Leviticus 26, Yahweh warns the people that if they ignore his blessings and disobey him, the result will be: I will punish you for your sins seven times over (Lev. 26:18). To reinforce the point, he repeats this seven-fold enhancement of punishment two more times (Lev. 26:21, 28). Yahweh also promises that the land will certainly gets its prescribed sabbath rest during their absence in the land of their enemies (Lev. 26:34-35)!

Now we do the math. Seventy years of punishment for missed sabbath years times an enhancement factor of seven yields 490 years (70 x 7 = 490). In his prayer Daniel expresses concern about relief at the end of seventy calendar years of captivity, but Gabriels answer spans all 490 years of additional punishment that is due because of the enhancement.

Here is a key idea for using the above information in the interpretation of chapter 9: Yahweh will apply those 490 years of punishment in whatever way pleases him. He is not bound by the common but misguided expectation that he will start the clock at 0 and let it run continuously to reach 490 years. Later we will learn how Yahweh will distribute the punishment.

Daniels prayer — A necessary confession of rebellion

Certainly Daniels prayer is profound and theologically significant. But, since God has already revealed that the captivity in Babylon would last seventy years, why does he think it necessary to pray for an end to Gods anger against his people? The answer lies in Lev. 26:40-42, verses that record Yahwehs promise to respond to the confession of sin and demonstration of humility by the people in Babylonian captivity. Perhaps it was Daniels earnest attention to these issues of confession and humility that satisfied what God had stated in Leviticus 26. In other words, Daniel carefully considered what Yahweh had said and acted accordingly.

ESV skillfully presents Daniels description of Yahweh: the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments (verse 4). Note the sequence covenant-love-love-commandments; this type of A-B-B-A structure is common in the Old Testament. Gods covenants usually include both blessing sections and cursing sections, corresponding to his peoples obedience or disobedience, respectively. People today are often drawn to emphasize Gods love and to downplay his commandments. That emphasis can put us just one step away from thinking that we can risk a little disobedience since God loves us. That is exactly how Gods people ignored many sabbath years and wound up in Babylon!

The Hebrew verbs in verse 4 are significant. The first verb (translated by prayed) stresses the function of intercession, in which Daniel takes on the role of advocacy on behalf of Gods people and his desolated holy place, including both the temple and Jerusalem. This is not a prayer about relative trivia; it addresses subjects worthy of attention from the ruler of heaven and earth. As believers, we too are worthy of his attention, a fact that is a result of his mercy and kindness.

The second verb (translated as confessed) stresses acknowledgement a fascinating, double-edged verb that, when it concerns Yahweh, amounts to praise, and, when it concerns Daniel and the people, amounts to confession. When we properly acknowledge God, we are praising him for who he is and what he does. When we acknowledge our own condition, we must confess that God is not finished with us, and — worse — that our hearts are sometimes in rebellion against him.

Verse 9b is stated a bit better by the ESV: O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments. Note particularly the italicized portion. Yahweh always upholds his side of the relationship, and he always extends loyal love toward those who are loyal to him and obedient. The fact that the Jews suffer in Babylon is not the result of any failure on Yahwehs part to keep the covenant; their condition flows directly from their disloyal worship of idols and their failure to carry out their role under the covenant.

Verses 4-6 name many types of sin and make the point that Yahweh had repeatedly warned his people through the prophets, but they did not listen. Those who fail to listen to God are cruising toward the rocks.

Copyright 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] According to Goldingay, Daniel, 239, the name Ahasuerus is the Hebrew spelling of an Old Persian throne-name likely meaning hero among rulers.

[2] Harold Hoehner, Daniels Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology, Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (JanuaryMarch 1975) 49.