Bible Commentary: Daniel 9

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Daniel 9

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Daniel Prays for His People

It is the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede over Babylonia (539-538 B.C.). The rule of the Chaldean Empire was now over. Yet what did this mean for the captives of Judah in Babylon? Daniel at this point considers what Scripture has to say. It is not clear if he turned to Jeremiah's prophecy at this time or if he was simply recalling what he already knew from it. The prophecy explained that God "would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem" (verse 2). As explained in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Jeremiah 25, Jeremiah's prophecy of 70 years had two aspects to it. It denoted the 70 years of Babylonian imperial rule—from 609 to 539 B.C. Yet it also meant that Judah and Jerusalem would suffer 70 years of desolation following the invasion of Babylonian forces. This most obviously fits the time from the great destruction of 586 until the rebuilding of the temple in 516. (In fact, Zechariah 7:5 later made it clear that the 70 years began after the commencement of the fast of the fifth month, which was instituted following the temple's destruction in 586.)

Yet it should be remembered that there were three waves of Babylonian invasion and captivity in Judah—and Daniel did not have the hindsight of the temple's reconstruction in 516. Perhaps he was trying to determine the starting and ending points of the 70 years—or even considering the possibility of multiple fulfillments. Daniel himself had been carried away captive in 605 B.C., when Babylon first invaded Jerusalem and robbed its temple. That was 67 years ago. Counting 70 years from that point, the end would be just a few years away. No doubt Daniel also had in mind Isaiah's prophecy, given some 150 years prior, wherein God had said, "Cyrus, He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, 'You shall be built,' and to the temple, 'Your foundation shall be laid'" (Isaiah 44:28).

Perhaps Daniel felt that even if the ultimate fulfillment of the 70 years was more than two decades away, there could yet be an opportunity for early waves of return, as conditions seemed to merit that possibility.

Yet as Daniel gives further consideration to Scripture, particularly the terms of the covenant as written down by Moses, he understands that there will be no redemption or return at all without national repentance. And sad to say, as he surveys the spiritual condition of his people, he realizes all too well that they have not as yet, despite all that they have experienced, humbled themselves in repentant prayer and seeking God's truth (Daniel 9:13).

So Daniel resolves to intercede for the nation, imploring God through prayer and fasting that He act without delay for the sake of His holy name to restore His sanctuary, His city and His people. Notice that Daniel, despite his own sterling record of following God, does not take the high-and-mighty approach of saying throughout, "Look at what they have done." Rather he includes himself as one of the guilty. And indeed no human being is without sin (Romans 3:23). Yet Daniel, through regular repentance, was already considered righteous before God. He certainly didn't stand guilty in the way the rest of the nation did. So Daniel was, in a sense, taking the sins of the people on himself—and in this way he serves as a type and forerunner of the ultimate intercessor and sin-bearer, Jesus Christ.

Remarkably, before Daniel even finishes his prayer, the angel Gabriel appears, having been sent by God as soon as Daniel started speaking. Gabriel is the angel who had appeared to Daniel nearly a decade earlier to explain the vision of the ram and he-goat in chapter 8. Since it is specified that he arrives at the time of the evening sacrifice, it appears that Daniel had chosen this particular time to pray. "Because the temple was in ruins, regular daily sacrifices were impossible. Nevertheless, Daniel observed the ritual of worship by praying at the hour of the evening sacrifice. Daniel's prayer was his evening offering" (Nelson Study Bible, note on 9:20-21). While not a direct command from God as to when we should now pray, it is nonetheless a good example to us of regular, daily prayer. Indeed, it Daniel's custom was to pray three times a day (Daniel 6:10), just as Israel's King David did (Psalm 55:17). And in more critical circumstances, to draw even closer to God, Daniel sought Him through fasting and even more prayer—as we must also do.

The 70-Weeks Prophecy

Daniel received a rather surprising answer to his prayer. He had asked about the 70 specified years of desolation (verse 3), but God tells him of 70 "sevens," as the word translated "weeks" is literally rendered (verse 24, NKJV margin)—70 seven-year periods, seven times as long as Daniel was thinking about.

Just how are we to understand this prophecy? Gleason Archer, author of The Expositor's Bible Commentary, gives a thorough explanation in his New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties:

"The prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24-27 is one of the most remarkable long-range predictions in the entire Bible. It is by all odds one of the most widely discussed by students and scholars of every persuasion within the spectrum of the Christian church. And yet when it is carefully examined in light of all the relevant data of history and the information available from other parts of Scripture, it is quite clearly an accurate prediction of the time of Christ's coming advent and a preview of the thrilling final act of the drama of human history before that advent.

"Daniel 9:24 reads: 'Seventy weeks have been determined for your people and your holy city {i.e., for the nation Israel and for Jerusalem}.' The word for 'week' derived from...the word for 'seven'.... It is strongly suggestive of the idea 'heptad' (a series or combination of seven), rather than a 'week' in the sense of a series of seven days. There is no doubt that in this case we are presented with seventy sevens of years rather than of days. This leads to a total of 490 years.

"At the completion of these 490 years, according to v.24b, there will be six results: (1) 'to finish or bring transgression {or 'the sin of rebellion'} to an end'; (2) 'to finish {or "seal up"} sins'; (3) 'to make atonement for iniquity'; (4) 'to bring in everlasting righteousness'; (5) 'to seal up vision and prophecy'; and (6) 'to anoint the holy of holies.' By the end of the full 490 years, then, the present sin-cursed world order will come to an end (1 and 2), the price of redemption for sinners will have been paid (3); the kingdom of God will be established on earth, and all the earth will be permanently filled with righteousness, as the waters cover the sea (4); and the Most Holy One (Christ?), or the Most Holy Sanctuary (which seems more probable, since Christ was already anointed by the Holy Spirit at His first advent), will be solemnly anointed and inaugurated for worship in Jerusalem, the religious and political capital of the world during the Millennium (5 and 6)" (1982, p. 289).

Thus, God had a detailed, comprehensive plan leading all the way from Daniel's day to the time of the setting up of the Messianic Kingdom!

"Daniel 9:25 reads: 'And you are to know and understand, from the going forth of the command {or 'decree'; lit[erally] 'word'...} to restore and {re}build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince...will heptads and sixty-two heptads.' This gives us two installments, 49 years and 434 years, for a total of 483 years. Significantly, the seventieth heptad is held in abeyance until v.27. Therefore we are left with a total of 483 years between the issuance of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the coming of the Messiah.

"As we examine each of the three decrees issued in regard to Jerusalem by kings subsequent to the time Daniel had this vision (538 B.C, judging from Daniel 9:1), we find that the first was that of Cyrus in 2 Chronicles 36:23: 'The LORD, the God of heaven,...has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah' (NASB). This decree, issued in 538 or 537, pertains only to the rebuilding of the temple, not the city of Jerusalem. The third decree is to be inferred from the granting of Nehemiah's request by Artaxerxes I in 446 B.C., as recorded in Nehemiah 2:5-8. His request was 'Send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it.' Then we read, 'So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time {for my return to his palace}' (NASB). The king also granted him a requisition of timber for the gates and walls of the city.

"It should be noted that when Nehemiah first heard from his brother Hanani that the walls of Jerusalem had not already been rebuilt, he was bitterly disappointed and depressed—as if he had previously supposed that they had been rebuilt (Nehemiah 1:1-4). This strongly suggests that there had already been a previous decree authorizing the rebuilding of those city walls. Such an earlier decree is found in connection with Ezra's group that returned to Jerusalem in 457, the seventh year of Artaxerxes I. Ezra 7:6 tells us: 'This Ezra went up from Babylon,...and the king granted him all he requested because the hand of the LORD his God was upon him' (NASB; notice the resemblance to Nehemiah 2:8, the last sentence). According to the following verse, Ezra was accompanied by a good-sized group of followers, including temple singers, gatekeepers, temple servants, and a company of laymen.... After arriving at Jerusalem, he busied himself first with the moral and spiritual rebuilding of his people (Ezra 7:10). But he had permission from the king to employ any unused balance of the offering funds for whatever purpose he saw fit (v.18); and he was given authority to appoint magistrates and judges and to enforce the established laws of Israel with confiscation, banishment, or death (v.26). Thus he would appear to have had the authority to set about rebuilding the city walls, for the protection of the temple mount and the religious rights of the Jewish community.

"In Ezra 9:9 Ezra makes reference to this authority in his public, penitential prayer: 'For we are slaves; yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem' (NASB; italics [author's]). While this 'wall' may have been partly a metaphor for 'protection,' it seems to have included the possibility of restoring the mural defenses of Jerusalem itself. Unfortunately, we are given no details as to the years that intervened before 446; but it may be that an abortive attempt was made under Ezra's leadership to replace the outer wall of the city, only to meet with frustration—perhaps from a lack of self-sacrificing zeal on the part of the Jewish returnees themselves or because of violent opposition from Judah's heathen neighbors. This would account for Nehemiah's keen disappointment (as mentioned above) when he heard that 'the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire' (Nehemiah 1:3, NASB).

"If, then, the decree of 457 granted to Ezra himself is taken as...the commencement of the 69 heptads, or 483 years, we come out to the precise year of the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah (or Christ): 483 minus 457 comes out to A.D. 26. But since a year is gained in passing from 1 B.C. to A.D. 1 (there being no such year as zero), it actually comes out to A.D. 27. It is generally agreed that Christ was crucified in [or around] A.D. 30, after a ministry of a little more than three years [or, more accurately, in the spring of A.D. 31 after a three-and-a-half-year ministry]. This means His baptism and initial ministry must have taken place in [the autumn of] A.D. 27—a most remarkable exactitude in the fulfillment of such an ancient prophecy. Only God could have predicted the coming of His Son with such amazing precision; it defies all rationalistic explanation" (pp. 289-291).

Just before Jesus began His ministry, the Jewish people "were in expectation" of the Messiah (Luke 3:15). And well they should have been—as it had been so clearly foretold in Daniel.

Archer continues in his encyclopedia: "Daniel 9:25 goes on to say, 'It [the city] will again be built with the street and moat, even when times are difficult.' It is fair to deduce from this that the actual completion of the reconstruction of the city, both walls and interior appointments of the city, would take up to about seven heptads, or forty-nine years [that is, within the first seven seven-year periods]. Soon after 400 B.C., then, the walls, the defensive moat, and all the streets and buildings behind those walls had been completely restored

"Daniel 9:26 goes on to foretell the tragic death of the Messiah: 'And subsequent to the sixty-two heptads {ensuing upon the early installment of forty-nine}, the Messiah will be cut off and shall have no one {or "nothing"}.' This suggests that the Messiah would be violently put to death, without any faithful followers to protect Him. He would die alone!" (p. 291). However this follows the New International Version translation. Instead of "and shall have no one," the NKJV renders the phrase "but not for Himself"—which may refer to the fact that Jesus Christ died not because of Himself or anything that He had done, but as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

It should be noted that the Messiah would die "after the sixty-two weeks" (verse 26)—that is, not necessarily right at the end of them but some time after they were over. "At all events, the earlier statement 'until Messiah the Prince' in v.25 refers to His first appearance to Israel as the baptized and anointed Redeemer of Israel; it does not refer to the year of His death, since His 'cutting off' is not mentioned until v.26.

"Daniel 9:26b then foretells what will happen by way of retribution to the 'holy city' that has rejected Jesus and voted to have Him 'cut off': 'And the people of the prince who shall come {i.e., Titus, the victorious commander of the Roman troops in A.D. 70} will destroy the holy city, and its end will come with a flood {of disaster}, and war is determined down to the {very} end, with devastation.' These vivid terms point to the total destruction that overtook Jerusalem in that fateful year" (p. 291).

We have seen that the time from the decree of Artaxerxes in 457 B.C. to the beginning of Christ's ministry in A.D. 27 was 69 heptads—483 years. Then we see mention of the Messiah's death, which took place three and a half years beyond the end of the 69 heptads, and Jerusalem's destruction, which took place nearly 40 years after that. What, then of the last heptad, the 70th "week" of years? Where do these last seven years fit? There are two main Christian interpretations of the latter part of this prophecy.

We find the 70th week in verse 27: "Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering." Who is the "he" in this verse? That is the critical question. There are two individuals mentioned in the previous verse: 1) the Messiah and 2) the prince who is to come. The most natural antecedent for "he" in verse 27 might seem to be the last person mentioned—the prince who is to come. Yet it is possible that it refers back to the previously mentioned person, the Messiah.

Halley's Bible Handbook, Adam Clarke's Commentary and some other study aids prefer the Messiah as the "he" who confirms a covenant for one week. The idea is that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, launched a seven-year proclamation of the New Covenant, which He confirmed with His disciples, but was "cut off" "in the middle of the week"—that is, three and a half years into His ministry. However, it should be observed that the passage does not explicitly state that the Messiah would be cut off in the middle of the week. His being cut off was mentioned at the beginning of verse 26. The mention of the middle of the week is a separate reference in verse 27. Nevertheless, His being cut off in verse 26 is equated in this view with what is actually stated in verse 27 as having happened in the middle of the week—His bringing an end to sacrifice and offering. This refers, it is understood in this perspective, to the fact that Jesus Christ offered Himself as "one sacrifice for sins forever" (Hebrews 10:12), thus ending any need for blood sacrifices to provide atonement. (The "middle of the week" is dually understood by some to mean the middle of an actual week, Wednesday, which is indeed the day of the week on which Jesus was crucified.)

The end of Daniel 9:27 mentions the abomination of desolation referred to in Daniel 8 and 11. Christ explained that this would have an end-time fulfillment preceding the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:15ff.). It would last "until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate"—or, rather, as it should be understood, on the "desolator" (NRSV). Thus in this understanding, the 70th week is divided, with the first half (the first three and a half years) being the length of Christ's human ministry and the last half (the last three and a half years) waiting until the end time—to be fulfilled either through Christ teaching His Church while they await His return in a place of refuge for the three and a half years of the Great Tribulation and Day of the Lord or, alternatively, Christ teaching people for three and a half years after His return.

This would not seem to allow for a linear progression of events in verses 26-27 of Daniel 9. For notice that, by this interpretation, the description of events in the two verses would be: 1) Messiah dies; 2) first-century Roman destruction; 3) Messiah's ministry; 4) Messiah dies; 5) End-time abomination and destruction. Yet it is possible that this is a Hebrew poetic arrangement—thematically A, B, A, B—where the first halves of verses 26 and 27 go together, and the latter halves of verses 26 and 27 go together. Some have pointed out as a possible weakness in this interpretation the fact that when Jesus died, this did not truly bring an end to blood sacrifices—as they continued for nearly 40 more years. Even Jesus' disciples continued to bring sacrifices to the temple during these years. And there will be a reinstitution of temple sacrifices, as God explains through Ezekiel, during the millennial reign of Christ. Nevertheless, the once-for-all offering of Christ did end the need for the physical sacrificial system in obtaining justification with God.

The other major Christian interpretation of this section, maintained by Archer and many other commentators today, is that the "he" who confirms a covenant with many for one week in verse 27 is the one referred to immediately before in verse 26—the prince who destroys Jerusalem, the Roman leader. Yet this "he" is in this perspective a much later Roman ruler, just as we will later see in Daniel 11 that the distinctions of "king of the North" and "king of the South" denote successive rulers occupying the same offices as the prophecy progresses. Moreover, the ancient Roman destruction was a forerunner of the end-time destruction.

As mentioned in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Daniel 8, and as will be more clearly seen in Daniel 11, the Greek Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes was a type of the final dictator of the end-time Roman Empire. Notice what we are told of him: "With the force of a flood they shall be swept away from before him and be broken, and also the prince of the covenant [the Jewish high priest]. And after the league is made with him he shall act deceitfully" (Daniel 11:22-23). The Jewish nation had entered into a league or treaty agreement with Antiochus but he violated it. Such a league or agreement can alternatively be called a pact, compact or covenant. As part of his violation, Antiochus cut off the temple sacrifices and set up an abominable image over the temple altar—the abomination of desolation—as a type of what will transpire in the last days (see Daniel 8:11-13; Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11).

With all this as basis, the prince confirming a covenant with many for one week in Daniel 9:27 is seen in this alternative view as the end-time Roman leader confirming a treaty with the people of Judah (and perhaps all Israel) for what would be the final seven years of the prophecy but then revoking the agreement after three and a half years with the ending of sacrifices and the setting up of the final abomination of desolation. The condition of destruction and defilement would exist for the final three and a half years of the prophecy—until the determined consummation is poured out on this desolator.

By this interpretation, verses 26-27 do follow a linear progression: 1) Messiah dies; 2) first-century Roman destruction; 3) End-time Roman treaty with the Jews; 4) End-time breaking of treaty with ending of sacrifices; 5) End-time abomination and destruction. However, this perspective has been criticized as well. One difficulty is the fact that the Hebrew term for covenant is not used elsewhere in Daniel to denote a treaty or league.

Either way, the ending of the 70-weeks prophecy is the same—the defeat of the enemy and the triumph of God and His people. Yet, again, it was far beyond the time frame Daniel had in view. What impact this newfound understanding had on the prophet, he does not say. Yet for us, it should provide wonderful encouragement, as we see in hindsight how powerfully God has worked in history to fulfill what He has foretold—and know that the remainder yet to be fulfilled is just as certain to come.