Counting the Years: Daniel 9:24-27 (Part 1)

Critical.  Essential.  Uniquely important.  Highly significant.  All these words, and more, describe the place that Daniel 9:24-27 has in one’s understanding of end time events.  These four verses contain an amazing wealth of information.  The chronological structure provided by this prophecy becomes the basis of our seeing accurately numerous other prophecies, as well as giving a chronological framework for the last days of man on this earth. The Book of Revelation rests squarely on this prophecy of the “seventy weeks”.  Since the details of this prophetic portion are so very important, we are going to take several studies in it.  For some this may be a new area of investigation which ought to prove helpful in developing a solid biblical understanding of end time events. For others, it is familiar ground, but as the Apostle Peter stated, it is good to stir up our minds by way of remembrance.

The Setting of the Prophecy

Daniel’s Scripture Reading.  The prophet Jeremiah twice declared that the Babylonian captivity would last for 70 years (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10).  While personally experiencing that Babylonian captivity, Daniel was motivated to pray as a result of reading from the Prophet.  At that point in time, it was about year #68 of the 70 years, and it seemed to Daniel that nothing was happening as far as Israel’s return to the land was concerned. And there were only two more years to go!

Daniel’s Passionate Prayer.  Daniel’s prayer (9:3-19) began with confession of sin.  Using a variety of words for sin, he acknowledged that Israel stood guilty and condemned for their unrighteousness. He further acknowledged that God was perfectly righteous in disciplining them by sending them into captivity.  But he also noted that because God was righteous, He had to fulfill His promise to restore them back to the land (9:17-19).  And so, Daniel passionately prayed that God would now move to do what He promised because His holy name was at stake.  God’s reputation would be sullied if He did not fulfill His promises.  And then, to be very specific, Daniel again and again (9:16-19) focused on two things in his prayer:  Israel, the people and Israel, the land (holy city/temple).  These two were the objects of Daniel’s prayer.  It is important to note that Daniel was not praying for the church nor was he praying for the gentile nations.  The people of Israel and the land of Israel were the subjects of his praying. And when the messenger angel Gabriel was sent in response to Daniel’s prayer, he gave Daniel information concerning those same two subjects.  The subjects of Daniel’s prayer is a pretty obvious matter when the text is read carefully, but it is nevertheless critical in one’s interpretation of the “seventy weeks” prophecy.  The “seventy weeks” have to do with Daniel’s people and Daniel’s land (holy city).

The Beginning of the Seventy Weeks Prophecy

Three important interpretive matters are found in 9:24, the first verse of the prophecy.

First, the angel Gabriel revealed that he had come to answer Daniel’s prayer concerning the people and land (holy city/temple) of Israel.  Gabriel stated the coming seventy weeks concern “your people and your holy city”.  So once again, the content of the prophecy has to do with Israel and not the gentiles or the church.

Second, Gabriel said that “seventy weeks have been decreed”.  Two points need clarification. The word translated “decreed” means “to cut off” or “to determine”.  Daniel was being told that seventy weeks have been “cut off/out” from the times of the gentiles. When this time has been concluded, God will finally and completely restore Israel and establish the kingdom of Messiah.  This will be explained in 9:24 as God’s six goals for this period of time are set forth.

When Gabriel said that “seventy weeks have been decreed”, the main interpretive concern is what he meant by the phrase “seventy weeks.”  The term “week” is somewhat unfortunate since we usually think of a week as being 7 days.  However, the Hebrew word in the text (shavuim) simply has reference to a unit of seven.  So seventy units of seven (or 490) have been determined for Israel.  It is the context in which the word is found that points to the meaning.  This is much like the English word “dozen”, which is a unit of measurement indicating twelve of something.  If I were to say, “I have a dozen”, the listener would only know that I had twelve of something but would not know exactly what I possessed.  But if our conversation had been about red pens, then the listener would know (in the context of our conversation) that I had twelve red pens.  So the context of Daniel determines the exact meaning of “seventy sevens.”  And the context brings us to the conclusion that it is seventy sevens of years (490 years) that is being spoken of.  So God is informing Daniel that He will have 490 years of special dealings with Israel, at the end of which, He will accomplish His six goals. There are several reasons why we believe that years are being talked about.

  • It agreed by nearly everyone that the prophecy could not be speaking of 490 days, since in this prophecy Jerusalem must be built, destroyed and rebuilt again. This simply could be accomplished in a little over a year much less have all the other details of the prophecy come to pass.
  • In the context of the prophecy, Daniel had been thinking about years as he contemplated Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years. He knew that in just about two years the Babylonian captivity would be over.  His thoughts, therefore, are not about days but about years.
  • Israel’s captivity was based on their violation of the Sabbath year law (see 2 Chron. 36:21). It is likely that Israel’s violations in years would be matched in years by their ultimate restoration.
  • Daniel used the unit of “sevens” in one other place in his book (10:2-3). There he related that he had been fasting for three units of sevens, but carefully added the fact that is was units of days. It is apparent that Daniel adds “days” to the phrase because he did not want his readers to think of the unit of seven in chapter 10 was the same as that in chapter 9.
  • The final week (the 70th) aligns well with other scriptures if it is seen to be a period of seven years. The final “week” (the 70th) begins with the signing of a covenant. This covenant is broken half way through the week (or 3 ½ years into the time of trouble–the 70th week in this prophecy).  It is at that time that the great tribulation comes on Israel.  If years are involved then it means that 3 ½ years into the final week, an unprecedented time of trouble and desolation comes on Israel and the world.  In the Book of Revelation, John speaks of this period of 3 ½ years as “forty-two months” and “1260 days”, and by so doing, points to the “week” of Daniel as being a period of seven years.

So the evidence is compelling that this prophecy is about 490 years of God’s special dealings with Israel which will result in their restoration back to the Lord and the long awaited arrival of Messiah’s kingdom.

The third significant interpretive matter found in 9:24 are the six goals of God.  When the 490 years are concluded God will have: (1) finish the transgression; (2) make an end of sin; (3) make atonement for iniquity; (4) bring in everlasting righteousness; (5) seal up vision and prophecy; and (6) anoint the most holy place.  These goals and their fulfillment will be part of the discussion in the next article.

When we see such a prophecy as this one and come to understand its meaning and significance, we come away realizing that God’s plan is very specific.  But even more, it will be fulfilled because, as Daniel observed, God’s reputation is at stake in all of this.  So even though events in our world appear to be spiraling out of control, and there is no one at the controls, the truth is God’s purposes are clear and His timing is impeccable for fulfilling those purposes.  He will accomplish all six of His goals. He will end the dominion of Satan and evil men.  He will establish the long-awaited kingdom of Jesus Messiah.

We see our world on the decline morally and spiritually, and mankind seems so indifferent to the true God and Savior. But none of these attitudes or actions will thwart the purposes of God.  We do indeed have a confident assurance as our foundation and lift up our heads because our redemption draws near.