Seventy Weeks – The First Sixty-Nine

SYNOPSIS:  The Angel divides the first sixty-nine “weeks” into two divisions, one numbering seven and the other sixty-two “weeks” – Daniel 9:24-25.

Split Pathway

The first sixty-nine “weeks” of the predicted period is presented in Daniel 9:24-25. The angel declared the “Seventy Weeks” would be “divided” into three segments, then listed six redemptive events that would be achieved before the restoration of Jerusalem.

The first segment was a period of “seven weeks” at the end of which an “anointed leader” was to appear. The second was “sixty-two weeks” during which the city would be restored, although in “troubled times.”

The opening clause of the prophecy reads, “Sevens, seventy are divided…” Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, “sevens” or shabua is used in this manner for seven-day weeks, or is applied to time periods divided into seven segments (Compare – Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:9, Daniel 10:2).

In the first clause, the stress is on the term “sevens,” plural in number, that precedes the numeral “seventy”; that is, “sevens, seventy are divided.” The “seventy sevens” cannot refer to normal seven-day weeks or to a period totaling 490 days. The figure is related to the prophecy from the book of Jeremiah about the seventy years of captivity. Moreover, a period of 490 days is insufficient to complete the items detailed in verses 25-27, including the rebuilding of the city (Jeremiah 25:10-14Daniel 9:1-2).

Six Redemptive Goals:

(Daniel 9:24) – “Weeks, seventy have been divided upon your people and upon your holy city, to put an end to the transgression, to seal up sin, to cover iniquity and to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the holy of holies.”

The consensus among commentators is that the period of “seventy sevens” represents seventy “weeks” of years; that is, a period of 490 years. This assumption is based largely on Leviticus 26:33-35 and 2 Chronicles 36:19-21, and the latter passage does interpret the Babylonian Captivity in the light of Leviticus 26:33-35, as follows:

(Leviticus 26:33-35) – “And you will I scatter among the nations, and I will draw out the sword after you: and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. Then shall the land enjoy its Sabbaths, as long as it lies desolate, and ye are in your enemies’ land; even then will the land rest and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, even the rest which it had not in your Sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.”

(2 Chronicles 36:19-21) – “And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: to fulfill the word of Yahweh by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths: for as long as it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill threescore and ten years.”

The identification of the “seventy sevens” as a period of 490 years is the only real consensus among commentators on the significance of the “Seventy Weeks.” Opinions diverge from this point. Does the figure represent 490 literal or symbolical years? In what year did the period begin? Are its three segments detailed in Verse 25 consecutive or concurrent?

Verse 24 begins – “Seventy sevens have been divided.” This translates a Hebrew verb found only here in the Old Testament. It has the basic sense, “cut, divide, partition” (hathak – Strong’s #H2852). It is not the same Hebrew word translated “determine” in verses 26-27 (i.e., “desolations are determined…a full end and that a determined one”).

Both “seventy” and “sevens” are plural in Hebrew, yet “divided” is singular where another plural word is expected (the number of a Hebrew verb agrees with its subject). The singular form indicates the two numbers are parts of a single whole.

Daniel had been contemplating the prediction of Jeremiah that Jerusalem would lie “desolate” seventy years; however, at the end of the appointed time, the city remained desolate (Verse 17). The situation is explained to Daniel – A period of “seventy sevens” was necessary to complete the promised restoration. With the decree of Cyrus to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem, the exiles began to return and rebuild. However, it was a mere trickle of what was to come, a small beginning of a much larger and longer process.

white concrete building

Haley Black on

Verse 25 predicted the start of the period would coincide with the prophetic word – “To restore and to build Jerusalem.” The restoration of the city was in view, not its punishment. This distinguishes the new period of “seventy sevens” from Jeremiah’s original prediction of seventy years of captivity. Israel would remain “desolate” for seventy years, but Jerusalem would be restored during the period of “seventy sevens.”

The two periods are related. Both may have the same their starting point, and they may unfold concurrently. However, their purposes differ. One is to punish Jerusalem, the other, to restore the city. Daniel is not reinterpreting Jeremiah’s prophecy but presenting a related but new prediction. In Jeremiah 29:10, Yahweh promised the return of Jewish captives to the land of Judah. However, He did not predict any of the restorative goals detailed in Verse 24 of the present passage.

Gabriel gave the reasons for which the “seventy sevens” were “divided” – Six stated goals that would be achieved by the end of the prophetic period. He used six Hebrew infinitive clauses to present one pair of predictions, each consisting of three parts:

To put an end to the transgression,

To seal up sin and,

To cover iniquity.

To bring in everlasting righteousness,

To seal up vision and prophecy and,

To anoint the holy of holies.

The three parts of the first half deal with sin, those of the second concern restoration. The first, second, and third parts of the first half correspond to the fourth, fifth, and sixth parts of the second. That is, to “end transgression” corresponds to “bring in righteousness,” “to seal up sin” to “seal up vision and prophecy,” and, “to cover iniquity” lines up with “anoint the holy of holies.” All six goals are redemptive and restorative. Again, the goal is restoration, not destruction. An interpretation that ends the “seventy sevens” with the obliteration of Jerusalem misses this point.

The first and last goals are the more important ones – “to finish the transgression,” and, “to anoint the holy of holies.” This is indicated by their position as the first and last parts of the series.

The transgression” in the Hebrew text is singular and has the definite article, that is, “the.” It refers to a specific and known transgression, not to sin in general. The Hebrew noun pesha occurs only here in the book of Daniel and in the vision of the goat with its “little horn”:

(Daniel 8:12-13) – “And the host was given over to it together with the continual burnt-offering by transgression…Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said unto that certain one who spoke, How long shall be the vision concerning the continual burnt-offering, and the transgression that desolates, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?

The “transgression” in Chapter 8, whatever it was, “cast truth to the ground,” profaned the Sanctuary, and constituted the “transgression that desolates.” This occurred on the orders of the “little horn,” the “king of fierce countenance” that “destroyed the mighty and the holy people” (Daniel 8:9, 8:23-25).

To finish” the transgression represents the Hebrew verb kala (Strong’s #H3607), more correctly, to “restrict, restrain, confine.” In other words, “to shut up the transgression” and restrain it from causing more destruction.

To seal up sin” is to remove it from view; to conceal it. This idea dovetails with that of “restraining” the transgression. In Daniel 6:17-18, the king “sealed” shut the lions’ den into which Daniel was cast. Sin was to be removed from the sight of God and set aside.

Noah's Ark Adrift

Noah’s Ark on the Floodwaters

To cover iniquity” has in view the collective iniquity of Israel that necessitated the Babylonian Captivity. “Cover” translates the Hebrew kâphar (Strong’s #H3722), “cover over, to overlay,” as was done with pitch used to cover Noah’s Ark (Genesis 6:14).

The idea of the term is to “cover over” sin and, thereby, atone for it. The same Hebrew word is used in the book of Leviticus to expiate the guilt of sin through animal sacrifices. In his prayer, Daniel acknowledged the 70-years captivity came upon Israel so, “We might turn from our iniquities.” He prayed God would turn His anger away from Jerusalem, which endured punishment, “because for our sins and for the iniquities of our fathers.”

To bring in everlasting righteousness” is redemptive. In Daniel 8:14, the profanation of the sanctuary was to continue until it was “justified.” This translates the Hebrew verb tsadaq (Strong’s #H6664). It is related to the noun used for “righteousness,” which also is used in this clause. Here, it refers to the return of the Sanctuary to a state of holiness, not to the justification of individual sinners before God.

To seal up vision and prophecy.” This clause uses the same verb as in, “Seal up sin” (hatham). The same word occurred when Daniel was told to “shut up the words and seal the book, even to the latter days.” The idea is to close or seal it until the appropriate time (Daniel 12:4).

To anoint the holy of holies.” This translates the Hebrew phrase, qodesh qadashim, a combination of the singular and plural forms of qodesh or “holy.” This is the same noun rendered “holy place” or “holy of holies” in Daniel 8:13.

Elsewhere, “holy of holies” is applied to the altar of burnt offering (Exodus 29:37), the altar of incense (Exodus 30:10), the Tabernacle (Numbers 4:4), the show-bread (Leviticus 24:9), the flesh of sin offerings (Leviticus 6:17-25; 7:1-6), things devoted to Yahweh (Leviticus 27:28), and the inner sanctum of the Temple (Exodus 26:33-34; 1 Kings 7:50; 8:6; 1 Chronicles 6:49; 2 Chronicles 5:7; Ezekiel 45:3), always to objects, not to persons.

In Daniel 8:13, “holy of holies” refers either to the inner sanctum of the sanctuary or to the altar of burnt offering that was defiled by the “little horn.” In context, “to anoint the holy of holies” means to consecrate or re-consecrate either the altar or the inner sanctuary.

Before linking the six items to Jesus and his later redemptive act for all humanity, we must recall that the “seventy sevens” were “divided upon your people and upon your holy city,” that is, the city of Jerusalem.

The “Word” to Return

(Daniel 9:25) – “Know, then, and understand; from the going forth of the word to return and to build Jerusalem until an anointed one, the Prince, will be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks the broad place and the ditch will again be built, even in troublesome times.”

The division of the “Seventy Weeks” begins in Verse 25 – First, into two segments. One consists of seven “sevens,” the second of sixty-two “sevens”; presumably, two segments of 49 and 434 years, respectively, or a total of sixty-nine “sevens.” The third and final segment is not provided until Verse 26.

The first segment begins from the time of the “going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem,” and it ends with an “anointed one, a prince.” Presumably, the second segment begins when the first one ends, although this is not certain. Its concerns the rebuilding of the “broad place and the ditch,” and, during “troublesome times.”

The starting point of the first segment is “the commandment to restore Jerusalem.” Identifying this “commandment” is necessary to determine the start date of the “Seventy Weeks.” A common solution is to assume it refers to a royal “decree” by a Persian king. In this understanding, the four alternative solutions are:

    1. The decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C. for the Jews to return to Judea (Ezra 1:1-4).
    2. The royal confirmation in 519 B.C. of Cyrus’ previous decree (Ezra 6:1-12).
    3. Ezra’s commission in 458 B.C. by king Arataxerxes I to implement reforms in Jerusalem (Ezra 7:11-26).
    4. A decree from Arataxerxes I issued in 444-445 B.C. to authorize Nehemiah to complete the restoration of the Temple (Nehemiah 1:1-4, 2:1-9).

Each proposal assumes the “decree” was issued by human authority. However, the Hebrew noun rendered “commandment” or “decree” in some English versions is dabar, a noun with a basic meaning, “word” or “speech.” More accurately, the text reads, the “going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem.”

The book of Daniel never indicates any royal decree from a pagan ruler marked the start of the prophetic period. In its view, God reigns over the nations and gives political authority to whomever He pleases. To link the date of a key prophecy to a pagan edict, rather than to a word of Yahweh, would depart from this belief. Gabriel, for example, stated, “At the beginning of your supplications came forth a word” (Verse 23); that is, a Divine “word” authorized Gabriel to respond to Daniel’s prayer.

The identification of this “word” is provided by the context of Chapter 9. Daniel “understood by the books (sepher) the number of the years whereof the word (dabar) of Yahweh came to Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.” “Books” translates the noun sepher; “word” represents dabar.

The prophetic “word” of Jeremiah can be dated to 605 B.C., based on dates provided by the book of Jeremiah. Note the links between Chapter 9 of Daniel and the two prophecies about the seventy years of Babylonian captivity:

(Daniel 9:1-2) – “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus…I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years whereof the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah the prophet, for the accomplishing (male) of the desolations (horbah) of Jerusalem, seventy years.” {538 B.C.}

(Daniel 1:1-2) – “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem to besiege it.” {605 B.C.}

(Jeremiah 29:1, 10-14) – “Now these are the words (dabar) of the book (sepher) that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem…For thus saith Yahweh, that after seventy years be accomplished (male) at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.” {598-597 B.C.}

(Jeremiah 25:1, 9-14) – “The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, the same was the first year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon…behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith Yahweh, and I will send to Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and I will utterly destroy them…And this whole land shall be a desolation (horbah), and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished (male) I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith Yahweh, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it desolate forever.” {606-605 B.C.}.

Thus, the book of Daniel coordinates the beginning of the first segment of the “seventy sevens” with the seventy-year Babylonian Captivity predicted by the prophet Jeremiah.

To return.” The first Hebrew verb or shub has the basic sense, “return, bring back.” Elsewhere, it is applied to the “return” of the exiles to the Jewish homeland. Here, it does not refer to the rebuilding process but to the physical “return” of the Jews to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 12:15, 29:10-14, 30:3).

To build Jerusalem” translates the verb banah. The clause parallels the one in Verse 24 – “Seventy sevens are divided concerning your people and your holy city.” “Return” refers to the return of the “people” – “build” to the building and restoration of Jerusalem. The verb shub or “return” is used in the book of Jeremiah to refer to the promise of Yahweh that Israel would “return” to Jerusalem:

(Jeremiah 29:10) – “For thus saith Yahweh, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return (shub) to this place. And I will be found of you, says Yahweh, and I will turn again (shub) your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, says Yahweh; and I will return (shub) you to the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.”

The Hebrew text in Verse 25 reads, “Until an anointed one, a leader,” not, “unto the Messiah, the Prince.” Neither noun has a definite article, that is, “the.” In Daniel’s time, ‘Messiah’ was not used in an absolute sense for the future king of Israel; such usage is not typical in the Old Testament. Both kings and high priests were “anointed ones” (Leviticus 4:3-5, 6:22, 1 Samuel 12:3, Psalm 18:50).

The term for “prince” or nagid is rather generic and refers to one who leads, a “ruler” or “leader.” Derivative meanings include, “prince, captain, commander.” Though it may refer to priests, most often it is applied to political, military, and civil leaders (1 Samuel 9:16, 1 Chronicles 9:20, Nehemiah 11:11, Jeremiah 20:1).

The three candidates proposed, most often, to be this “anointed ruler” are Cyrus the Great, Zerubbabel, and Joshua the high priest who worked alongside Zerubbabel. Cyrus is declared Yahweh’s “anointed” in the book of Isaiah. He was appointed by God to defeat Babylon and facilitate the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Isaiah 45:1).

Cyrus is an important figure in the book of Daniel, especially for establishing its chronology. If the “word” to restore Jerusalem refers to the prophecy given in 597 B.C., subtracting the first “sevens” or 49 years from this date yields a date of 548 B.C., within two years of Cyrus assuming the throne of the Medes in 549 B.C. (Jeremiah 29:11-14Daniel 1:21, 6:28, 9:25, 10:1).

However, the book of Daniel correlates the first year of the reign of Cyrus with his overthrow of Babylon and shows no interest in his earlier rise to the Median throne (Babylon fell in 538 B.C.). Another possibility is to subtract 49 years from the date of the destruction of the Temple in 587-586 B.C., which gives a date in 538 B.C., the same year as the downfall of Babylon.

Zerubbabel was a descendant of the House of David. He and Joshua, the high priest, were part of the first wave of Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem around 538 B.C., and Zerubbabel was instrumental in rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 1:1, 5:1-2; Haggai 1:12-15; Zechariah 4:9-10).

Furthermore, Zerubbabel and Joshua are called “anointed ones” in the book of Zechariah. However, Zerubbabel was not a king or anointed to rule as one. He was a provincial governor appointed by pagan governing authorities. The term “anointed” is from a vision in which God assured Zechariah that His Spirit would enable Zerubbabel and Joshua to complete the rebuilding of the Temple. Neither man plays any role in the book of Daniel.

The prophecy of the “Seventy Weeks” declares there will be seven weeks “from the going forth of the word…until an anointed one.” Nothing more is said about this anointed figure or what else transpired during the first “seven sevens.” The prophecy makes no attempt to correlate him to the redemptive goals of the preceding verse. Apparently, his function in the prophecy is to mark the end of the first “seven sevens.”

The structure of the clause parallels the earlier statement, “Now Daniel was until (עד) the first year of Cyrus the king.” That is, Daniel and his work continued from the first year of Nebuchadnezzar until the first year of Cyrus (Daniel 1:21).

In the Hebrew text, the preposition rendered “until” (עד) is prefixed to the noun “anointed,” and the preposition “from” (מנ) is, likewise, prefixed to the noun rendered “going forth” (motsa). This leaves no option but to place the “anointed one” at the end of the first seven “weeks,” presumably, the termination of the first forty-nine years.

Theories that move the “anointed one” to the end of the second segment of sixty-two “weeks” violate the syntax of the Hebrew sentence. If the seventy “weeks” began hundreds of years before his birth, then this “anointed one” cannot be Jesus. Whoever he was, according to Daniel, he appears at the end of the first segment of “seven sevens,” however long that period was.

Of the known candidates who might fit this scenario, Cyrus the Great is the best option. Zerubbabel and Joshua are also possibilities. Of the three candidates, only Cyrus is mentioned in Daniel, although it never labels him “anointed.” He became the ruler of Persia in 559 B.C. If the “issuing of the word” refers to Jeremiah’s prophecy from 606-605 B.C., and if Cyrus is the “anointed leader,” then the numbers are close.

During the next sixty-two “weeks,” Jerusalem would be “built again, with street and moat, even in troublesome times.” The rebuilding of Jerusalem began after the arrival of the first returnees in 538 B.C.; however, the return was a gradual process that continued sporadically for decades. It was several centuries before the city began to resemble its former state of splendor (Ezra 4:1-5).

The “broad place” refers to a central square or plaza typical of ancient near eastern cities, not to a street, places where the marketplace was usually located. In the context of Jerusalem, most likely in view is the wide space before the gate of the temple (Ezra 10:9, Nehemiah 8:16).

The word rendered “moat” in the King James Version occurs only here in the Old Testament. Jerusalem did not have moats. The noun is derived from a verbal root with the sense, “to cut, to make incisions, sharpen, mutilate” (haruts), and, abstractly, “to decide, determine, judge.” This verbal form is the same word rendered “determined” in verses 26-27 (also, Daniel 11:36). It does NOT mean “walls.” In the later Mishna, it refers to a “trench” in a field, so, some commentators assume Daniel is referring to defensive trenches dug below the walls of the city.

Broadway” and “trench” (haruts) are used together. The former points to the open space before the gate of the Temple, “trench” or haruts to something cut off, hence, limited. The two terms provide a contrast between wide and narrow spaces within the city. The contrast may be between the broad space before the Temple and the narrow streets of the city. Together, they point to a rebuilt and economically functioning city.

Troublesome” translates a noun with a sense, “pressure, distress, constraint” (tsoq – compare Proverbs 1:27, Isaiah 30:6, Isaiah 8:22). This may refer to the “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation,” described in Daniel 12:1-4. The events predicted in Daniel 9:26-27, the final “week,” also describe a time of trouble; however, that reference is to events that occur in the seventieth “week” of the prophecy (“after the threescore and two weeks”). The books of Ezra and Nehemiah attest to the struggles Judea experienced while rebuilding the city over many years.

Neither of the first two segments provides the reader with much detail. An “anointed leader” appears at the end of the first forty-nine years; however, what he does is not stated. During the second segment, the city is restored but in “troublesome times.” In the end, the function of the first sixty-nine “weeks” is to provide the chronological and historical contexts of the prophecy.

A relevant question is whether the two segments run consecutively or concurrently. Do both begin at the “word to restore and rebuild,” or does the second section commence when the first one ends?

Why Three Divisions?

The prophecy opens with the declaration, “Seventy weeks are divided.” This is precisely what the next three verses do – Divide the “seventy weeks” into three segments of seven, sixty-two, and one “weeks.” Restoration occurs during the long sixty-two “weeks” section characterized by “troubles.”

The framework for the dividing of the “Seven Weeks” is from Chapter 7, the “little horn” that “thought to change times and law, and they will be given into his hand until a time, times, and part of a time.” This threefold division corresponds to the three segments of “weeks” in the book of Daniel: “Time” (seven “weeks”), “times” (sixty-two “weeks”), and, “part of a time” (one “week”).

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