Daniel began to inquire into the predicted end of the Babylonian Captivity recorded in the book of Jeremiah – Daniel 9:1-2.
Daniel received the revelation about the “seventy weeks” in the “first year” of Darius the Mede; that is, shortly after the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire to the “Medes and Persians.” And his inquiry and prayer indicate that the events in chapter 9 occurred before the return of the first Jewish exiles to Jerusalem after the decree of Cyrus the Great.
The chapter begins with Daniel studying the scroll that contained the book of Jeremiah with his focus on the passage that promised the end of the captivity after seventy years:
- (Daniel 9:1-2) – In the first year of Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans: in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel perceived by the scroll the number of the years as to which the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah the prophet, to accomplish the desolations of Jerusalem, seventy years.”
- (Jeremiah 25:8-13) – “And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And when seventy years are accomplished, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation for their iniquity… I will bring upon that land all my words which I have pronounced against it, even all that is written in this scroll that Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations.”
For Daniel, the “desolation” of Judah began with the subjugation of Jerusalem in the first year of king Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, and the prophecy from Jeremiah is dated to the same year – “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem and besieged it” – (Jeremiah 25:1, Daniel 1:1).
Thus, the Babylonian Captivity had reached its prophesied end. And Daniel understood from the “writings” of Jeremiah that the number of the years that Yahweh required “to accomplish the desolations of Jerusalem” was seventy.
“Writing” translates the Hebrew term sepher, meaning “scroll.” “Accomplish” renders the Hebrew verb mala or “complete.” And the English term “desolations” represents the noun Hebrew noun horbah. Both “desolation” and “accomplish” are prominent in the prophecy from Jeremiah:
- “This whole land shall be 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 (mala)…”
Daniel calls the passage from Jeremiah the “word of Yahweh.” The term occurs again in verse 25, “the going forth of the word to return and to build Jerusalem.” In fact, the prophecy by Jeremiah is the text on which chapter 9 builds its interpretation of events and the prophecy of the “seventy weeks” (the “going forth of the word to return and build Jerusalem”).
Jeremiah’s prophecy is dated to the “fourth year of Jehoiakim” and the “first year of Nebuchadnezzar,” the same year cited at the opening of Daniel when the pagan king captured Jerusalem and the Temple. And a related word by Jeremiah set the conditions for the release of Judah that forms the basis for Daniel’s supplication:
- (Jeremiah 29:10-14) – “For thus says Yahweh: 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… You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart… 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.”
Yahweh promised to release Israel after seventy years, but only if she repented, an act Daniel proceeded to do as the representative of the nation. For him, the captivity in Babylon began with the first attack against Jerusalem in 605 B.C. The decree by Cyrus to release the exiles was issued in 536 B.C., that is, seventy years after the deportation of Daniel and his companions to Babylon. Thus, in Daniel’s understanding of the passage from Jeremiah, the time of release had arrived.