The Seventy Weeks | Daniel 9

In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans—in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.

Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O LORD, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly.

“O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.

“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”

Daniel 9 ESV

Not long after Daniel was taken captive in the first wave of the Babylonian Exile, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem to squash a rebellion and to take a large portion of the population captive along with the vessels from the temple. The prophet Ezekiel was among that number, and after some time after they had reached Babylon, an older prophet, Jeremiah, wrote a letter to the captives. It read:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD.

For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Jeremiah 29:4–14

DANIEL’S INTERCESSION // VERSES 1-19

The time stamp upon Daniel 9 indicates that it took place during the first year of Darius’ reign over Babylon. Recall from chapter 5 that Darius ascended to the throne after executing the last Babylonian king, Belshazzar. With Babylon’s surrender, the world lay under the rule of the Medo-Persian Empire, and Darius the Mede assumed command over Babylon’s former realm. Thus, the fall of Babylon had Daniel meditating upon God’s Word, particularly over what the LORD spoke to God’s people through the prophet Jeremiah that the Babylonian Captivity would last for seventy years. Since Daniel was taken captive in about 605 BC and Babylon fell in 539 BC, around 66 years had passed since the prophet was forcibly removed from his homeland.

Given the character of Daniel, we can assume that he always kept this promise of restoration close at hand, especially while he faced Jerusalem three times a day in prayer. Yet now that the empire that defeated them was itself defeated, their reality loomed larger. After almost seventy years in Babylon, the time was approaching when God had promised to remove His people’s disgrace. Soon God’s discipline would come to an end and bountiful redemption would begin. How, therefore, did the man of God respond to these things?

Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession…

vv. 3-4

Because this prayer and the vision that follows almost certainly occurred before the events of Daniel 6, we now receive a better understanding of what Daniel knowingly faced the lions’ den to pray. Babylon, the destroyer of God’s people, had fallen, yet the prophet did not rejoice and exult over the conquered foe. Instead, he clothed himself with sackcloth and ashes and fasted.

He mourned.

Again, Daniel is a wonderful example for us to follow, for within this life we should not be quick to delight in the outpouring of God’s righteous judgment, even upon committers of great wickedness. Of course, the day will come when we are glorified with our Lord and will rejoice after the destruction of Babylon (which in Revelation 18-19 symbolizes the kingdoms of this world) once for all, saying:

“Hallelujah!
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
            for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
            who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

Once more they cried out,

            “Hallelujah!
            The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

Revelation 19:1–3

However, until that day, we should heed the warning of Jesus in Luke 13:1-5 and the example of Daniel here. The destruction of the wicked is a mournful reminder to all of God’s people that death is sin’s paycheck, and we have each done our fair share of labor. Only the mercy and grace of God in His Son separate us from the deathless dying into which our sins lead us. Therefore, when the LORD heaps the consequences of sin upon others, we should call out for mercy, confessing and repenting our own sins before Him. And Daniel did just that.

His prayer contains two main parts: verses 4-15, which are Daniel’s confession, and verses 16-19, which are his petition. The fact that Daniel spends most of his prayer confessing the sins of his people before the LORD is likely very foreign to us. Of course, many Christians are probably familiar with the ACTS acronym for praying: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. However, other than knowing that confession means acknowledging our sins to God, have you ever given much thought as to how a prayer of confession might be prayed? If not, Daniel’s prayer offers a great example for us to learn from. Let us walk briskly through its contents before making some general exhortations.

Notice, though, that Daniel does not begin his prayer with confession nor with supplication. He begins with affirming who the LORD is. Foundational to his confidence in prayer is the awesome greatness of God and His covenantal commitment to those who follow His law. However, Daniel then quickly pivots into his confession, not hiding that he and all of Judah turned aside from God’s righteous commandments, refusing to listen to each prophet that the LORD sent. In verse 7, he presents another contrast: righteousness belongs to God and shame belongs to us. He specifically includes all of God’s people in this shame, whether dwelling in Babylon as Daniel was or Jerusalem’s desolation. No one is excluded, not even kings and princes. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Verse 9 attributes mercy and forgiveness to God, which He graciously gives in response to our rebellion against Him. Verse 11 again places all of Israel within the same boat, acknowledging that God had justly brought the curses of the law of Moses upon them. Verses 12-14 continue this point by calling the Babylonian Exile a confirmation of God’s Word. Verse 15 concludes the confession portion by reminding God of His covenantal work during the Exodus.

Verse 16 then shifts into a prayer for God to turn away His anger and wrath from Jerusalem, which he does so by appealing to God’s righteous acts. Was it not the righteousness of God that led to the Israelites’ discipline? How could Daniel, therefore, appeal to God’s righteousness for mercy? The verse concludes with the lament that your people have become a byword among all who are around us. In other words, God’s people have become the scorn of the world and may think that the LORD had abandoned His covenant with them. Thus, Daniel prays for God to listen to his cries for your own sake, O Lord (v. 17). He calls for the restoration of Jerusalem because it is the city that is called by your name (v. 18). Having already acknowledged their great lack of righteousness, Daniel concludes:

For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.

vv. 18-19

There are far more treasures within this prayer than we have time to presently gaze upon; nevertheless, let us draw out a few lessons and applications.

First, because Daniel knew and lived by the Scriptures, he was able to find hope in calamity. The references to the Law of Moses in verses 11-14 are almost certainly Deuteronomy 28-30, which expound upon God’s declaration in Deuteronomy 11:26-28:

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.

Deuteronomy 28 particularly spells out the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience. Many of those very curses had come upon Judah in Daniel’s day. Their enemy had defeated them, and in the third and final siege of Jerusalem many of its residents were driven to cannibalism to survive. As Daniel referenced in verse 7, the LORD had scattered them “among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other” (Deuteronomy 28:64). Daniel had witnessed the fulfillment of Scripture before his very eyes, and although he witnessed the curses, it also gave him confidence in the LORD’s commitment to His promises. Daniel no doubt was longing for Deuteronomy 30:1-10 to come to pass:

And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And the LORD your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today. The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Second, Daniel’s prayer should lead to us ask: Are our prayers anchored in the character of God? Mysticism has long polluted Christians’ attitudes toward prayer, and today is no different. The Word of Faith movement has more subtly influenced modern Christianity than most of us are comfortable admitting. Prayer is treated almost as an act of self-expression or as a method to perfect (sometimes both). Yet whenever we bind the efficacy of our prayers to the strength of our faith or our words or actions, we have already lost the very power of prayer. The strength of prayer, after all, is not dependent upon the degree of our faith but upon the unchanging faithfulness of God. We only need the mustard grain of faith necessary to cling to who God is. A bridge will either hold our weight or it will collapse. No degree of faith can strengthen a flimsy bridge, and only the faith to walk across is necessary to use a solid one. Likewise, any confidence that we may have in prayer must be rooted in God Himself.

Third, like Daniel, do you regularly intercede for your brothers and sisters in Christ? As we have noted, we are all strangers and exiles in this world, for in Christ we are citizens of heaven. And while we all are tempted to embrace the delicacies of Babylon rather than the eternal treasures in Christ, many of our brothers and sisters are actively facing the fires of persecution for the name of Jesus. Do we plead for them as Daniel cried out for his fellow Israelites? One of the simplest ways to pray regularly for the universal body as well as our own congregation is to pray through the Lord’s Prayer. As I noted while preaching through Jesus’ model prayer, the pronouns used as first-person plural (us and we). All we need to do, therefore, is pray the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer in its plural language on behalf of Christ’s holy, catholic church.

GOD’S ANSWER // VERSES 20-27

Verses 20-21 give us a shocking conclusion to Daniel’s prayer. Before he had finished his prayer toward Jerusalem, Gabriel appeared to him once again, saying, O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved (vv. 23). He then proceeds in verses 24-27 to give Daniel the God’s message to the prophet:

Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.

I will admit these are probably the most difficult to interpret verses in the entire book. However, we can keep our wits about us if we keep a few principles in mind. First, these verses are often twisted and contorted into all kinds of meanings because they are detached from their context. We must remember, above all, that this is God’s direct answer to Daniel’s prayer for restoration following the 70 years of exile.

Second, because this text is rather ambiguous, we should refrain from being too dogmatic about how we believe it to be understood. In other words, these verses are not describing doctrines of the Apostles’ Creed, where disagreement may mean a breaking of Christian fellowship. Neither do they describe second-tier doctrines over which we might separate congregations. Instead, these are third-tier doctrines over which we may have some disagreement within our local congregations.[1]

Third, we should lean into the hermeneutical principle that difficult passages should be interpreted according to clear texts.[2] With this being such a difficult text, I would be highly skeptical of anyone who uses it as a foundational passage to their understanding of the end times.

Fourth, because this message to Daniel deals with the desecration of the temple, we should have a biblical understanding of it. Perhaps the most common interpretation of these seventy weeks belongs to the eschatological view of the end times called dispensational premillennialism. The fact that many do not know that this is only one view of many testifies to how greatly this view has permeated Christian culture, particularly through the series Left Behind. This view sees the first sixty-nine weeks as leading up the death and resurrection of Christ, while the final week has yet to take place. They consider the seventieth week to be the seven-year Great Tribulation during which the Antichrist will make a covenant with the Jewish people for those seven years but will break the covenant three and half years in by defiling the temple once more. You will notice, of course, that this view requires the temple in Jerusalem to be rebuilt, since it has not stood since 70 AD. And most who hold this view are quick to note that preparations are already made for the day when the temple is able to be rebuilt.

I would argue, however, that the rebuilding of the temple is of no importance for us, except perhaps as a pull toward apostasy. Allow me to explain. In John 2:19, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The people were understandably perplexed, but John tells us:

But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

John 2:21–22

Although the temple was the place where God dwelt among His people, Sam Storms explains the significance of Jesus’ body being the temple:

God no longer lives in a tent or tabernacle built by human hand, nor will he ever. God’s glorious manifest presence is not to be found in an ornate temple of marble, gold, and precious stones, but rather in Jesus. Jesus is the glory of God in human flesh, the one in whom God has finally and fully pitched his tent.[3]

Furthermore, Ephesians repeatedly calls us the body of Christ, and in 2:21-22 notes that we are being grown “into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Indeed, it was the Spirit’s presence in the temple that made it holy, but now the Spirit dwells within us, making us into living temples. As 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says,

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

We are the temple because we are the body of Christ. Therefore, the construction of another physical temple in Jerusalem would be nothing more than a building of idolatry, a place of false worship. Indeed, the destruction of the temple in 70 AD primarily concerned Christians because it marked a definitive transition of Christian away from Judaism into its own religion, and it is that destruction that I believe is prophesied here.

The vision is of seventy weeks or sevens. Since Daniel was meditating over the coming conclusion of the seventy-year Babylonian Captivity, this vision seems to be God showing the prophet seven-times that time into the future. Of course, with seven being a highly symbolic number, we do not need to hold it strictly to 490 years; instead, the LORD showing simply showing Daniel a glimpse of events far beyond the seventy years that Daniel had lived.

Furthermore, consider the content of the vision. God began by confirming to Daniel that the temple and Jerusalem would be restored during the first seven “sevens,” which is exactly what happened during the days of the prophet Haggai and Jesus’ ancestor, Zerubbabel. Indeed, although Zerubbabel never became king like his fathers before him, he was chosen by God to continue the lineage of David and of the Messiah. Yet then for sixty-two “seven” the temple would be standing, but the times would be troubled. Of course, we described some of the events between the rebuilding of the temple and the coming of Christ last week, and troubled is an apt description. During the final “seven,” an anointed one, a messiah, would be cut off, which almost all commentators take as a reference to Christ. The prince who is to come (v. 26) could either be another title given to the Messiah (as Duguid thinks), since siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD was a judgment upon the Jewish rejection of Jesus, or it could refer to Titus the Roman whose armies razed the city to the ground. Either way, the point is that the temple would be destroyed again. The horror that occurred during Daniel’s lifetime, the desolation that the prophet longed to have restored, would indeed be restored but only to be repeated yet again. With the temple yet to be rebuilt, God was showing Daniel that the rebuilt temple would also be destroyed.

This is not, however, a message that is meant to leave Daniel dismayed, and for the first time now, we are not told that this vision left Daniel sickened and appalled. While being the most confusing for us, it apparently was not so for Daniel. Instead, God was giving Daniel (and through him, all of God’s people) a glimpse at His sovereignty over what the future shortly brings.

This is a message of great hope, and it is no less true today. While this vision may describe events already passed, we are waiting, like Daniel, for the end of our time of sojourning in this life, which, as Moses said, are often “seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty” (Psalm 90:10). And while we are unsure of the details left to unfold, the LORD has likewise given us a vision of what is to come. Although our time will be filled with trouble, we await “our blessed hope, the appearing of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Upon His return, the heavens and earth will pass away and be replaced by a new creation, where we will dwell for all time with our Lord in glorified, sinless, and resurrected bodies.

As we said last week, we do not need to speculate on when the end will come because the end for us is both near and here. The past 2000 years have been the last days, and they have indeed been filled with trouble and great tribulation. But after this comes the triumphant return of Christ and the resurrection of dead. With that hope as our soul’s compass and the promise of affliction during this life, we should be, as Daniel was, before the throne of God. As the Day of Judgment draws ever closer (not to mention the inevitability of each of our deaths), our fervency to confess our sins and cast them upon the cross should grow. We should also be driven to intercede for our brothers and sisters all the more, praying how Jesus taught us: that God’s name would be seen as holy throughout all the world, that His everlasting kingdom would come through us, that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven, that He would provide daily bread (both physically and spiritually) to His people, that He would forgive our sins and make us into a forgiving people, and that He would defend us from our enemies, sin and Satan.

Brothers and sisters, the end is near, and the end is here. Therefore, let us pray.


[1] This theological triage was, I believe, described by Albert Mohler, and it has long been my preferred means of describing the different weight of different doctrines in the Bible. First-tier doctrines are those which are core to Christianity. Those who deny these doctrines (i.e., the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, etc.) are heretics who have chosen the damnation of lies rather than truth. We should, after all, be very cautious about using the word “heretic.” Second-tier doctrines are those which lead to different congregations and denominations (although not a denial of salvation to those with differing views), such as credo vs pedobaptism or the gifts of the Spirit. Third-tier doctrines are those over which we can loving disagree even within the same congregation.

[2] Jeffrey D. Johnson, The Five Points of Amillennialism, 107.

[3] Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, 18.

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