The Consistent Symbolical Interpretation of the Daniel 9 prophecy

Daniel prayingThe major interpretations all understand the Daniel 9 prophecy to be literal.  The other prophecies in Daniel are all symbolic.   But in the Consistent Symbolical Interpretation the Daniel 9 prophecy is also symbolic.

Jerusalem” is symbolically understood as the church. Also the numerical figures in 9:24-27 do not define precise periods of time, but are symbolic:

The first division of 7 weeks begins with the edict of Cyrus in AD 538 and ends with the first advent of Christ.

The second division of 62 weeks is the period of the Christian church; from the First to the Second Advent.  It extends from the construction of Jerusalem—interpreted as “spiritual Jerusalem,” which is the church—down to the final consummation at the end of time.

The third division of one week is the last period of history—the time of tribulation caused by the anti-Christ.  The objective of the anti-Christ is to destroy “the city and the sanctuary,” that is the church.  It causes the visible church to disappear for a time.  This period which begins with the advent of the anti-Christ and ends with his defeat at the Second Advent of Christ.

The consistent symbolical interpretation emphasizes generalities rather than details in history and interpretation.

Shortcomings

This interpretation has some serious shortcomings:

The time periods overlap: The third division is made a part of the second division. The one week occurs in the closing portion of the second era.

Daniel’s prayer was motivates by his desire to learn when the desolation of Jerusalem—the symbol of his nation—will end.  If Gabriel gave him a prophecy in which the periods of time are merely vague symbols of future dispensations, then Daniel did not receive an answer.  Daniel 9:25a is especially formulated as a reference to a particular time:

from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks

The numbers 62, 1 and 3½ are not typical symbols in apocalyptic literature.

Rebuild JerusalemJerusalem is the literal city.  There is no exegetical evidence anywhere in the book of Daniel to support the view that Jerusalem should stand for anything other than the actual city of Jerusalem. The Jerusalem of 9:2 and 9:16 is the literal capital city of the Israelites.  The “inhabitants of Jerusalem” in 9:7 are physical Israelites.  The “city” in 9:18 can only be the physical city of ancient Israel. Accordingly, the “holy city” of 9:24 and the Jerusalem of 9:25 cannot refer to anything other than that to which the reader constantly has been pointed.

Why no eternal kingdom?  If the 70 weeks end with the defeat of the anti-Christ, why does the prophecy not say anything about the eternal kingdom, as the other prophecies in Daniel do (7:13-14, 27; 12:1-3)?  Why does the Daniel 9 prophecy rather end in the accumulation of desolations?

These weighty objections have drawn few interpreters in recent years to adopt the consistent symbolical interpretation.

The Liberal Critical Interpretation of the 490 years promised by Daniel 9 to Israel

The book Daniel was written during the Babylonian Empire in the sixth century BC and contains very precise predictions of the later Medo-Persian and Greek Empires.  The liberal critical view of the Bible, which dominates the academic centers of the world, makes the a priori assumption that knowledge of the future is impossible.  It therefore must show that Daniel was written after the events it predicts.  Its proposed solution is that Daniel was written during the second century BC crisis under Antiochus IV, and that Daniel contains no predictions of events beyond than time.  But then Daniel 9 predicts 490 years from the decree to restore Jerusalem until Antiochus, while there are less than 400 years between the Babylonian Empire and Antiochus.  These scientists therefore propose creative solutions.

This article explains the critical interpretation of Daniel 9, phrase by phrase, but also provides objections to it.

The point of departure

Holy BibleThe point of departure in the critical perspective is:

(1) That the book of Daniel was written during the persecution of the Jews by the Greek king Antiochus IV, somewhere between 168 and 163 BC.
(2) That all the visions in Daniel, even Daniel 9, describe the conflict under Antiochus.
(3) That the prophecies in Daniel are actually recorded history in the form of prophecy.

Antiochus desecrated the temple and killed many Jews.  But soon the Jews, through the Maccabean revolt, were able to defeat Antiochus’ army, run them out of their country and rededicate their temple.  The prophecy of Daniel 9 ends with the accumulation of desolations. In Daniel 9 there is no indication of a rededication of the altar.  For this reason critical scholars propose that the book of Daniel was put in its final form prior to the success of the revolt and prior to the restoration of the sanctuary services.  On this basis critical scholars believe they are able to date the compilation of the book precisely.

Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city (9:24)

490 yearsThe 490 years must not include the 70 years.  Since Critics must fit the 490 years of Daniel 9 before the time of Antiochus, they must start the 490 years as early as possible.  They therefore start with the destruction of Jerusalem. But this was also when Jeremiah’s 70 years start.  In other words, Jeremiah’s 70 years of desolation are made part of the 490 years (the seventy weeks).  For the following reasons the seventy weeks should not include the 70 years:

Firstly, the Daniel 9 prophecy was received at the end of the 70 years.

Secondly, the 70 years were years of covenant curse, while the 490 years were years of covenant renewal.  The 70 years were years of exile, which was the covenant curse for disobedience.  The promise of the 490 years renewed the covenant.  As stated by 9:24, “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city”.  It is not logical to include the 70 years of covenant curse into the 490 years promised “for your people and your holy city”.

Thirdly, the Jewish calendar was divided into weeks of years in which the seventh and last year was a Sabbath year during which the land had to rest.  The promise of 70 weeks is Daniel 9 is based these weeks of years.  God used the Sabbath years to measure Israel’s obedience.  The covenant promises and curses, recorded in Leviticus 26, linked the exile to the weeks of years.  It warned Israel that they would be in exile one year for every Sabbath year not observed.  During exile “the land will enjoy its sabbaths” (Lev. 26:34-35; cf. 2Ch 36:21).  After Israel went into exile, God sent a message to Israel through Jeremiah that the exile would be 70 years.  In other words, the 70 years of exile were the penalty for 490 past years of disobedience.  The 70 years were not part of the 490 past years of disobedience.  Neither should the 70 years be part of the new cycle of 490 years.

For a further elaboration of these principles, please read The Covenant in Daniel 9.

To finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness … (9:24)

Daniel 9 goalsThe interpretation does not fit the goals.  Why would a faithful Jew, compiling the book of Daniel in the second century, during the period of temple desecration under Antiochus, give these 6 goals for the 8 events predicted in the prophecy?   It would require substantial creativity to find application for goals such as “to make an end of sin” and “to bring in everlasting righteousness” (9:24) to the time of Antiochus, particularly on the basis of the critical assumption that Daniel was written prior to the success of the Maccabean revolt.

The conflict in the time of Antiochus IV was more of the nature of a civil war between pro-Hellenistic and an anti-Hellenistic Jewish factions, than it was a conflict with an external oppressor.  “The severest condemnation of the writer of I Maccabees goes, not to the Seleucid politicians, but to the lawless apostates among his own people” (The introduction to I Maccabees in the NAB).  It is difficult to see how a second century writer could link the goals listed in 9:24 a Jewish civil war.

From the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (9:25)

Decree to restore JerusalemCritical scholars believe that the second century writer of Daniel obtained the idea of the 70 weeks from Jeremiah’s prediction of 70 years of captivity (Jer. 25:11-13; 29:10), referred to in Daniel 9:2.  The standard critical approach is that the 70 weeks of years is a reinterpretation of Jeremiah’s prophecy.  Consequently, critical scholars begin the 490 years with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

No decree – But then the 490 years do not start with such a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, as required by 9:25, but with the destruction of Jerusalem.  There was no “decree” which speaks of a rebuilding of Jerusalem at that time.

Critics therefore propose that the announcement by God through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:1-2, 11-12; 29:10) was the “decree” (NASB) specified by Daniel 9:25, but Jeremiah received this word from God 19 years earlier (in 605 BC – year one of Nebuchadnezzar Jer. 25:1, 12).  Furthermore, Jeremiah’s prophecy was not a “decree to rebuild and restore Jerusalem

Until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks (9:25)

Masoretic TextIn the Critical Interpretation Cyrus is the messiah in this verse and he appears at the end of the first seven weeks (49 years).  In the NASB, quoted in the heading above, the messiah appears at the end of 7 and 62 weeks, but critical scholars rely on the Masoretic punctuation—as for instance used in the RSV—which places the appearance of the messiah in verse 25 at the end of the first 49 years.  Critical scholars obtain support for this view from Isaiah 45:1, where Cyrus is called the anointed of the Lord:

Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held“.

(The Hebrews word translated messiah in the NASB is mashiach, and means anointed, and in translated as “anointed one” in some translations (e.g. RSV).)

.  The next year Cyrus issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.  In the critical interpretation the first seven weeks are then the period from the Chaldean destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC to Cyrus’s decree of liberation for the Jews in 538 BC.  From 586 to 538 is 48 years, which is only one year short of the required 49 years (7 x 7).

There is only one messiah. – In the Critic’s view there are two messiahs: The messiah of 9:25 is Cyrus and the messiah in 9:26, who will be cut off, is the Jewish high priest Onias III.  (See below.)  However:

According to the discussion of the punctuation in the article When does the Messiah Appear, there is no messiah after the first seven weeks.  There is only one messiah, and he appears after 7 + 62 weeks.

Two different messiahs in two consecutive verses are unlikely.  9:25 and 9:26 must refer to the same person because both are described as “messiah”.

Why 49 years, and not 70? Critics view the 490 years as a reinterpretation of Jeremiah’s seventy years.  If that was true, should the first subdivision of the 490 years not be 70 years, rather than 49?

Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing (9:26a)

As stated, the Masoretic punctuation has two messiahs in the prophecy of Daniel 9; one after 49 years and another one that is cut off 62 weeks (434 years) later (9:26).  Critical scholars use this punctuation and identify the first messiah as Cyrus and the second as the Jewish High Priest Onias III, who was murdered in 171/0 BC.  They find support in the fact that priests are called “anointed” in Leviticus 4:3 and following. In this view Daniel 9 does not refer to Jesus at all.

Onias was no messiah – The Bible uses the term “messiah” exclusively for people that rescue Israel from danger.  Cyrus might be described as a messiah, but Onias was no messiah.  He did not rescue Israel from anything.  Antiochus IV replaced him as high priest with his more liberal brother Jason. A few years later, in 171/0, he was killed.  It was only 4 years later that Antiochus IV desecrated the temple.

Onias was not cut off “after the sixty-two weeks”.  According to the NASB translation of Daniel 9:25 the messiah appears at the end of “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” (9:25) and is cut off some undefined period “after the sixty-two weeks” (9:26).  But in the critics’ scheme the messiah (Onias) disappears (is cut off) immediately at the end of the 483 years.

Does not fit the timelineThe second division (the 62 weeks), in the critical interpretation, extends from Cyrus (539/8 BC) to Onias (171/0 BC).  This is only 367 years, 67 years short of the predicted 434 years (62 x 7).  Consequently, the full period of 490 years is actually only 586-164 = 422 years.  Critics believe that 9:24-27 is history written down after the events, in the form of prophecy.  If this was true, then one could rightly expect that the “prophecy” would fit the figures of 49 + 434 + 7 years (7 + 62 + 1 weeks) perfectly, but this difference is accepted by scholars on the assumption that the chronological knowledge, when Daniel was written, was not very exact.

Daniel is historically accurate.  It should be noted that the book of Daniel indeed contains amazingly accurate historical information (although poorly known during the later pre-Christian centuries).  For example:

The author of Daniel is correct in his description of Nebuchadnezzar as the builder of Babylon (4:30).  RH Pfeiffer was compelled to concede, “We shall presumably never know how our author learned that the new Babylon was the creation of Nebuchadnezzar, as the excavations have proved.”

The author was correct in his knowledge that Belshazzar, mentioned only in Daniel and in cuneiform records, was functioning as king when Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC.

On the basis of cunei­form evidence the vexing chronological problem between Daniel 1:1 and Jeremiah 25:1; 46:2 has been solved without any discrepancy.  (See the article Is the Book of Daniel a Fraud? for more information.)

These exam­ples show that the writer of Daniel knew history quite well, and would not have made such a massive mistake with the dates.

The people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary (9:26b).

Antiochus IVAntiochus did not destroy the sanctuary.  In the critical interpretation Antiochus Epiphanes is this “prince”, but Antiochus never destroyed the sanctuary.  He turned it into a temple of his own god.  Neither did Antiochus destroy Jerusalem.  He destroyed only part of Jerusalem and massacred many of its inhabitants.  A second century author would have seen with his own eyes that Antiochus did not destroy the temple, but only defiled it (1Macc.1:30-31, 39).

And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week (9:27a)

In the critical interpretation this “firm covenant” is the cooperation between Antiochus and the Hellenizing Jews.  The Hellenizing Jews are the Jews that adopted Greeks customs at the expense of Jewish customs.

Prince of the covenant – Surely the “prince of the covenant” in 11:22 must be the same as the prince that confirms the covenant for one week (9:27).  But in the critical interpretation the one that makes a firm covenant in Daniel 9 is Antiochus, while Antiochus kills the “prince of the covenant” in Daniel 11.

Antiochus did not make a seven-year pact with anybody.  Critics argue that Antiochus made an agreement with the Hellenizing Jews for one week, but Antiochus IV did not conclude or confirm an agreement with anybody for one week.  His general support for the pro-Seleucid faction cannot be limited to one week.  For instance, he replaced Onias with his pro-Seleucid brother a number of years before Onias was killed.

But in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering (9:27b)

In the critical interpretation Antiochus is also the one who put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering in the middle of the last week (9:27).  Antiochus did stop the Jewish sacrifices.  According to the book of 1 Maccabean the “desolating sacrilege“—a heathen altar—was erected on the great altar of burnt sacrifice on December 4, 167 BC (15 Kislev, 145; 1 Maccabees 1:54).  This was about in the middle of the seven years after Onias was murdered.  In the critical interpretation the abomination of desolation, mentioned elsewhere in Daniel, is assumed to be this heathen altar which Antiochus Epiphanes erected in place of the Lord’s altar for burnt offering (see I Macc. i. 54). (Jewish Encyclopedia).

Jesus put the abomination in His future.  Critics limit the events of Daniel to the time of Antiochus, but Jesus put the abomination of desolation Daniel’s prophecies in His future (Mat 24:15).

Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)” (Mat 24:15)

Daniel’s prophecies therefore cannot be limited to the time of Antiochus, approximately 200 years before Jesus spoke.  For many people this is sufficient evidence against the critical interpretation.  Daniel is the only book in the Bible which Jesus by name recommended that we understand.

End of the 490 years

Judas Maccabeus
Judas Maccabeus

In the critical interpretation the last week concludes with the rededication of the altar of sacrifice by the victorious Judas Maccabeus.  This is the “anointing of a most holy place” listed as one of the purposes of the seventy weeks (9:24).  The altar of sacrifice was rededication on December 14, 164 BC (25 Kislev, 148; 1 Maccabees 4:52), exactly 3 years after the first heathen sacrifice in the temple.

But do the critics not also say that Daniel was written before the success of the Maccabean revolt?  How would the uninspired writer know about the rededication?  And why would Daniel 9 then end in the accumulation of desolations?  Why does Daniel 9 not mention the rededication?

Why an end?  If the book of Daniel was completed before the end of the 490 years, and if the writer did not foresee the success of the Maccabean revolt, why would he postulate a period of 490 years?  The Critical Interpretation fails to explain what end the writer has in mind.  What was envisaged after the end of the 490 years?

Review of the timeline

The standard critical timeline, discussed above, is as follows:

586 BC: The destruction of Jerusalem and the start of the 490 years
538 BC: The liberation for the Jews and the end of the first 49 years (7 weeks): This was 48 years later; not 49.
171/0 BC: The murder of Onias III and the end of the second 434 years (62 weeks): This was 368 years later, not 434.
167 BC: Abomination of desolation
164 BC: Temple rededicated

One proposed variation on the critical schema is as follows:

The first 7 weeks are from the Captivity in 587 BC until 538 BC: Exactly 49 years.
The next 62 weeks (434 years) are from the date Jeremiah prophesied in 605 BC (Jeremiah 25:11-12) to Onias’ death in 171 BC: Exactly 434 years

The advantages of this proposal are:

It exactly fits the 49 and 434 years required by the prophecy.
It starts the 62 weeks with a “word” (KJV).

The disadvantages are:

(1) Jeremiah 25:11-12 does not speak of the rebuilding of Jerusalem at all.
(2) The first two divisions (7 + 62) run parallel to each other rather than in sequence.  Israel therefore never received its promised 490 years.
(3) The wording of 9:25 requires “seven and sixty-two weeks” (that is, 69 weeks) and not just 62 weeks from “the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” until Messiah the Prince.

Anchor Bible Commentary
Anchor Bible Commentary

A slight variation from the standard critical schema is proposed by the influential Anchor Bible Commen­tary by Hartman and Di Lella.  They do not start the 490 years with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, but with Jeremiah’s later announcement, as recorded in 29:10, which they date to 594 BC.  Otherwise they remain with the standard critical schema.  The benefit of this proposal is that the 490 years do not start with the destruction of Jerusalem, but with a “word”, as required by Daniel 9.  However:

(A) Jeremiah 29:10 was also not a “word to rebuild and restore Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:25 KJV).  Jeremiah 29:10 only speaks of bringing back exiles to Judah.
(B) From 594 BC to 538 BC is 56 years, not 49 years.  Hartman and Di Lella suggest that 56 years is “sufficiently close to the quasi-artificial figure of ‘seven weeks’ of years.  Not everybody would accept the 7 weeks as “quasi-artificial.”
(C) The second section remains too short.  The full period from 594 BC to 164 BC is only 430 years; 50 years short of the required 490 years.

Conclusion

The critical interpretation is today the standard view of modern liberal scholarship, but it is not an unbiased interpretation.  Critical scholars believe that the Bible developed through a process of evolution, with various people over the centuries editing the text.  They also believe, as a priori assumption, that knowledge of the future is impossible.

But the book of Daniel claims that it was written in the six century before Christ, and contains amazingly accurate predictions of the history after the sixth century.  Liberal scholarship must therefore prove that Daniel was written after these events.  Their solution is that it was written during the crisis under Antiochus IV and that the book only focuses on that conflict.   All the prophecies of Daniel are interpreted as referring to that conflict; even Daniel 9.

But if one counts 490 years back from the time of Antiochus you arrive at the year 655 BC; 50 years before the Babylonian exile.  At that time there was no “decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.”  Therefore critics have creative solutions to shorten the 490 years, as discussed above.  No critical scheme reaches 490 years.   There is no critical scheme of interpretation that is able to harmonize 9:24-27 with actual history.

A separate article is available which contains more than sufficient evidence that Daniel must have been written in the sixth century BC, and therefore must be inspired prophecy.  See Is the Book of Daniel a Fraud?

Confirm the covenant in the 70th week; Who makes what covenant with whom?

Confirm the covenantDuring the last of the seventy weeks “he” will confirm the covenant with “many”.  This refers to God’s covenant with Israel.  Through the seventy weeks-prophecy God extended His covenant with Israel for a further 490 years.  But during those last seven years the Messiah will confirm the covenant with many from Israel.  After that the covenant comes to an end.

Daniel 9:27 reads:

And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week

The “one week” is the last of the Seventy Weeks, but who is “he”?  What covenant is this and with whom does he make this covenant?

The Covenant of God

SinaiThrough Moses God made a covenant with Israel, but because of their disobedience, Israel went into exile.  At the end of Seventy Years of exile God, through the prophecy of Daniel 9, extended His covenant with Israel for a further seventy weeks of years (490 years).  On the basis of the arguments below it is proposed that the covenant in 9:27 refers to God’s covenant with Israel:

As discussed in the previous article (The Covenant in Daniel 9), the divine covenant is the central theme in Daniel 9 that integrates the prayer and prophecy into a unit.  This context speaks against the supposition that an altogether different covenant is abruptly introduced in the last 7 of the 490 years.

The word “covenant” appears in 6 verses in Daniel.  In four verses it is explicitly God’s covenant (9:4; 11:28, 30, 32.).

Some propose that covenant in 9:27 is not God’s covenant with Israel because of the absence of the article “the”, but in Daniel 11:28, 30, 32 “covenant” is also used without the article, while the reference is explicitly to God’s “holy covenant”.

He” refers to the Messiah.

The “he” in verse 27 must refer to a person mentioned in the previous verse, which reads,

Jerusalem destroyed
Jerusalem destroyed

Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary …” (Daniel 9:26).

The “Messiah” is therefore the dominant figure in verse 26.  The “prince” is a subordinate figure.  It is not even the subject of the clause.  The subject of the clause is “the people.”

Dispensationalism proposes that the “he”, who will make a firm covenant with many in verse 27, is the “prince” of verse 26, and that this prince is an end time Antichrist.  He will enter into some pact at the beginning of the last seven years and then—in the course of those seven years—break his covenant.  Objections against this view:

(1) According to verse 26 “the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary”.  This refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century.  If his people refer to the first-century Romans, and if the prince is an end-time Antichrist, then the people and their prince live 2000 years apart, which is an unnatural interpretation.

(2) If “he” makes a new covenant for one week, then he cannot break his covenant in the middle of the week.

Confirm the covenant

The verb translated “make a firm” in the NASB is “gâbar”.  Strong’s short definition of this word is “prevailed“.  Of the 25 times this word appears in the OT, the NASB translates it 14 times as prevail. The evidence of the usage of gâbar in the Bible (“The covenant of the Seventieth Week” by Meredith G. Kline) indicates that verse 27 has in view the enforcing of a covenant previously granted.  It is not a verb for the making of a new covenant.  It should therefore be translated as “make firm a covenant”, and not as “make a firm covenant”.  The KJV translates it as confirm the covenant and Young’s Literal Translation reads “strengthening a covenant”.  Confirm a covenant implies a covenant that existed prior to the last seven years.  If so, it can only refer to God’s covenant with Israel.

The Many

The many”, with whom he will confirm the covenant, most often refers to God’s people.  For instance:

The Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities“ (Isa 53:11)

Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many; yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder for many days” (Dan 11:33; See also Dan 11:39; 12:3; Matt. 26:28; Hebr. 9:26-28; Rom 5:15, 19; 1Co 10:33).

The covenant in 9:27 is therefore God’s covenant with Israel.

End of the week

Seventy weeksDaniel 9 does not specify a specific event for the end of the Seventy Weeks.  However, the Seventy Weeks was an extension of God’s covenant with Israel, as also indicated by the phrase, “Seventy weeks are cut off for your people and your holy city” (9:24).  The seventy weeks therefore end when God’s covenant with Israel ends.  It will be the end of all Jewish privileges as the covenant people.

This is confirmed by verse 27, which reads, he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.  This is last of the seventy weeks.  When that week comes to an end the messiah will no longer confirm the covenant with Israel.

Jeremiah’s Seventy Years show that Yahweh’s covenant is the theme that pervades the entire chapter 9 of Daniel.

Leviticus 26Leviticus 26 lists the covenant curses, climaxing in exile.  They would be in exile one year for every Sabbath year not observed; “then the land will enjoy its sabbaths”.  But if Israel in exile would confess its iniquity, then Israel would be restored to Jerusalem.
Through Jeremiah God informed Israel that they will be in exile for Seventy Years.
The Leviticus 26 covenant sequence of disobedience – exile – confession – restoration is the central theme in Daniel 9, and binds together prayer (confession) and prophecy (of restoration).

The Covenant Curse of Exile in Leviticus 26

Before the covenant in Daniel 9 is discussed, an overview is provided of the covenant process, as recorded in Leviticus 26:

Sabbath Years
Sabbath Years

In Leviticus 25 God commanded Israel that, when they come into the land which He shall give them, the land shall enjoy a Sabbath year of rest every seventh year (v2), similar to the weekly Sabbath day of rest.  Israel had to work the land for six years (v3), but in the seventh year the land had to rest (v4).

Leviticus 26:14-39 records the covenant curses.  These are the dreadful things that will happen to Israel should they fall into disobedience.  These curses climaxed in the curse of exile.  God will lay waste their cities, make their sanctuaries desolate (v31) and scatter the people among the nations (v33).  We read:

Israel in exileThen the land will enjoy its sabbaths … while you are in your enemies’ land … it will observe the rest which it did not observe on your sabbaths, while you were living on it” (Lev. 26:34-35).

This implies that the number of years of exile will be equal to the number of Sabbath years that the land did not get, while Israel lived on it (v43), which means that the Sabbath year cycle was made part of the curse of exile.

But, as the next step in the “covenant lawsuit process”, as scholars refer to it, Leviticus 26 records that if Israel in exile would confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers (v40), then YHWH will remember His covenants with Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.  He will also remember the land (v42).  Israel’s repentant turning is therefore a prerequisite for the covenantal promise of restoration (cf. Deut. 30: 1 ff).

The covenant sequence is therefore as follows:
(1) Disobedience, signified by the Sabbath years not observed;
(2) Curses, climaxing in Exile; one year of exile for every Sabbath Year not observed;
(3) Confession of guilt by Israel; and
(4) God restores Israel to Judea.

Jeremiah’s Seventy Years were the specific implementation of the general covenant exile curse.

Jeremiah Seventy YearsJeremiah prophesied that Israel will be restored to Jerusalem Seventy Years after the exile:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon … For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place” (Jer. 29:10).

The Chronicles comment on this prophecy as follows:

Israel returns to JerusalemTo fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths.  All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete” (2Ch 36:21).

It is important to note the link between Leviticus 26 and this comment in Chronicles.  Leviticus says, while Israel is in exile, “then the land will enjoy its sabbaths” (Lev. 26:34-35).  Chronicles similarly says that during the Seventy Years of Jeremiah’s prophecy “the land had enjoyed its sabbaths”.  Leviticus 26, which made the annual Sabbaths part of the curse of exile, may be viewed as a general prophecy.  Jeremiah’s Seventy Years were the specific implementation of the general covenant exile curse.

Covenant in Daniel 9

DanielWith this background it can now be shown that the covenant sequence from Leviticus 26 is the central theme in Daniel 9 which binds together prayer and prophecy:

Daniel in his prayer confirmed that the exile was a fulfillment of the covenant curse:

Law of Moses

Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law … so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses” (Daniel 9:11).

In prayer, Daniel confessed Israel’s iniquity on behalf of the nation (Daniel 9:4 ff.), as required by the covenant (Leviticus 26:40-41).

We have sinned … Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame … those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them” (Daniel 9:5-10).

Daniel fulfilled the requirement for covenant renewal by confessing the justice of the sentence, the righteousness of Yahweh (v7) and Israel’s guilt (v5-11), as required by the covenant (Lev. 26:40).

Daniel prayed for restoration and covenant renewal after exile, as promised by the covenant.

Daniel 9 commences as follows:

Daniel the prophetsIn the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications“ (Daniel 9:2-3).

Babylon fellThe word “so” indicates that Daniel prayed after reading Jeremiah’s prophetic promise.  Later in the chapter we will read that Gabriel arrived to give Daniel the prophecy even while Daniel was still praying (v21).   The entire chapter 9 therefore was a consequence of Daniel reading Jeremiah’s promise.  Babylon fell the previous year (539 BC; cf. Dan. 9:1).  Babylon’s reign of 70 years (Jer. 25:9, 11) has come to an end and Daniel prayed for the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophetic promise, and that God would restore Israel:

O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name … “O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! … do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.” (Dan.9:18-19)

Since Jeremiah’s seventy-year prophecy was the specific application of the general covenant curse of exile, Daniel, in reality, prayed for the restoration and covenant renewal promised by the covenant, as recorded in Leviticus 26:42 ft. and Deuteronomy 30:3 ft.

Daniel confirmed this, right at the beginning of his prayer, when he set his hope in the Lord who “keeps the covenant” (9:4).  The covenant is both the ground of Daniel’s confidence and the basis for his plea.

Daniel’s prayer is replete with covenant terminology.

Daniel 9 is the only chapter in the book to use the peculiarly covenant name YHWH (vss. 2, 4, 10, 13, 14, 20).

Equally appropriate to the covenantal context is the repeated use of Adonay (Lord); the characteristic designation of the dominant party in the covenant.  In the book of Daniel this name is used only in this chapter and in 1:2.

The many other covenant words found here are ‘ahab, “love” (vs. 4), hesed, “covenant loyalty” (vs. 4), sub, “turn” (vss. 13,16), and hata, “sin” (vss. 5,8, 11, 15). The prayer is indeed saturated with expressions drawn from the Mosaic treaties, particularly from the Deuteronomic covenant. [Compare verse 4 with Deut. 7:9, 21; 10:17; verse 5 with Deut. 17:20; verse 10 with Deut. 4:8, 30; 11:32; verse 11 with Deut. 29:20; 33:1; 34:5; verse 12 with Deut. 2:25; 4:19; 9:5; verse 15 with Deut. 6:21; and verse 18 with Deut. 28:10.]

It would therefore be fair to say that Daniel’s prayer was founded on the covenant.  We should thus expect that God’s response through His angel Gabriel will also be based on the covenant.

The Seventy Weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) promises the covenant renewal of Leviticus 26:42, 45.

This statement is made up of two points:

A. The 70 weeks are weeks of years where every seventh year is a Sabbath. 

The Seventy Weeks of the Prophecy are weeks of years; more specifically sabbatical weeks of years, which means that every seventh year was a Sabbath, as indicated by the following:

(a) The term “weeks” in the Seventy Weeks refer to the seven-year chronological cycle in which each seventh year was a Sabbath for the land (Lev. 25:2 ff.).

(b) As generally prophesied by Leviticus and as confirmed by 2 Chronicles 36:21, quoted above, each of the 70 years of exile was a Sabbath year.  Each of the 70 years therefore represent 7 years of disobedience.  Consequently, the 70 years represent the equivalent of 490 years of disobedience.  The prophecy of Daniel 9 therefore awards Israel with a new cycle of 490 years, which implies that each seventh year would also be a Sabbath.

B. This Sabbath year pattern of is part of the covenant.

(a) By using the Sabbath years to count the number of years of exile, God made it part of the covenant (Lev. 26:35, 43).

Sign of the Covenant(b) The Lord elevated the weekly Sabbath to be a perpetual sign of the covenant between Him and His people (Ex. 31:13-17; Ezek. 20:12, 20).  By implication the same applies to the annual Sabbath, as confirmed by fact that non-observance of the annual Sabbaths is regarded by the covenant as sign of disobedience.

Since the Seventy Weeks are weeks of years where every seventh year is a Sabbath, and since this Sabbath year pattern of is part of the covenant, we are able to conclude that the Seventy Weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) promises the covenant renewal of Leviticus 26:42, 45.

Conclusion

Daniel 9, as a whole, follows the covenant pattern of Leviticus 26.  The covenant sequence is the central theme in Daniel 9, and binds together the prayer and prophecy:

(a) The historical setting of Daniel 9 is at the end of the Seventy Years of exile.

(b) The prayer (Daniel 9:4 ff.) corresponds to the confession required by the covenant (Leviticus 26:40-41).

(c) The Seventy Weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) corresponds to the covenant restitution and renewal of Leviticus 26:42, 45.

This pervasive covenant theme evidences the unity of the chapter as a whole.  It is only by obscuring the obvious that one can fail to see that Daniel’s prayer and Gabriel’s response suit each other very well.

The covenant in Leviticus 25 and 26 is an important source standing behind the prophecy of Daniel 9.  Leviticus 25 and 26 presents a prophetic overview of the history of Israel down to the exile and restoration after exile, and Daniel’s prayer and the Seventy Weeks are fulfillments of that covenant.

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