Historical-Messianic Interpretation of Daniel 9; The 490 years are 70 seven-year cycles, where every seventh was a Sabbath Year.

Sabbath YearsThe Historical-Messianic interpretation is the traditional understanding of Daniel 9.  In this interpretation the 490 years are an extension of God’s covenant with Israel, which was based on Israel’s Sabbath Year cycle.  Jesus confirmed God’s covenant with Israel during the last seven of the 490 years. 

This interpretation is called Messianic because it understands the Messiah to be the one who confirms the covenant for the seven last years.  It is called historical because the full 490 years is interpreted as past history.

Daniel 9 has been understood in such way ever since the early church.  It is only in the recent centuries that Dispensationalism and Liberal Criticism have become the dominant views.

Below the Daniel 9 prophecy is explained from the Historical-Messianic perspective. The explanation will be phrase by phrase.

For discussions of the other interpretations of Daniel 9, see:

Dispensationalism
Critical Interpretation
Consistent Symbolical Interpretation

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

Gabriel appears to DanielThese were Gabriel’s opening words.

Israel’s calendar followed a seven-year cycle in which every seventh year was a Sabbath Year for the land (Lev. 25).  The 70 weeks are 70 of those Sabbath Year cycles, and consequently equal to 490 literal years.

By implication, these seventy weeks have decreed by God, for Gabriel brought this message from God (9:22).

Your people and your holy city” refer to Israel and Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is the capital and symbol of the Jewish nation.

Covenant in Daniel 9

This concept is fundamental to understanding many things in this prophecy.  It also helps to explain the Seventy Weeks.  It is discussed in The Covenant in Daniel 9, but explained briefly below:

Sabbath Year

In Leviticus 25 God commanded Israel to allow the land to 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 was a Sabbath Year; the land had to rest (v4).  In this way the years on the Jewish calendar were divided into sevens, with each seventh is a Sabbath Year.

Covenant Exile Pattern

Leviticus 26 contains the covenant promises and warnings.  It states:

Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai

(1) Should Israel become unfaithful (Lev. 26:14-39);
(2) It will go in exile.  God will scatter them among the nations (Lev. 26:33).
(3) If Israel in exile (Lev. 26:41, 44) “confess their iniquity” (v40);
(4)Then I will remember My covenant … with Abraham” (v42) “that I might be their God” (v45).  God would renew His covenant with them

The Covenant Exile Pattern is therefore (1) Disobedience – (2) Exile – (3) Confession – (4) Covenant Renewal.

Leviticus 26 furthermore uses the seven-year cycle to count the number of years of exile (Lev. 26:34-35, 43).  Israel would be in exile for every Sabbath Year not observed.  While they are in exile, the land will enjoy its rest.  The Sabbath Year cycle was therefore made part of the covenant threat of exile. 

490 years of disobedience prior to exile

Jeremiah prophesied that Israel would be in exile for 70 years.  On the basis of Leviticus 26 we know that each of Jeremiah’s 70 years of exile was a Sabbath year.  This is confirmed by 2 Chronicles 36:21. Each of the 70 years therefore represent 7 years of disobedience.  Consequently, the 70 years represent the equivalent of Seventy Weeks (490 years) of disobedience, prior to the exile.

Daniel 9 follows this covenant pattern:

(1) This prophecy was received at a time when Jerusalem was in ruins and Israel in exile (9:2, 7).  The exile was the covenant penalty for disobedience: Israel was scattered to allow the land to have its rest (2Ch 36:21; Dan 9:11-13; cf. Lev. 25:2).

(2) In his prayer (9:4-19) Daniel confessed the guilt of His people (9:5-11, 15-16), acknowledged the exile as the covenant penalty for disobedience (9:11-13), acknowledged that God had acted fairly (9:7, 14), but also prayed for the promise of covenant renewal after exile (9:4).  He prayed for “Your city and Your people” (9:19, 16-17).  In this way Daniel fulfilled the condition for covenant renewal after exile (Leviticus 26:40-41).  On behalf of Israel, and he prayed for the renewal of Israel’s covenant privileges.

(3) This context means that, when Gabriel brought God’s answer, namely that “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city”, that this is a renewal of God’s covenant with Israel in terms of Leviticus 26:42, 45, for a new cycle of Seventy Weeks.

Implications

The important implications are:

(a) The covenant pattern forms the framework that binds together Daniel’s prayer in the first part of the chapter 9 and the prophecy at the end of it.  God’s covenant with Israel is the central theme in the entire Daniel 9.

(b) The 490 years promised by Daniel 9 are an extension of God’s covenant with Israel.

(c) The covenant that is confirmed during the “one week” (9:27) is the final seven years of God’s time-limited renewed covenant with Israel.

(d) God’s covenant with Israel comes to an end at the end of the Seventy Weeks of years.

(e) Since Daniel 9’s 490 years are an extension of God’s covenant with Israel, and since the Sabbath year cycle is part of this covenant, every seventh year will be a Sabbath year.  This means that these are 490 literal years, not prophetic years, as in Dispensationalism.

Six goals

make atonement for iniquity
To make atonement for iniquity

Verse 24 lists 6 goals for the 490 years, namely, to:

Finish the transgression, to make an end of sin
Make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness
Seal up vision and prophecy
And to anoint the most holy place

These goals are discussed in When will the Daniel 9:24 goals, set by for the 490 years, be fulfilled?  However, the reader is advised to first read the explanation of verses 25 to 27 before reading the analysis of the goals.

NEXT: Daniel 9:25 Decree to Restore

Whose covenant is confirmed in Daniel 9:27; God’s covenant with Israel or the devil’s?

Ark of the CovenantIt is God’s covenant with Israel, for Daniel 9 follows the covenant pattern of Disobedience – Repentance – Covenant Renewal.  The 490 years, including the last seven, therefore are a renewal of God’s covenant with Israel.  This is confirmed by the phrase “confirm the covenant”  and by “the many”, with whom the covenant is confirmed, who are God’s people. 

Central Theme

Summary: God’s covenant with Israel is the backbone of the entire Daniel 9.  The covenant in 9:27 must therefore also be God’s covenant with Israel.

7 year covenantDispensationalism interprets the covenant in 9:27 as a covenant of an end time antichrist, but it is proposed here that it is God’s covenant with Israel because God’s covenant with Israel is the central theme throughout the entire Daniel 9.  This is explained in The Covenant in Daniel 9, as well as in the previous article under the heading Prophetic Years, but this matter is critical for understanding Daniel 9.

Covenant with Israel in brief

God commanded Israel to allow the land to rest every seventh year (Leviticus. 25:1-2).  Israel was to work the land for six years (v3), but not on the seventh (v4).

God made this seven-year cycle part of the covenant by using it to count the number of years of exile (Lev. 26:35, 43).  Should Israel become unfaithful (Lev. 26:14-39), God will scatter them among the nations (Lev. 26:33) to allow the land to have its rest (v34, 43).  The period of exile would be equal to the number of years during which the land did not have its rest (v35, 43).

But if Israel confesses their sin (v40), God would renew His covenant with them (v42), that He might be their God (v45).

Daniel 9 follows this covenant pattern:

(1) The prophecy of Daniel 9 was received at the end of Israel’s exile of 70 years (Dan 9:2).  The exile was the covenant penalty for unfaithfulness: Israel was scattered to allow the land to have its rest (2Ch 36:21; Dan 9:11-13; cf. Lev. 25:2).

Daniel(2) In his prayer (9:4-19) Daniel confessed the justice of the sentence, Yahweh’s righteousness (9:7) and Israel’s guilt (9:5-11).  In this way Daniel fulfilled the condition for covenant renewal after exile (Leviticus 26:40-41).  On behalf of Israel, and he prayed for the renewal of Israel’s covenant privileges.

(3) The announcement “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city” (9:24) renewed God’s covenant with Israel in terms of Leviticus 26:42, 45, but limited to 490 years.

Conclusion

God’s covenant with Israel is therefore the central theme in the entire Daniel 9.  This implies that the promised 490 years is an extension of God’s covenant with Israel, and therefore that the last “one week” (9:27) is the final seven years of that time-limited renewed covenant.

Confirm the Covenant

Summary: The phrase “confirm the covenant” (9:27) means that this covenant existed prior to the 70th week.  Then it can only be God’s covenant with Israel.

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, it is 14 times translated 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 initial making of a 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” and “strengthen” imply a covenant that existed prior to the last seven years.  If so, it can only refer to God’s faithful fulfillment of the covenant He has given to His people.

The many

The many”, with whom the covenant is confirmed, 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.

Summary

Dispensationalism argues that the covenant in verse 27 is a new covenant made by an end time Antichrist.  But it is God’s covenant with Israel, for the following reasons:

Central Theme – An analysis of the covenant in Leviticus 25-26 and of Daniel 9 shows that Daniel 9 follows the covenant pattern of Disobedience – Repentance – Covenant Renewal, and that the 490 years are a renewal of God’s covenant with Israel.

Confirm the Covenant – The phrase “confirm the covenant” (9:27 KJC) reflects the meaning of the verb gâbar.  It means that this covenant existed prior to the 70th week.

The manyThe many”, with whom the covenant is confirmed, most often refers to God’s people.

Of the six times that the word “covenant” appears in Daniel, it is four times explicitly God’s covenant with Israel.

NEXT:  Who confirms the covenant for seven years; the Messiah or the prince?  In the middle of these seven year he makes an end to sacrifice.  This article considers the poetic structure and messianic nature of the prophecy, and evaluates the possible antecedents in verse 26.