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.

The prayer and prophecy in Daniel 9 form a cohesive unit.

Seventy SevensDaniel 9 consists of two parts; the prayer by Daniel, and the prophecy which Daniel received even while he was still praying.  The prayer and prophecy form a unit:  God promised, through Jeremiah, to bring Israel back from exile in Babylon after 70 Years (Jer. 29:10).  When Daniel prayed, in Daniel 9, the 70 Years of Babylonian exile was nearly over and Daniel prayed for the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophetic promise.  In response God sent Gabriel to give Daniel the 70 Weeks prophecy as assurance that Jeremiah’s promise will be fulfilled.

The unity of Daniel 9 questioned

Modern higher criticism does not accept that Daniel 9 forms a unit.  According to such scholars, Daniel’s prayer and prophecy do not fit, and the prayer was added later.  Their argument goes as follows:

Antiochus IV(a) Axiomatically (as point of departure) they reject the sixth century origin of the book as a whole.  They believe the book was compiled in the second century BC, during the persecution of the Jews by the Greek king Antiochus.

(b) They must therefore find a reason for the inclusion of Daniel 9 in the book by a second century writer.  A proposed solution is that the 70 Weeks-prophecy was produced to clarify the meaning of, or to reinterpret, Jeremiah’s 70 Years prophecy (Daniel 9:2).

(c) But then, they argue, Daniel, in his prayer recorded in Daniel 9, should have asked for such illumination.  Since he did not, it does not correspond to the prophecy and must have been added later.

The purpose of this article is to show that Daniel 9 does indeed form a unit.

No uncertainty about Jeremiah’s prophecy in the second century BC

Firstly, the assumption that the prophecy of the 70 Weeks is a reinterpretation of the Jeremiah’s 70 Years, should not be accepted because, in the second century BC, there was no need for perplexity over the plain words of Jeremiah:

Jeremiah Seventy YearsJeremiah prophesied that the end the 70 Years would be associated with the fall of Babylon (Jer. 25:11 ff.).  Consistent with this, Cyrus issued a decree in the first year after the fall of Babylon, allowing the Jews to return, and soon the restoration of the temple was actually under way.

The rebuilding of the temple and the city was completed hundreds of years before the crisis in the second century.  There was no failure in the historical realization of the 70 Years prophecy that called for an embarrassed reinterpretation of its simple sense.

The link between the prayer and prophecy is clear: Daniel prayed for fulfillment and the prophecy promised fulfillment.

Secondly, if one accepts that the book was written in the sixth century BC, as claimed by the book itself (9:2), then the link between the prayer and prophecy is clear:

Daniel the prophetsThe urgency of Daniel’s prayer is understandable.  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.  The clear meaning of Daniel 9:2 ff. is that Daniel prayed for the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophetic promise.

God gave the prophecy in Daniel 9 through “the man Gabriel”.  It is clear from the prophecy (Dan. 9:20 ff.) that Gabriel did not interpret or reinterpret Jeremiah’s prophecy of restoration, but through the 70 Weeks prophecy assured Daniel that it was about to be fulfilled.

Various expressions link prayer and prophecy.

Thirdly, there are various other links between the prayer and prophecy that indicate the unity of Daniel 9.  Gabriel provides assurances (vs. 24) which answer Daniel’s plea for forgiveness.  The prophecy repeats or plays on the sound of various words in the prayer. The two parts of the chapter share certain expressions not found elsewhere in the book.

Covenant

Covenant with Israel
Covenant with Israel

But the most persuasive evidence for the unity of Daniel 9 is the fact that Yahweh’s covenant is the thread that binds both prayer and prophecy together in a single unit:

(1) The Babylonian exile was the covenant curse.
(2) Jeremiah’s Seventy Years was the duration of exile determined by the covenant.
(3) Daniel’s prayer was Israel’s confession of guilt, as required by the covenant.
(4) The prophecy promises covenant renewal.

NEXT: The Covenant in Daniel 9
TO: Daniel 9 Full Article
TO: Daniel 9 Summary
TO: Daniel 9: Table of Contents

Daniel 9: Decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem

The Daniel's prophecies490 years begin with a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.  Restore means to return the city to the Jews to serve as their capital from which they would rule their whole nation, according to their own laws.  Four Persian decrees are considered:

King Cyrus(1) The decree by Cyrus in 538/7 BC allowed Jews to rebuild Jerusalem, but did not give Jerusalem back to the nation to serve as their national capital. 
(2) The decree by Darius I 520 BC simply confirmed Cyrus’ edict.    
(3) The decree by Artaxerses I 457 BC for the first time granted autonomy of Judah, and if we add 490 years to 457 BC, we come to the time of Christ. 
(4) The second decree by Artaxerxes—in 445/4—was too late to fit the time of Christ and simply confirmed his previous decree.

Purpose

The 70 weeks (490 years) of Daniel 9 begin with a decree:

… FROM the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem …” (NASB 9:25)

Identification of this decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem is very important for a correct interpretation of the 490 years.   A number of historical decrees with different dates have been suggested by scholars.  This article evaluates these decrees and identifies the decree that fits the prophecy best. 

Decree to Restore and Rebuild Jerusalem

The decree that we are looking for will both “restore” and “rebuild” Jerusalem.  “Restore” and “rebuild” are two related but very different actions:

Rebuild means to physically reconstruct.

Restore (shûb) does not include the idea of rebuilding.  To restore a city means to return it to the previous owner, for example:

Ahab, king of IsraelThe Aramean king once said to Ahab, king of Israel: “I will return (shûb, “restore”) the cities my father took from your father“ (I Kings 20:34).  These cities have not been destroyed, and were simply returned (given back) to Israel.

Azariah, king of Judah, rebuilt and restored the city Elath to Judah (2 Kings 14:22).  This verse contains the both verbs in Daniel 9:25; ”rebuild” and “restore.”  The city had been in ruins.  After it was rebuilt, it was restored (returned or given back) to Judah to rule as their own (cf. 1 Kings 12:21).

Restoring (shûb) Jerusalem in Daniel 9 therefore does not include rebuilding.  Nor does it merely mean that the Jews are allowed to live in the city.  “Restore” in Daniel 9:25 means that Jerusalem would again be owned again by the Israelites. But Jerusalem was also the judicial and executive capital of the nation and symbol of the Israeli people.  To restore Jerusalem therefore means that it will be returned to the Jews to serve as their capital from which they would rule their whole nation, according to their own laws as a theocentric society.

The decree of God via Jeremiah

JeremiahCritical scholars are academics who do not accept in the divine inspiration of Daniel.  They do not believe that Daniel 9 refers to Jesus, but rather propose that Daniel was written during the persecution of the Jews by the Greek king Antiochus (around 165 BC), and that that crisis is also the crisis in Daniel.  In other words, they propose that Daniel was written in the form of a prophecy, but actually describes events that occurred prior to the writing of Daniel.  Since such scholars have to fit 490 years between the decree and the time of Antiochus, they select the earliest possible decree.  For this reason they propose that the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem is a decree of God via the prophet Jeremiah.

But even if they take the very first mention by Jeremiah of the coming destruction and restoration of Jerusalem, in about 605 BC, they still only have 440 years between 605 BC and the time of Antiochus; not the required 490 (70×7) years.  They usually explain the difference as a mistake made by the uninspired writer.  But people who accept Daniel as supernaturally inspired, and particularly people who accept the messiah in Daniel 9 as referring to Jesus Christ, do not accept the announcements by Jeremiah as the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.

Four Persian decrees

Persian empire
Persian empire

The books by Ezra and Nehemiah mention four different “decrees” which deal with the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple and city.  These decrees were issued by three Persian monarchs over a period of 93 years:

  1. 538/7 BC: Cyrus allowed Jews to return to Judah and to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4; cf. Isa 45:1).
  2. About 520 BC: Darius I reaffirmed and expedited the order of Cyrus (Ezra 6:1-12).
  3. 457 BC: Artaxerses I granted a decree to Ezra (7:12-26) to reestablish the autonomy of Judah.
  4. 445/444 BC: Artaxerxes I gave permission to Nehemiah to repair Jerusalem.

One of these must be the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.

Cyrus in 538/7

Isaiah prophecied CyrusMore than a century before Cyrus was born, God inspired Isaiah to write:

Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’“ (Is. 44:28)

He (Cyrus) shall build my city and set my exiles free“ (Is. 45:13)

In 538/7 BC Cyrus decreed as follows:

The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you … let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 1:2-4)

Jerusalem in ruins
Jerusalem in ruins

The decree by Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Judea and to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4; cf. Isa 45:1).  It also implies the right to rebuild their cities, including Jerusalem.  But it is not the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem in Daniel 9:25, for it did not allow the Jews to rule themselves.  It did not give Jerusalem back to the nation to serve as their national capital; to make their own laws, to govern themselves.  Jerusalem, as capital of the Jews, was not yet “restored”.  They were still ruled directly by Persian laws.

Isaiah predicted that Cyrus “shall build my city and set my exiles free“ (Is. 45:13), but Cyrus did not set the Israelites free to rule themselves; only to return to Judea.  Nevertheless, Cyrus did initiate a process that ultimately led to the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, authorizing Jerusalem to be returned to the Jews, to serve as their judicial capital. 

Darius I in 520

King DariusIn response to Cyrus’ edict the Jews slowly began to return to their homeland (Ezra 3).  More than 15 years later Haggai and Zechariah (their ministry began about 520 BC) tell us that instead of making the rebuilding of the temple their priority, the returnees had set about their own business.  While the affluent built luxury homes, the majority of the returned exiles lived in and around the ruined city and suffered crop failures and droughts.  The temple was still in ruins (Haggai 1:1-11).

rebuild the templeZerubbabel and Joshua, under the influence of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, again started to rebuild the temple seventeen years after the decree of Cyrus, but experienced resistance (Ezra 5).  Israel’s old enemies—the Samaritans—complained to the authorities.  In response, the local governor inspected the work, and wrote a letter to Darius to verify the claims of the Jews.  An investigation was made and the decree of Cyrus was found.  Darius confirmed the decree of Cyrus by means of an additional edict (ca. 520 BC) (Ezra 6:3-12).  The temple was finished and dedicated in March, 515 BC (Ezra 6:13-18).

The royal decree of Darius I mentions only the restoration of the temple.  It simply confirmed Cyrus’ edict, and therefore also did not restore Jerusalem as legislative and executive capital of the nation in order that the Jews may govern themselves.

[Note that the Samaritans appealed to the Persian authorities, which confirms that that Jerusalem has not yet been restored.]

Therefore the main contenders are the two decrees by Artaxerxes I.  He issued decrees in 458/7 and in 445/4 BC.

Artaxerxes in 458/7

TorahThe decree in 458/7 BC (Ezra 7:12-26), about 60 years after the temple had been completed, granted permission to the exiles to return to Jerusalem, assigned funds for the support of the temple in Jerusalem and exempted the temple and temple personnel from tax.  These are not different from the previous decrees.  But what was now added is that the decree established a legal system based on the Torah for all the Jews in Judea.  This included appointing magistrates and judges to enforce the law.  Judea was to enjoy significant judicial and civil autonomy under the larger overlordship of Persia.  Of particular importance is vs. 26:

Ten CommandmentsWhoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.

In this way the Persian king made the Mosaic law part of his own law, and granted authority to the Jews to govern themselves on the basis of the law of God.  It does provide for a measure of civil autonomy unknown since the Babylonian desolation of Jerusalem and Judea (vss. 25-26).

In response to this decree, Ezra, with a considerable company of people (priests, Levites, singers, gate-keepers, and temple servants) went up from Babylon in Mesopo­tamia to Jerusalem in the seventh year of his reign (Ezra 7:6-7, 11-17).  After a journey lasting several months, they arrived at Jerusalem.

ArtaxerxesAll historical sources point unanimously and harmoniously to the fact that the seventh regnal year of Artaxerxes I extended from March/April of 458 BC to March/April of 457 BC.  The Jews who lived in this historical period, however, did not use the Persian-Babylonian March/April calendar.  Their calendar began in September/October:

Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1 provide specific evidence for this.  Both verses date the events to Artaxerxes’ twentieth year, but to different months.  In 1:1 it is the “month Chislev” and in 2:1 it is the “month Nisan”.  But in the Persian-Babylonian calendar Chislev was the ninth month and Nisan was the first.  If Nehemiah had used the Persian-Babylonian calendar, then Nehemiah 2:1 should have been dated to Artaxerxes’ twenty-first regnal year.  The fact that the regnal year number did not change is evidence that Nehemiah employed the Jewish calendar, which used the same names for months, but started the year in a different month.

Since Ezra was a contemporary of Nehemiah, it is possible to apply the same Jewish calendar to the dates in Ezra.  This would mean that the decree recorded in Ezra 7 was issued sometime in the year that began in the September/October of the year 458.

Artaxerxes in 445/4

Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes IIn the king’s twentieth year (Neh. 2:1) (445/4 BC) Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes I, received a report from a group of Jews who had arrived in the Persian capital from Jerusalem:

The survivors there in the province who escaped exile are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Neh 1:3; cf. 2:3).

Nehemiah then requested and obtained permission from Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city (Neh. 2:5).

The two decrees of Artaxerxes

We have to choose between the two decrees of Artaxerxes.  It is proposed that the 458/7 decree is the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, for:

(1) It fits the time of Christ and
(2) It fits the requirement that it restored Jerusalem to the Jews.

The decree of 458/7 fits the time of Christ.

Baptism of Jesus ChristThe inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry (Mark 1:11-14; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38) was at His anointing by the Holy Spirit at His baptism (Acts 10:37, 38), in the fifteenth year of the Roman emperor Tiberius (Luke 3:1, 5, 21).  Finegan (Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Princeton, 1964, p265) dates His baptism to AD 26/27.  If this was the predicted appearance of the “Messiah the Prince” (9:25) at the end of the 7+62 weeks, and if the 490 years began in 458/7 BC, 490 yearsthen it fits the time of Christ perfectly.  His baptism was exactly 483 years after the decree in 458/7 (7×7+62×7=483), as specified by the prophecy.  (Remember, no year nil.  From 1 BC to 1 AD is one year, not two.)

If the 490 years began in 445/4 BC, then the Messiah would appear 483 years later in 39/40, which is far beyond the time of Jesus.  The dispensational scheme, preferring the decree of 445/4 BC, interprets the 483 years as “prophetic years” of 360 literal days each.  This reduces the 483 years by approximately 7 years in order to end the period at the time of Christ.  However, the prophecy of Seventy Sevens is based on the seven-year sabbatical cycle.  This means that the 70 weeks are 70 literal cycles of seven literal years each.  No symbols are used in the prophecy of Daniel 9.

The decree of 458/7 for the first time “restored” the city to the Jews by allowing the Jews to rule themselves from their capital city.

The Nehemiah-decree did not restore the city to the Jews and substantially added nothing to the previous decrees.  It deals only with the physical construction of the walls.

The decree of 458/7 did authorize the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem.

One objection against the decree of Artaxerxes I to Ezra in 457 BC (Ezra 7:1-26) is that it did not specifically authorize the rebuilding of Jerusalem. However:

Rebuild JerusalemImplied: The right to rebuild the city—the national administrative center (cf. Ezra 7:25-26)—is implicit in the authorization to set up a judicial system at a central place, based on the law of God. 

The previous decrees of Cyrus and Darius already implicitly authorized the Jews to rebuild their cities.  The following also prove that construction of the walls began before Nehemiah arrived.

(1) When Nehemiah arrived, he inspected the wall (Neh. 2:15).  The next verse refers to “the priests … who did the work”.  This must have been work on the wall as the temple was completed 70 years earlier in 515 BC (Ezra 6:13-18).

(2) Nehemiah repaired the walls in only 52 days (Neh. 6:15).  This implies that work have been done before, for it is unlikely that the damage caused in 586 BC, together with the neglect of the next 150 years, could be reversed in less than two months while battling constantly with opposition.  

(3) Some Persian officers complained to Artaxerxes that “the Jews … are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city; they are finishing the walls…” (Ezra 4:12).  The letter requested the king to put a stop to the work, which he did (vs. 23).  Since no such interruption is recorded in the book of Nehemiah and because Nehemiah completed the walls of the city within 52 days, this was not an interruption of Nehemiah’s work on the walls.  Since Nehemiah finished the walls, this interruption, and therefore this work on the walls, occurred prior to Nehemiah.

Further evidence that the previous decrees of Cyrus and Darius already implicitly authorized the Jews to rebuild their cities are:

Nehemiah(a) Nehemiah expected the walls to be completed before he went to Jerusalem.  About 13 years after Ezra arrived at Jerusalem—in 445/4 BC—Nehemiah is informed that “the walls of Jerusalem” were broken down and the gates destroyed by fire (Nehemiah 1:3).  Nehemiah was deeply troubled by the news—he wept for days (Neh. 1:4).  The fact that Nehemiah was devastated by the news implies that he expected to hear that the walls and gates have been completed.  This means that permission to rebuild the walls and gates was already granted, and that Nehemiah knew about people that went to Jerusalem for that purpose.

(b) Nehemiah did not ask to rebuild the city.  Nehemiah only asked for permission to go to Jerusalem (2:5) and for wood to build the walls (2:8).  These requests imply that permission has already been granted for the reconstruction of the walls.

In summary, the 458/7 decree fits the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem better:

(a) It fits the time of Christ;
(b) It restored Jerusalem as judicial capital to the Jews, and:
(c) Implicitly authorized the Jews to rebuild the city.

NEXT: Daniel 9: Prayer and Prophecy form a unit
TO: Daniel 9 Full Article
TO: Daniel 9 Summary
TO: Daniel 9: Table of Contents