The Daniel 9 prophecy was received in the year after Babylon was conquered by Cyrus (9:1). Daniel knew that LORD revealed to Jeremiah that Babylon will rule for 70 years. These 70 years were from 609 BC to 539 BC. Daniel also knew that God promised to restore Israel to Jerusalem after those 70 years (Dan 9:2). These things caused him to pray for His people and for Jerusalem.
Daniel 9 opens with Daniel noticing that the LORD revealed to Jeremiah that Jerusalem will be desolated for a period of 70 years (Dan 9:2, compare Jer. 25:8-14; 29:10-14). He then prayed earnestly and interceded with God concerning the tragic condition of His backslidden and disobedient people, and for the desolation of Jerusalem and the sanctuary (verses 3-19). In this way the 70 years set the stage for Daniel’s prayer.
When did the 70 years start?
“when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the LORD” (Jer. 25:11, 12, compare v1)
The prophecy of Daniel 9 was received “in the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans” (Dan. 9:1). It was, therefore, received soon after the Medo-Persian Empire took over the Chaldean (Babylonian) Empire. The king of Babylon was already punished. This means that the 70 years has already come to an end. But when did it start?
Jerusalem was finally destroyed in BC 586. However, that was not the start of Jeremiah’s 70 years. The 70 years were not the period of Jerusalem’s desolation, but the period of Babylonian rule over Judah and the surrounding nations, as indicated by the following:
“I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon … against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them … these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jer. 25:9, 11).
“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).
Judah came under the Babylonian heel in 605 BC (Daniel 1:1), but Babylon’s ruling of nations actually dates from the overthrow of Assyria a few years earlier. After the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC (to the allied forces of the Medes and Babylonians), the Assyrian king Ashuruballit established his government at Harran. This city fell to the Babylonians in 610 BC, and Assyria was finally obliterated when Ashuruballit failed to recapture it in 609 BC. Seventy years later—in 539 BC—Babylon herself was conquered by Cyrus. It is therefore possible to count the seventy years from 609 BC to 539 BC.
The 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:
24a Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city (9:24)
These 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:
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:
(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 confessedthe 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.
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.
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
Daniel 9 consists of two parts; the prayer by Daniel, and the prophecy which Daniel received even while he was still praying. Modern higher criticism propose that the prayer and prophecy do not fit, and the prayer was added later. It is here proposed that the prayer and prophecy form a unit: 1. God promised, through Jeremiah, to bring Israel back from exile in Babylon after 70 Years. 2. When Daniel prayed, in Daniel 9, the 70 Years of Babylonian exile were nearly over. 3. Daniel prayed for fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophetic promise. 4. God gave Daniel the 70 Weeks prophecy as assurance that Jeremiah’s promise will be fulfilled.
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:
(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.
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 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 is clear: The prophecy promised what Daniel prayed for.
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:
The 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 fulfillmentof 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.
But, as explained in The Covenant in Daniel 9, 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.