Where do we find the 70 years of Babylonian captivity in history?

The Daniel 9 prophecy was received in the year after Babylon was conquered by Cyrus (9:1).  Daniel knew that the 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
Daniel reading the prophets

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? 

Jeremiah wrote:

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.

Articles in this series

1.    Summary of all Daniel 9 articles
2.   Introduction
3.   When will the Messiah Appear? – Discussion of punctuation
4.   Daniel 9 does not describe the same crisis as the other prophecies in Daniel.
5.   Where do we find Jeremiah’s 70 years in history?
6.   With which decree do the 490 years begin?
7.   Daniel’s prayer is part of the prophecy.
8.  
Daniel 9 extends God’s covenant with Israel.
9.   
Who confirms the covenant in week 70?
10.
What is the real sequence of events?
11.
The 490 years came to an end when they stoned Stephen.
12.
Nehemiah gives context to Daniel 9.

13. List of articles
Four interpretations of Daniel 9:
      Liberal-critical interpretation

     Consistent Symbolical Interpretation
     Dispensationalism and Daniel 9
     Historical Messianic Interpretation

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.  Modern higher criticism proposes 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 the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophetic promise.
4. God gave Daniel the 70 Weeks prophecy as assurance that Jeremiah’s promise will be fulfilled.

Unity 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 a 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

Firstly, the assumption that the prophecy of the 70 Weeks is a reinterpretation of 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 of 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 underway.

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 embarrassing 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:

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) that 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, 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.

Articles in this series

1.   Summary of all Daniel 9 articles
2.   Introduction
3.   When will the Messiah Appear? – Discussion of punctuation
4.   Daniel 9 does not describe the same crisis as the other prophecies in Daniel.
5.   Where do we find Jeremiah’s 70 years in history?
6.   With which decree do the 490 years begin?
7.   Daniel’s prayer is part of the prophecy.  CURRENT ARTICLE
8.  
Daniel 9 extends God’s covenant with Israel.
9.   
Who confirms the covenant in week 70?
10.
What is the real sequence of events?
11.
The 490 years came to an end when they stoned Stephen.
12.
Nehemiah gives context to Daniel 9.

13. List of articles
Four interpretations of Daniel 9
     Liberal-critical interpretation

     Consistent Symbolical Interpretation
     Dispensationalism and Daniel 9
     Historical Messianic Interpretation