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The Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks

by R. H. Boll

Robert H. Boll (1875-1956)

Robert H. Boll (1875-1956)

CHAPTER XI         DANIEL 9:24-27

“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting [32] righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.” (Daniel 9:24.

This announcement was made by “the man Gabriel” to Daniel in answer to the latter’s prayer for his people and his holy city. (Daniel 9:13-19.) Not seventy years, as Daniel may have thought or hoped, but seventy sevens of years, for the term “week,” though used elsewhere of the common week of seven days, is really a Hebrew numeral, meaning “a seven”–a group of seven, seven of whatever thing has been under consideration. We have similar terms in our English–as for example, “a dozen” which means twelve things of whatever we mean; or the word “score,” which stands for twenty. Thus the word translated “week” here is in the Hebrew simply a “seven”; and though used only of time periods, and commonly only to designate an ordinary week, it does not in itself necessarily mean a common week of seven days.1

In this remarkable time prophecy of the Seventy Sevens let us mark especially three outstanding points:

The point where the “seventy sevens” begin.

At what point they end.

The glorious end and issue.

The glorious end and issue of the “seventy weeks” is described under six heads, as follows:

  1. “To finish the transgression.” (Leeser translates, “to close up the transgression”; Rotherham, “to put an end to the transgression”; the Baptist tr., “To make an end of transgression.”)
  2. “To make an end of sin.” (Rotherham here has, “to fill up the measure of sin;” the Baptist tr., “To abolish sins.”)
  3. “To make atonement for iniquity.” “To put a propitiatory-covering over iniquity” (Rotherham); “to atone for sin” (Leeser); “to atone for guilt” (Baptist).
  4. “To bring in everlasting righteousness.” (So, the other translations; except Rotherham who gives it, “to bring in the righteousness of the ages.”)
  5. “To seal up vision and prophecy.” (Rotherham: “to affix a seal to vision and prophecy”, Bapt. tr.: “to confirm vision and prophet.”)
  6. “To anoint the most holy place.” (In Am. Rev. margin, “a most holy place.” Bapt. and Leeser both render, “anoint the most holy thing”; Rotherham, “to anoint the holy of holies.”)

It is of chief importance here to note that these six things are predicted concerning Daniel’s people and his holy city. Not in general, nor as speaking in the absolute, but with reference to the people of Daniel and the city of Jerusalem are these things to be accomplished. For, “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression.” (Daniel 9:24.) Daniel’s prayer of intercession was for the people of Israel and Jerusalem, whose sin he had confessed, and for whose restoration he had been pleading. “Let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us. . . . O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary . . . and the city which is called by Your name.” (Daniel 9:16-18.)

It was in answer to this prayer (vs. 22, 23) that Daniel was informed that “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city” (Daniel 9:24) before that great consummation and promised restoration for which Daniel’s heart was yearning would be reached. [33]

      The failure to see that these things were spoken with reference to the nation of Israel and their city Jerusalem, and the attempt to apply them to the church and to the world at large, has thrown the interpretation of this prophecy into confusion.

Whatever wider application these six promised items may or may not have, here let us limit our consideration to the prophecy which declares that the six things above enumerated were, after 70 weeks, to be fulfilled upon Daniel’s people, Israel, and upon his holy city, Jerusalem. In accordance with this, Gabriel’s interpretation sketches the future of the city and the people, to the end of the 70 weeks.

“So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.” (Daniel 9:25.)

THE STARTING POINT

Here we must determine first of all the starting points from which the reckoning of the seventy sevens must begin.

The beginning of the “seventy sevens” is marked by an edict: “From the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” Three different edicts have been pointed to, as being that which is here spoken of.

The first, the edict of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4) which (coupled with the prophecy of Isaiah 44:28) has been sometimes regarded as the true beginning point from which the seventy weeks were to be counted.

Another edict which appears in Ezra 7:12-26–a proclamation by Artaxerxes, king of Persia, in which he authorizes Ezra’s undertaking for the beautifying of the house of God in Jerusalem–is also sometimes taken to be “the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.”

But neither of these edicts go beyond the rebuilding and refitting of the temple. The rebuilding of the city was perhaps included in the final scope and intention of the first edict, that of Cyrus. But it was not specially mentioned, nor, as a matter of fact was it attempted. Only the building of the temple was then begun.

      Third. In the days of Nehemiah (almost 80 years after the edict of Cyrus) the city is spoken of as lying in ruins–her walls broken down, her gates burned with fire, and the returned remnant in great affliction. (Nehemiah 1:3; 2:3.)

Nehemiah, like Daniel, fasted and prayed, and God gave him favor with the king (Artaxerxes) so that he obtained from him the one and only direct and definite commission to rebuild Jerusalem that was ever given. Here manifestly the count of the seventy sevens must begin. And this point is carefully dated. It was in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, in the month of Nisan (which is the Passover month, elsewhere called Abib); and the year (as shown in common chronology) was 445 before Christ. (Nehemiah 2.)

It will be seen on closer examination that these seventy sevens are divided into three sections:

  1. seven sevens;
  2. sixty-two sevens;
  3. one seven.

“From the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem . . . there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks.” There is no suggestion of any gap, or intervening events, between the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks. So far as the prophecy shows these 7 plus 62, that is 69 sevens, run continuously; and they reach from the edict to “restore and rebuild Jerusalem” to “Messiah, the Prince,” who can be no other than the Christ. Here then we have a time-measure of 483 years (69 x 7) from the 20th year of Artaxerxes to Christ.

Barring all disputed dates, whatever reckoning be adopted, whether from the edict of Cyrus, or from the 7th year of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7) or the 20th year of Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 2)–483 years brings us very close to the time of Christ–so close, in fact, that we must conclude that (the dates and the reckoning granted as correct) the 483 years would have to come out exactly; which has been found to be the case.

The sixty-nine sevens then bring us to the time of Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. No mention of the remaining week, the 70th, follows immediately after this. The count is interrupted at the 69th seven. We are simply told that “After the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing.” (Daniel 9:26.) It is not said that this happens in the seventieth week, but only that it shall be after the sixty-ninth. Another thing that is to happen after the 69th week is the destruction of the city and the sanctuary. We know that this came to pass forty years after Christ’s death. But the seventieth seven is not mentioned. [34]

Finally, however, we are told that a certain person would make a covenant with many for one week (“And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week,” Daniel 2:27). Who is this “he”? The logical and grammatical antecedent of this pronoun “he” is “prince who is to come” in v. 26. This ruler is said to be a ruler of the people who destroyed the city and the sanctuary–a Roman ruler, therefore. (Editor’s note: For the remainder of this paragraph we revert to the American Standard Version of 1901.) In the last week, the 70th, that coming prince shall make a “firm covenant with many” for the week’s duration; but in the midst of that week shall he (that same prince) “cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” Further we are told that then, “upon the wing of abominations shall come one that maketh desolate.” And finally (as already in v. 26) it is declared that “even unto the full end,”–the end of the 70 weeks–“and that determined, shall wrath be poured out upon the desolate.”–i. e., upon the desolate city.

      Summing up:

This is the main course of the prophecy. No reference has been made to the various differing views and interpretations that are advanced by different commentators and writers on the subject. However, the views and arguments that have been presented by others have not been overlooked.

The most widely accepted interpretation is that which holds that the seventy weeks run continuously from the edict of Cyrus, or from Artaxerxes’ commission (Nehemiah 2) to Christ. If that were the case it would follow that the six things predicted in Daniel 9:24 have been fulfilled through Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection, and exaltation. But though it is of course true that the sacrifice of Christ underlies the fulfillment of every promise and prophecy, that does not mean that these prophecies have therefore been fulfilled. The Lord Jesus Christ, by the sacrifice of Himself did indeed provide atonement for sin, as well as reconciliation, and righteousness for Jews and Gentiles; and all that is promised in Daniel 9:24 has been made possible through Christ’s work. But the prophecy of Daniel 9:24 envisions not merely the potential but the actual realization of the six things there predicted, and that with the special reference to Daniel’s people, the nation of Israel and their holy city, Jerusalem.

That such a fulfillment is to take place in the future is assured by all the prophets. The day will certainly come when the people of Israel shall be regenerated and restored for evermore, and their holy city shall become a praise in all the earth. The passages declaring this are too many even to cite; but the reader may satisfy himself on this point by looking up Deuteronomy 30:1, 6; Isaiah 4:2-6; Jeremiah 23:5, 6; 33:9; Ezekiel 36:24-31; 37:27, 28; 39:28, 29; Joel 3:17; Zephaniah 3:13; Zechariah 13:9. But this is the very consummation that is predicted to take place after the seventy sevens of Daniel’s prophecy have run their course.

Nothing answering to this has ever yet happened. Daniel’s people are to this day still in unbelief and rejection, and for the most part scattered among all the nations; and Jerusalem, their holy city has never at any time as yet been washed of her filthiness and her reproach. (Isaiah 4:3-6.)

The seventy weeks have manifestly not run their course as yet. The prophecy of Daniel 9:24 would indeed be an inscrutable enigma on the supposition that those seventy sevens were finished at the Cross of Calvary or at the establishment of the church. That view furnishes no explanation of the evident gap [35] between the 69th week and the 70th. Nor does it find anything answering to the prediction of that “prince” who makes “a firm a covenant with many for one week,”–even if (as that school of interpreters hold) that ruler were taken to be Christ. For Christ never made a covenant with anybody for a week.

Neither is it true that (as these same interpreters say) the sacrifice and oblation were taken away by Christ through His own sacrifice in the midst of the week (that is, at his death, which is supposed to have taken place after about 3½ years of His ministry); for the sacrifices and oblations continued to be offered for many years after Christ’s death. But if (as we are told) the death of Christ superseded those sacrifices (which is certainly true) and thus took them away in the sense of depriving them of their efficacy–we still have no explanation as to the other half of that final “week,” those latter three years and a half, by which the seventy weeks were supposed to be finished.

Count 3½ years from the death of Christ–to what great terminus do they lead? Really nowhere. If His death took place in the midst of the week, then no change, no crisis, no notable event took place as far as we know at the end of the remaining 3½ years. If some should say that these 3½ years bring us to the stoning of Stephen or to the conversion of Paul–that would not be any fulfillment of the happy end of the seventy weeks which had been promised to Daniel. It seems needless even to notice such ill-considered views, which really refute themselves.

      It is obvious, then, that the count of the seventy weeks stops at the end of the 69th week–with the beginning of Israel’s age-long rejection.

Only two events of the long interim between the 69th week and the 70th are named:

From then on all is blank till that evil one comes upon the scene, who shall make a firm covenant with many for one week. Israel is seen at that point as re-nationalized, her temple rebuilt (in unbelief and disobedience), the sacrifices resumed.

That Roman prince that shall come will make a seven-year pact with the majority of the people, guaranteeing them peace and safety for the period of seven years. But in the midst of the week that pact is treacherously broken (how familiar such-like things in our times!) Israel is plunged into the Great Tribulation, which lasts for 3½ years (a “time, times, and half a time”)–the day of Jacob’s trouble, which shall end in their final deliverance when the seventieth week is ended. This is corroborated by the Old Testament Prophets; also in Christ’s Olivet Sermon (Matthew 24) and in Revelation.

But we must close this already too long study, and take up in the next chapter the verification of the 483 years from Artaxerxes to Christ and the clarifying of some further details concerning the events of the final week of Israel, and the glorious times to follow.
1 Week (shabhua from shebha) “seven,” a heptad of anything, but particularly used for a period of seven days. . . . The division by seven was, as we have seen, expanded so as to make the seventh month and the seventh year sabbatical. To whatever extent the laws enforcing this may have been neglected before the captivity, their effect, when studied, must have been to render the words . . . capable of meaning a seven of years almost as naturally as a seven of days. Indeed the generality of the word would have this effect at any rate. Hence their use to denote the latter in prophecy, more especially in that of Daniel, is not mere arbitrary symbolism, but the employment of a not unfamiliar and easily understood language.–Smith’s Bible Dictionary (Unabridged) on “Week.”
When in the next chapter Daniel speaks again of ordinary weeks he makes that clear by calling them “weeks (sevens) of days” (Daniel 10:2, 3. Hebrew)–It is necessary to emphasize this, lest any one should think this to be a proof of the popular, but false, year-day theory (i. e., the false assumption that “in prophecy a day stands for a year”)–which theory has no support in scriptures.

 

Except where otherwise indicated,
Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,
1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995.
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Robert H. Boll
Lessons on Daniel, 3rd Edition, Revised (2000)




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2 Corinthians 12:10