Here we take a closer look at Daniel 9:24-27, in this season of Advent, as we dig a little deeper into this famous prophecy of “Seventy Weeks.” I am surely no “Yoda” (read the first post in this series to get what I am saying), but let me guide you with some things to think about, and then point you towards other resources on the Internet that I think you will find helpful. First, let us read our text again, as it has a lot packed in here:
“Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place. Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuildJerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him” (Daniel 9:24-27, NIV 2011).
Scratching your head a bit? Well, let’s start digging!
A Literal Reading of Daniel 9:24-27?
There is quite a bit of talk in some Christian circles that emphasize Bible prophecy, that we should read the Bible literally, as with Daniel 9:24-27. Just simply read the text on your own, and God will show you exactly what it all means. At first, this sounds reasonable, particularly if you confidently believe that the Bible is God’s Word.
Unfortunately, reading the Bible in this manner is not as easy as it sounds. Much of the Bible is indeed straight-forward, but Daniel 9:24-27 is a different animal. The problem is that it is really impossible to take Daniel 9:24-27 in the most literal sense possible, without it becoming completely nonsensical. At some point, a “literal” reading of the text must give way to a realization that there is at least some symbolism and outright mystery here.
Here is what I mean: In the NIV 2011 translation above, it shows us “literally,” from the original Hebrew, that Gabriel was speaking of “seventy ‘sevens’” (v.24), “seven ‘sevens’” and “sixty-two ‘sevens‘” (v.25), and so on. So, what does that mean? It is pretty nonsensical if you try to read it all literally.
However, other translations render “sevens” as a “week,” as does the ESV. This should not be surprising, as there are seven days in a week, so there should be little difficulty in accepting the interpretation of “sevens” as being symbolic for a “week.” Okay…not much of a problem here. But this is not all!
In nearly every system of interpretation regarding this passage, Bible expositors generally conclude that a “week“; that is, a “sevens,” should be understood as “seven years,” or some other time period linked to the concept of “year.” Putting it another way, as an example, one “sevens” is a week, where each day in that seven-day week refers to a year. Therefore, the “seventy weeks,” or literally “seventy sevens,” refers to “seventy sevens of years,” or 490 years (70 x 7).
Is this connection between “sevens” and “years” obvious? No, not really. But the evidence supporting this assumption can be found in the Bible. So, while there are good reasons to read it this way (see resources below), it is hardly a means of literally understanding the text. The point is this: no one reads all of the Bible literally, particularly when it comes to Daniel 9:24-27.
Think about that for a moment.
Just because there is symbolism here, and at least some element of mystery, this does not by any means diminish this passage as being God’s Word. God can use clear, direct passages of Scripture to reveal His truth, just as much as He can use more opaque passages, like Daniel 9:24-27, to teach us His truth. The difficulty is that making the connection between an obscure word or phrase in the text, and its referent, is not always crystal clear. It all depends on the assumptions we bring to the text, and how well we can marshall the evidence together to support those assumptions.
Are you with me?
Seventy Weeks…. With a Gap
The interpretation of the passage gets even more challenging when one thinks about what the prophecy is trying to point towards. What particular event or events is the prophecy trying to predict?
Recall the context surrounding this passage in Daniel 9, discussed in the previous blog post. Jerusalem does get rebuilt after the Jews return from exile, as the prophet Daniel had prayed for, but there seems to be a lot more to the prophecy.
What future event, relative to Daniel’s time, does the prophecy have in mind? Is it the dating of Christ’s crucifixion/resurrection, as in my friend Ken Petzinger’s presentation (mentioned in the previous blog post), or instead does it point towards the beginning of Christ’s ministry, His birth, or does it point to something else? As with other issues in the text, the assumptions you make here will largely determine where you end up in interpreting Daniel 9.
Let us consider the most well known approach in evangelical church circles, a more simplified, visual version of Ken Petzinger’s presentation: If you follow the Clarence Larkin chart at the top of this blog post, you can get the idea that the “Seventy Weeks” can be broken down into two time periods: the first time period of 69 weeks (7 weeks + 62 weeks) begins with King Artaxerses sending Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city (Nehemiah 2:1-8). If you do the math, this will take you pretty close to the period of the death of Christ.
Now, it gets a bit more complicated at this point, so I would just reference the details to other bloggers, who have done a pretty good job explaining them ( NeverThirsty, with some nice visuals, or go-for-broke with prophecy teacher Thomas Ice in twelve installments: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12), or just read Ken Petzinger’s presentation noted in the previous blog post.
But have you noticed something already? The focus is on the first 69 weeks. What about the 70th week? Furthermore, if you study the Clarence Larkin chart above, there is a “gap” between the 69th week and the 70th week. So, where does this “gap” come from?
Well, that happens to be a VERY, VERY GOOD QUESTION.
But before we move on for the moment, I have linked below some additional resources to help you get up-to-speed on this dispensationalist approach to Daniel 9, as it is called from the first post in this blog series. In particular, I will recommend to you a very articulate presentation by Thomas Ice, a prophecy teacher who assisted the late Tim LaHaye in defending this dispensationalist view, which was promoted by the popular Left Behind series of novels and films, from the past twenty or so years. Thomas Ice gets into the details very concisely and clearly, so I will simply defer to his presentation. We will pick up next time with some challenges to the dispensationalist approach to interpreting the “Seventy Weeks” of Daniel 9.
The amount of resources on Daniel’s “seventy weeks” is simply overwhelming. But to get you on the ground floor on the dispensationalist approach to Daniel 9, here is what I would recommend:
- Affirming a dispensational point of view (non-technical): Southern California pastor John MacArthur has a short 7-minute overview of the argument (found here on YouTube), and then a more extensive written introduction and two sermons covering this challenging text from Daniel (#1 and #2).
- Another affirmation of a dispensation point of view (technical): The late John F. Walvoord, a former president of Dallas Seminary, digs in with his well-informed, scholarly approach to this text.
- If you have a little over an hour to spare, you should really start here: Thomas Ice, of the Pre-Trib Research Center, a very articulate spokesperson for dispensationalism, and a theological advisor to the late Tim LaHaye, has a very helpful video giving the full detail on Daniel 9, as well as his interesting perspective as to why this approach to Daniel 9 is becoming less well-known today, as compared to years past: