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The Prophecy of the Seventy “Sevens”
(Chapter 9 verses 1-27)
Daniel chapter 9 verses 1-3
In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom—in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
These verses take us to the time when the proud Babylonian Empire had collapsed. The Medo-Persian Empire, under the leadership of King Cyrus, had toppled Babylon and had taken over its role as the leading nation of the world. The year was about 538 B.C. Thirteen years had elapsed since Daniel had received the vision recorded in chapter 8, the vision of the ram and the goat.
The opening verse of the chapter mentions a ruler whom historians and Bible researchers have trouble identifying. We have met the name Darius several times before on the pages of this book. The problem of identifying Darius was discussed in the commentary on chapter 6.
Briefly, the problem is that Cyrus, not Darius, was the head of the empire that brought about the fall of Babylon. Complicating the problem is the fact that no king named “Darius the Mede” is known from secular history. Still another complication is the fact that in ancient times men were sometimes known by more than one name. Many commentators feel that Darius is just another name for Cyrus. Others have suggested that Darius was an official whom King Cyrus appointed to rule over one area of what had been the vast Babylonian Empire.
For Daniel, the change in government meant more than just a shift in his political allegiance. From his study of the Scriptures, Daniel—now in his 80s—realized that an era had passed, an era about which God had spoken in his Word. From his reading of the prophet Jeremiah (chapter 25 verses 11-14; chapter 29 verse 10), Daniel knew that with the fall of the Babylonian Empire, the time of exile should have been drawing to a close for the Jewish people. Babylon’s power had been broken, and the Persian government was in power—exactly what Jeremiah had predicted. A period of about 70 years had elapsed since Daniel and his three friends had been deported to Babylon.
Those years of exile, which coincided with the period when Babylon was the dominant world power, were difficult years for the Jewish people. Daniel referred to them as the time of “the desolation of Jerusalem.” God’s hand of judgment had rested heavily on Jerusalem and Judah during those 70 years. Babylon was the whip God had used on the backs of his people. And it hurt. “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians chapter 6 verse 7), and the rebellion and unbelief and stubbornness of God’s Old Testament people had produced a harvest of suffering, just as God’s prophets had predicted.
But Daniel knew God’s prophets had predicted more. Isaiah had also prophesied that Babylon herself would fall under God’s judgment and would collapse (Isaiah chapter 13). Jeremiah, on the one hand, had predicted that the homeland of the Jews would become a desolate wasteland and that its inhabitants would serve the king of Babylon 70 years. But Jeremiah had also recorded God’s promise: “When the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation . . . for their guilt” (Jeremiah chapter 25 verse 12). Through Jeremiah, God had promised his people: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place” (chapter 29 verse 10). Daniel knew that God’s prophets had spoken not only of judgment and exile but also of deliverance and a return home after 70 years of captivity.
It is especially interesting to note that Daniel was personally able to study the writings of the prophets to learn what God had planned for the people of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. The fact that God’s people could study the writings of the prophets is evidence that even though they were in exile a thousand miles away from home, the Jews had taken along copies of these writings and had preserved them. Although more than a century and a half had passed since Isaiah wrote the prophetic book that bears his name, that precious document had not been lost.
This is a wonderfully reassuring thought for us who live several thousand years after the Old Testament was originally written by Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all the rest. On the one hand, we don’t have exact information about the step-by-step transmission of the Old Testament books from the time they were first written down to the present. But we do know that God’s people received these documents gratefully, guarded them carefully, made copies of them, and passed them down from generation to generation. God used that special reverence the Jews felt for their sacred writings to preserve these writings. Thus Daniel in far-off Babylon could investigate what the prophets had predicted about the length of the Babylonian captivity.
The prophet Jeremiah had foretold “that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” The particular 70-year period referred to here is never precisely identified in the Scripture. As a result, several different calculations have been suggested.
About 605 B.C. Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar deported the first contingent of Jewish citizens into exile. Seventy years from that date would mark the approximate date of the return to Jerusalem of the first group of exiles. Others prefer to take 586 B.C., the date when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, as the beginning of exile for the main body of Jews. Seventy years from that date takes us to 516 B.C., the date when the returning exiles finished the work of building the new temple in Jerusalem. Jeremiah referred to the 70 years as being the period of “the desolation of Jerusalem.” It surely is not improper to think of Jerusalem as being desolate as long as its temple lay in ruins.
Daniel did not say in just so many words that the 70-year period had now been completed. He was aware that although Babylon had fallen, Jerusalem and the temple still lay desolate. Did that mean God was postponing the return of the people of Judah? Had God been forced to cancel his promise because of the impenitence of the chosen people?
Daniel didn’t know, and so he turned to God in prayer. Some significant information is given to us about Daniel’s prayer. Note first that Daniel addressed his prayer “to the Lord God.” The spelling of the name “Lord” (in contrast to the spelling “LORD”) indicates that Daniel was referring to God as the supreme Master of the universe, the one for whom everything exists. Daniel approached God not as though he were God’s equal but as a creature who was designed to live under God as a servant. Humility is the only proper attitude of the sinner when approaching God.
Daniel demonstrated this humility in several ways. The word describing his prayer as a “petition” is a word meaning “a prayer for mercy.” As he prayed, Daniel realized that God owed him nothing. He accompanied his prayer to God with fasting, in sackcloth and ashes—outward signs of his inner attitude of penitence over sin and of his awareness that he was unworthy to approach God and ask for mercy. But before Daniel asked God to restore the desolate sanctuary in Jerusalem, there was something else he had to say to God.
Daniel chapter 9 verses 4-6
I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:
O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
Daniel began his prayer with a confession of sin addressed to “the LORD.” This is God’s Old Testament Savior-name. It refers to the God who had made a covenant of love with the people of Israel. In that covenant, that solemn contract, God had told Israel, “I am your God; you are my people.” Daniel described God’s covenant with Israel as a covenant of love, and the word translated as “love” describes God’s faithful love, his loyal love, which he had demonstrated to his people throughout their history.
To that faithful love, Israel had responded shabbily, and Daniel confessed that. He used a number of different expressions to describe the sin of God’s people, with whom Daniel identified himself. “We have sinned,” literally, “We have missed the mark; we have fallen short of the goal you set for us when you adopted us as your people.” “We have done wrong.” A literal translation of these words would be “We have brought guilt on ourselves.” Even though Daniel’s age—like our own age—had an easy conscience about sin, Daniel confessed that rebelling against God’s will makes us guilty before God. It places us under God’s judgment.
“We have been wicked and have rebelled” against the God who made a solemn agreement of love with us. “We have not listened to your servants the prophets.” Throughout the history of Israel, God had spoken to his people. Through the lips of human messengers, God had actually shared some of his sacred secrets with the people of Israel. He had let them know who he is, and who they were, and what his holy design for them was. As the psalmist wrote, “He has done this for no other nation” (Psalm 147 verse 20). And what was Israel’s response? They not only refused to hear the messengers who spoke for God; they actually tried to silence the prophets. Daniel called sin by its name—this is insolence; this is arrogance. Israel’s sin was not a sin of ignorance but of willful disobedience.
Daniel’s prayer was long, but it was not wordy. He was simply baring the thoughts of his heart before the Lord in honest confession. Note too that as he confessed the sins of Israel, he identified himself with the sinful people. This was his personal confession of sins as well.
Daniel chapter 9 verses 7-11
“Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you.
It would have been quite natural for Daniel and the rest of the exiles to feel sorry for themselves. After all, hadn’t they seen their country invaded, their beautiful capital city burned and looted, their temple gutted, and Israel’s finest killed in battle? And hadn’t they been forced to live as exiles in a foreign land, far away from their beloved homeland?
But you will not find a single note of whimpering or whining in Daniel’s prayer. Instead, he emphasized that God was right in judging the people and the city of Jerusalem. Instead of complaining “Lord, how can you do this?” Daniel declared, “Lord, you are righteous! We are covered with shame. You have scattered us. But you did this because of our unfaithfulness. We have sinned against you. We have rebelled against your gentle and good will, which throughout our history has sought to draw us close to you with bonds of love.”
God had not been unfair in dealing in anger and judgment with Israel. He had simply responded to their insolence. The destruction of Jerusalem should not have come as a surprise to the Jews. From the earliest times of their history, God had made it plain what curses would rest upon his people if they disobeyed his will. The exiles in Babylon had no reason to be surprised at the awful judgment they experienced. Against better knowledge they had transgressed God’s holy law.
“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses . . . have been poured out on us.” Read Leviticus chapter 26 verses 14-39 and Deuteronomy chapter 28 verses 15-68 to see how plainly God had warned his people of the curses that would come upon them if they ignored his loving invitation and evaded his loving arms reached out to bless them.
Daniel chapter 9 verses 12-15
“You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.
“Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong.
When God brought judgment down on Jerusalem, he did something he had never done before. To appreciate what a unique judgment that was, it will be helpful to remember that God had never before chosen one nation out of all the world’s nations and given it the written message of his love. God had, however, done this for Israel, and that was a first in world history. Therefore, when God responded to Israel’s unbelief by sending judgment, this was another first. “Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem.” For God to turn his back on the city he had chosen as his earthly dwelling place was something he had never done before.
Daniel’s prayer to God seems to grow more intense with each new sentence. This was no memorized prayer recited thoughtlessly; Daniel was pouring out his heart. Although the disaster God had sent upon Judah and Jerusalem had little effect on many of the Jewish exiles, it served a good purpose with Daniel. He was quick to recognize that the disaster which had overwhelmed Jerusalem was not an accident of history, a freak of international power politics. Daniel knew it was the heavy hand of God.
Even though God’s judgment on Jerusalem had brought horrible suffering and heartache to tens of thousands of people, yet Daniel declared that God was justified in doing what he had done. The calamity of exile had to come, because God is righteous. God, the Judge of all the earth, was not blind to the fact that his people, whom he had raised up for his own glory, were attempting to live without him. How could he tolerate that? God has decreed that life works only one way, and that’s his way. By destroying Jerusalem and permitting the Jewish nation to go into exile, a righteous God had served notice that he would not surrender his position as Lord of the universe.
Daniel’s humble confession of sin is a refreshing contrast to the flippant attitude toward sin so common today. Many people in our day are quick to excuse their sin. Others deny it outright or try to forget about their sinful past, wanting to “let bygones be bygones.” Still others admit their sin but try to make up for it with special gifts or acts of kindness. Daniel knew these all were quack remedies for the terrible disease of sin. He knew there is only one sure remedy, and that is, first of all, to confess sin, to bring it out into the open, and then to ask God to wash it away.
“O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt . . .” This splendid evidence of God’s mercy stood in sharp contrast to the shabby treatment the people of Israel had returned to God. Israel’s ingratitude runs like a scarlet thread through her entire history, from the moment the young nation left Egypt to the time nine hundred years later when her people were evicted from their homeland and forced to live in exile. Here is the first part of God’s remedy for sin: “Don’t deny it; don’t excuse it. Confess it humbly and honestly!”
The second part of that divine remedy for sin is to ask God to pardon it and to cover it with his mercy. Daniel now proceeded to do just that.
Daniel chapter 9 verses 16-19
“O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.
“Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
Throughout the history of Israel, God had shown himself to be a merciful God, and Daniel now appealed to that mercy. “Turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem! Look with favor on your desolate sanctuary! We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive!” Here is a simple but eloquent plea for God’s mercy.
Perhaps you detected a second emphasis in Daniel’s prayer. He urged God to consider what the ruins of Jerusalem were doing to his reputation among the heathen. In other words, Daniel pleaded for mercy not only for Israel’s sake, but for God’s sake.
To appreciate that emphasis of Daniel’s prayer, we must remember that Jerusalem had originally been the place where God took up residence and where God’s people met him with their confession of sins, their prayers, their praises, their thanksgiving. But Jerusalem was also the place where God met his people with his love, his pardon, his help, his assurance. But now, because of the sins of its inhabitants, Jerusalem was a laughingstock to the heathen. The city had become an object of scorn. In its present condition, the city and its famous temple were not a cause for honor to God. Israel’s heathen neighbors were laughing at the nation that claimed to be God’s chosen people but which God apparently had abandoned. For the nation’s capital and its temple to be so degraded reflected on God. “Can’t he even restore his sanctuary?” the heathen may well have been asking.
Daniel’s final plea to God was, “For your sake, O my God, do not delay! The time has come to deliver your people from exile. Don’t delay it a moment longer!” It was mentioned earlier that the prophet Jeremiah had predicted that although the Jewish homeland would lie desolate for 70 years, God would permit its inhabitants to return. Daniel asked God to keep that promise.
Daniel’s prayer is a model prayer for God’s children of all ages. Although it occupies a good two-thirds of chapter 9, it is often overlooked because commentators are more interested in the closing four verses of the chapter. That’s a pity. Daniel’s prayer can teach us humbly to confess our sins, to plead for God’s mercy, to hold God to his promises, and through it all to seek God’s glory.
God has promised that such prayer will be answered. Daniel found that out.
The End of Part 9.1