Seventy Weeks - Commencement Date

SYNOPSIS – The commencement of the “seventy weeks” is linked to the prophecy of Jeremiah about the Babylonian Captivity – Daniel 9:1-2

Calendar - Photo by Eliza Diamond on Unsplash
The prophecy of the “seventy weeks” in Daniel is one of the most perplexing and disputed passages in the Hebrew Bible. One of the few aspects on which there is a general agreement is the length of the prophetic period – That the “seventy sevens” equates to a period of 490 years. Beyond this, interpretations diverge on every aspect of the prophecy - (
Daniel 9:24-27). - [Photo by Eliza Diamond on Unsplash].

The first critical issue that must be answered before anyone can hope to unravel the passage is resolving the “start date” of the 490-years period. What historical event or events marked the commencement of the “seventy weeks”?

The passage itself pegs the start of the period to the “going forth of the words to return and to build Jerusalem.” One common approach is to assume this refers to an edict by a Persian king for the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem. At least four dates with possible corresponding edicts have been proposed:
  • 538 B.C. - Cyrus the Great issued a decree for the Jews to return to Judea - (2 Chronicles 36:22-23, Ezra 1:1-4, 6:1-5).
  • 517 B.C. - King Darius confirmed the decree of Cyrus - (Ezra 6:6-12).
  • 458 B.C. – King Artaxerxes authorized Ezra to lead a contingent of Jewish exiles to Jerusalem - (Ezra 7:11-26).
  • 445-444 B.C. - Artaxerxes authorized Nehemiah to repair the walls of Jerusalem - (Nehemiah 1:3; 2:4-8).
However, nowhere does the book of Daniel indicate or even suggest that the “word to return and build Jerusalem” refers to any edict by a Persian ruler. Moreover, basic to the theology of the book is the belief that Yahweh rules over history and the kingdoms of the earth. He installs and removes rulers according to His pleasure and does so through the words of His servants – especially Daniel. God certainly uses pagan rulers to accomplish His plans but He issues His decrees through the prophets – (Daniel 2:20-21, 2:46-49).

Gabriel instructed Daniel to “know and discern that from the going forth of the WORD (dabarto return (shuband to build (banahJerusalem.” The Hebrew noun dabar has the basic sense of “word.” It is the same term used numerous times in the Hebrew Bible for the “word of Yahweh” (Strong’s - #H1697). It does NOT mean “command,” “decree,” or “edict.”

The noun shub is used often in the Hebrew Bible for “repent” or “return” - (Strong’s - #H7725), not for “rebuild.” In this context, it refers to the “return” of Israel from captivity to build the city. The second infinitive or banah means “build” - (Strong’s - #H1129). The opening paragraph of chapter 9 identifies this “word of Yahweh” by name:
  • (Daniel 9:1-2) - “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans, in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the scrolls the number of the years whereof the word (dabarof Yahweh came to Jeremiah the prophet for the accomplishing (malé) of the desolations (horbahof Jerusalem, even seventy years.”
In verse 25, the “word” or dabar of Yahweh has a definite article or “the” prefixed to it. This means it is a specific and known “word.” The only such “word” in the entire context that it can possibly refer to is the “word of Yahweh” referenced in verse 2 – The “word” found in the “scroll of Jeremiah” concerning the “seventy years.” Daniel was contemplating Jeremiah’s original prediction:
  • (Jeremiah 25:10-14) – “The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (the same was the first year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon…the whole land shall be a desolation (horbahand shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years…when the seventy years are accomplished (maléI will punish the king of Babylon and that nation.”
For Daniel, the “desolation” of the kingdom of Judah began with the subjugation of Jerusalem by Babylon in the first year of king Nebuchadnezzar’s reign -  605 B.C. The prophecy in Jeremiah is dated to the same year:
  • (Daniel 1:1) – “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem and besieged it.”
  • (Jeremiah 25:1) – “The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, the same was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.”
Now, with the overthrow of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the seventy-years captivity had reached its termination point. Daniel understood this from the “scrolls” - the number of the years that Yahweh had required “to accomplish the desolations of Jerusalem, seventy years” was fulfilled.

Scrolls” translates the Hebrew term sepher - (Strong’s - #H5612). “Accomplish” is a rendering of the Hebrew verb mala or “accomplish, complete” - (Strong’s - #H4390). “Desolations” represents the noun horbah - (Strong’s - #H2723). The terms “desolation” and “accomplish” are prominent in Jeremiah’s prophecy:
  • This whole land shall be desolation (horbah) and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years…And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished (malé)…”
Daniel labels the prophecy from Jeremiah the “word of Yahweh,” - the dabar - (Strong’s #H1697). The term occurs again in verse 25 - “The going forth of the word (‘dabar’) to return and to build Jerusalem.” The prophecy by Jeremiah IS the passage that marks the start of the “seventy weeks” prophetic period – The “going forth of the word to return and build Jerusalem.”

The prophecy of Jeremiah is dated to the “first year of Nebuchadnezzar” - The same year described in the opening of the book of Daniel. A related word by Jeremiah sets the conditions for the release of the Jewish exiles:
  • (Jeremiah 29:10-14) - “For thus says Yahweh, After seventy years are accomplished (maléfor Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you in causing you to return (shub)to this place…You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart…and I will return (shub) your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you.
The verbal links between the passage in Daniel and to the prophecies of Jeremiah are telling, and Daniel’s prayer of contrition is precisely what the prophecy from the book of Jeremiah required before the “return” of the exiles to Jerusalem - (“And you shall seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you”).

Yahweh promised to release Israel after seventy years but only if she repented, an act Daniel proceeded to do as the representative of his nation. For him, the Babylonian Captivity began with the first attack against Jerusalem in the “first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.” The decree of Cyrus to release the exiles was issued seventy years later - in 538 B.C. Thus, for Daniel, the prophesied time of release was at hand “in the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus.”

In short, the “word” that marked the beginning of the “seventy weeks” was the “word of Yahweh” given by the prophet Jeremiah, not any edict by a later Persian king, the “word” that was given in the first year of king Nebuchadnezzar.




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