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2. Historical Background to the Prophecy of 70 Weeks

2. Historical Background to the Prophecy of 70 Weeks

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CHAPTER TWO
 
Daniel’s Prophecy of 70 Weeks and the Covenant
 
Historical Background to the Prophecy -
 
The situation existing at the time of this prophecy is outlined in various scriptures.
The Northern 10tribes of Israel
had been invaded by Assyria during a period of imperial conquest about 745 B.C. whenAmos and Hosea were prophets. The Israelites were deported from their land and replaced byimmigrants, (later known as Samaritans) from other parts of the Assyrian Empire.One hundred and fifty years later a similar fate awaited the
two Southern tribes
 
of Judah andBenjamin; together with Levites associated with the Temple worship, as well as faithful Israelitesfrom the 10 Northern tribes who had joined themselves to Judah.
i
 
 Judah’s captivity began
with the invasion by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Jerusalem initiallysurrendered on 16 March 597 B.C., and Nebuchadnezzar subsequently
deported the “cream of thepopulation” to Babylon and environs. These were the times in which the prophets Ezekie
l and Daniellived. There were several deportations in the years that followed. Finally, a
revolt against Babylon’s
dominion over Judah by King Zedekiah brought the Babylonian armies in a siege against Jerusalem oncemore. This time the walls were breached in July 587 B.C. and finally on the 9
th
Av. 586 B.C. themagnificent first Temple built by Solomon was burned down. This in turn, was followed by anotherpunitive deportation to Babylon in 582 B.C.The period of exile for the people of Judah had been foretold by the prophet Jeremiah to be of 70 yearsduration. (Jer.29:10-14) The possibility of their return to Judah within this time frame did not lookpromising until Babylon fell to Cyrus, King of the Medes and Persians on 16 October 539 B.C., about 58years after the first deportation, and 47 years after the destruction of the Temple. The next year, 538B.C.Cyrus issued a decree for the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, (Ezra 6:3-5) and the emancipation ofthe Jews, (Ezra 1:2-4). Permission was given for the deportees and their descendants to return to Jerusalem, taking with them silver, gold and goods; as well as the Temple vessels. (Ezra 1:7-11)The book of Daniel covers the period of exile in Babylon, and subsequent events at the time of the fall ofBabylon to Persia, almost 60 years after Jerusalem first surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was anIsraelite of royal or noble birth who was carried captive to Babylon as a child/youth with variouscompanions who were to be trained for the King
’s service, (Daniel 1:1
-6). He eventually occupiedleading governmental posts under the Babylonian Kings Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar; and Dariusthe Mede, a contemporary of Cyrus, King of Persia.In Daniel chapter nine his concerns are focused on the time in which he lived; on the approaching end ofthe period of exile, and on the future of his people, and the state of the Sanctuary in Jerusalem. In hisanguished prayer, he asks God to hear and see the desolations suffered by his people, as well as theSanctuary, and he implores God to give him an answer to his prayer.Reading
Daniel’s
prayer gives a background to the whole focus of the prophecy of 70 weeks. Even whileDaniel was speaking, God answered and sent the Angel Gabriel. Gabriel talked with him and gave him
understanding about God’s
covenant relationship with the people of Judah via the Messiah; andinformed him of future events regarding the Sanctuary in Jerusalem.
 
The 490 Year Time Period -
The time frame of this prophecy is 70 weeks
(i.e. 70 x 7 = 490 years in total). Although
 Judah’s
70 yearBabylonian
exile was coming to an end, the prophecy states that their complete “salvation” was yet at
least 70 x 7 years in the future
. The 490 years would start when a commandment was issued for Jerusalem to be both restored and rebuilt, and it would end in a second desolation.
Such matterswould not be finally resolved until an even more distant consummation
, when God’s plans would be
revealed.
To suggest that Daniel’s prophecy d
id not cover the full 70 weeks of years, within the allocated 490consecutive years time period would be discrediting him. He quite clearly covers 69 weeks after whichMessiah will appear and confirm the covenant with the Jews for one final week, but that in the middle ofthe week (i.e. 70
th
week) something happens! He has already stated what it is
 
i.e. Messiah is “cut off” –
 and this is what eventually
“causes” the temple sacrifices to cease.He does mention the “end”
twice - i.e.,
Dan 9:26
 
“and
the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto theend of the war 
desolations are determined.”
 
I believe the reference to
the end thereof shall be with a
flood” refers to the deluge of destruction which was meted out by the Romans, and the reference to
 
“theend of the war”
refers to the Jewish revolt 66 A.D. to 73 A.D. which caused the City and Sanctuary to bedestroyed in 70 A.D. and finally ended at Masada with the mass suicide of the remaining Jews. It seemsthat
the end
” and “end
 
of the war”
refers to the desolation of the Temple which was delayed by ageneration. More on this later.
 
I conclude therefore, that the prophecy covers the whole period of time
70 weeks of years
i.e. 490 yeartime frame. Firstly it adequately covers the whole consecutive 70 weeks as it relates to the salvation ofthe Jews through the work of the Messiah; and secondly, it covers the period when Jerusalem and theTemple would be restored for that very purpose. However, as far as the Temple and Jerusalem areconcern
ed history shows there is a gap of “a generation” before their final desolation and destruction.
There is also a future consummation period which is not described,
Dan.9:27
when
“that determinedshall be poured upon the desolate.”
 
The Commandment Beginning the Prophetic Time Period
 
(See APPENDIX
 
A
 
for the various Commands)
 
The actual period of time in which God will accomplish the things set out in the prophecy, wouldbegin when the commandment to restore and to re-build Jerusalem was made.
Bible scholars have differed as to which commandment this refers to, who made it and when; but mostconsider it relates to the City of Jerusalem and not to the Temple itself (Ezra 6:3 ff.).
ii
 However, we could note in passing, that the scriptures place the initiative for the
rebuilding of theTemple
in Jerusalem with God himself.
Ezra 6:14
 
“And the elders of the Jews builded, and they
 prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo.
 And they
 
builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel,
and according tothe commandment of Cyrus, and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
 
Although earthly rulers may make decrees regarding the people of God and their institutions, theinitiative must always remain with the will and purposes of Almighty God.
Restoring and Rebuilding the City
Ezra 7 
 
Cyrus, King of Persia conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. and initiated the return of the first group of Jewishexiles to rebuild the Temple.As far as the rebuilding of Jerusalem is concerned, various decrees are seen as candidates for thebeginning point of the 70 Weeks prophecy, and some were made by the Persian King Artaxerxes ILongimanus, (Grandson of Cyrus)
 
who ruled from 464
424 B.C. It was during his reign that Ezra, aLevitical Jew, and Nehemiah (appointed governor of Judah) returned to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:1).However, as with the Temple rebuilding, it appears that the initiative was again with God, asprophesied by
 Jeremiah 29:10
 
“For thus saith the LOR
D, That after seventy years be accomplishedat Babylon
 I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you,
in causing you to returnto this place
.”
 
It was therefore the “good word” of God which initiated the whole process of
restoring and rebuilding the City of Jerusalem.
Artaxerxes’
(464-424 B.C.) first decree, to restore Jerusalem was made in his 7
th
year.
It is found in
Ezra7:13
,
21
(and enlarged upon in
Ezra 7:1-9
). We learn that this particular group of exiles began to go up to Jerusalem from Babylon on the
1
st
of the first month (Nisan) 458/7 B.C.
, and arrived there on the 1
st
ofthe fifth month (Av). This was 139 years after the first deportation to Babylon, 128 years after the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., 80 years after the first exiles returned to Judah, and 58 years after the Temple wascompleted in 516 B.C.Ezra appears to have concentrated on setting up an autonomous judicial system of government (
Ezra7:25
), and was given sufficient funds by Artaxerxes to accomplish all that needed to be done.
It was at this point (458 B.C.) that Government was reinstituted in Jerusalem, and the City wasrestored as Capital of Israel.
Artaxerxes’ released a second group of exiles in his
20
th
year (445/4B.C.)
when Nehemiah returned tothe City,
specifically to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem,
having heard of the sad state of affairsstill existing there 93 years after the first exiles returned. The rebuilding of the shattered walls andburned gates of Jerusalem was eventually accomplished in just 52 days. However, although it appearsthis return was instigated in the month of Nisan, it only states in
Nehemiah 2:6
 
that he “set a time” withthe King who gave him letters of authenticity, and protection. No definite “date” is given for this
permission to rebuild the walls and gates, nor is a specific decree mentioned.As we have seen, the 490 year period was to commence with
 
“the going forth of the commandment
torestore and to build Jerusalem
...”
 
I believe the first decree in the 1
st
year of the 1
st
month in the 7
th
yearof Artaxerxes (458/7 B.C.) is the one most closely associated with
the time frame of Daniel’s 70 weeks
,and best fits the command to restore and build Jerusalem.

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