One of the most important prophecy passages in the whole Bible is that of God’s prophecy given to Daniel in Daniel 9:24-27. This passage constitutes one of the most amazing prophecies in all the Bible. If worked out logically, this text is both seminal and determinative in the outworking of one’s understanding of Bible prophecy. Especially for those of us who believe that prophecy should be understood literally, it is essential that a right understanding of this central text be developed and cultivated. Thus, with this article, I am beginning a series that examines Daniel’s prophecy for the purpose of providing a consistently literal interpretation of the passage.
Enemies of Literal Interpretation
Critics of the literal interpretation of Bible prophecy must strike down the plain meaning of Daniel’s prophecy in their failed attempts to strike down the prophetic precision found in biblical prophecy. Critic, Gary DeMar declares:
While nearly all Bible scholars agree that the first sixty-nine weeks of Daniel’s prophecy refer to the time up to Jesus’ crucifixion, only dispensationalists [literal interpreters like myself, T.D.I.] believe that the entire seventieth week is yet to be fulfilled. Without a futurized seventieth week, the dispensationalist system falls apart. There can be no pretribulational rapture, great tribulation, or rebuilt temple without the gap. How do dispensationalists find a gap in a text that makes no mention of a gap?
I agree with DeMar, that much rides on Daniel’s prophecy. I hope to demonstrate in this and coming articles that the only interpretation of Daniel’s seventy-weeks that explains all aspects of this great prophecy is the consistently literal approach.
Should the overall approach of this prophecy be literal or allegorical? If literal, then this would mean that the numbers should be taken literally and do count. Yet some think that numbers don’t count.
This facilitates the adoption of the symbolical interpretation of the numbers, which, . . . we regard as the only possible one, because it does not necessitate our changing the seventy years of the exile into years of the restoration of Jerusalem, and placing the seven years, which the text presents as the first period of the seventy weeks, last.
Harry Bultema observes:
The angel himself gives a literal explanation and it would be nonsensical to insist on giving a symbolical interpretation of a literal explanation. If the exegetes had always obeyed the angel’s interpretation as is evident from practically every word he speaks, then this text would never have been so obscured by all kinds of human conjectures and imagined "deep" insights.
Reasons For Literal Numbers
There are solid reasons why the numbers in Daniel’s prophecy should be taken literally. First, chapter 9 opens with Daniel realizing from Jeremiah’s writings that Israel’s captivity would last 70 years. These were literal years. Since the prophecy delivered by Gabriel to Daniel in 9:24-27 is related to the 70-year captivity, it follows that the 70 weeks of years are equally literal. Second, since definite numbers are used in the prophecy (7, 62, and 1 weeks), it would be strange indeed for such odd numbers to not have literal meaning. Leon Wood asks, "Why should definite numbers be applied to periods of indefinite lengths?" Nothing in the context suggests a non-literal use of numbers in this prophecy.
Setting the Context
We know from the beginning of chapter 9 (verse 2) that Daniel had read about "the number of years which was revealed as the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years." The two passages which Daniel surely studied were Jeremiah 25:11-12 and 29:10-14. Both texts clearly speak of Israel’s Babylonian captivity as limited to a 70-year period. Both passages also blend into their texts, statements that look forward to a time of ultimate fulfillment and blessing for the nation of Israel. This is why Daniel appears to think that when the nation returns to their land, then ultimate blessing (the millennial kingdom) will coincide with their return. Daniel’s errant thinking about the timing of God’s plan for Israel occasioned the Lord’s sending of Gabriel "to give you insight with understanding" (Dan. 9:22).
God was not yet ready to bring history to its destined final climax. Thus, He told Daniel that He was going stretch out history by seventy times seven years (i.e., 490 years). Dr. David Cooper wrote the following paraphrase that I think accurately captures the sense of the passage:
Daniel, you have been thinking that the final restoration will be accomplished and the full covenant blessings will be realized at the close of these seventy years of exile in Babylon. On this point you are mistaken. You are not now on the eve of the fulfillment of this wonderful prediction. Instead of its being brought to pass at this time, I am sent to inform you that there is decreed upon your people and the Holy City a period of "seventy sevens" of years before they can be realized. At the conclusion of this period of 490 years the nation of Israel will be reconciled and will be reinstated into the divine favor and will enter into the enjoyment of all the covenant blessings.
The Meaning of "Weeks"
One of the Hebrew classes I took while a student at Dallas Theological Seminary was called "Exegesis of Old Testament Problem Passages," taught by Dr. Kenneth Barker. Dr. Barker thought that Daniel 9:24-27 had more problems for an interpreter to solve than any other passage in the entire Old Testament. Dr. Barker did not mean by the term "problem" that these made the text unknowable, but that an item was difficult and required great care and skill to determine the meaning. He thought that there were 14 problems that an interpreter needed to solve in order to correctly understand the passage. The first issue that needs to be dealt with was the meaning of the term "weeks," found at the beginning of verse 24.
For those aquatinted with Hebrew, they will notice that the same word appears twice at the beginning of verse 24. That twice used word is "sâbu‘îm," meaning "seventy sevens." This Hebrew word appears first as a plural noun, followed by the participle form, functioning as an adjective. That this Hebrew phrase should be rendered as "seventy sevens," is unanimously agreed upon by representatives of all interpretative schools. There is also great consensus that the "seventy sevens" refers to years, since this is what Daniel was contemplating in Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10-14, as evident in Daniel 9:2. Thus, our Lord has in mind seventy weeks of years, or 490 years.
The next word appearing in the Hebrew text in verse 24 is a verb translated "have been decreed." This word appears only here in the entire Old Testament. This verb has the basic meaning of "cut," "cut off," and came to mean "divide," or "determine." It appears that Gabriel choose this unique word to emphasis that God was carefully choosing or determining the length of Israel’s history. "Just as a wise person never cuts or snips at random, the Lord as the all-wise God does so even less. All His works are determined form eternity, and the times also are only in His hands." Wood adds, "The thought is that God had cut off these 490 years from the rest of history through which to accomplish the deliverances needed for Israel." G. H. Lang declares:
Decreed means divided or severed off from the whole period of world-empire in the hands of the Gentiles, as to which Daniel was already well informed. It points to a fixed and limited period, of definite duration, forming part of a longer period the duration of which is not fixed, or at least not declared.
Daniel’s People and City
For whom did God reveal this period of prophetic destiny? The text says that they have been decreed "for your people and your holy city." This is such an obvious statement, yet too many interpreters attempt to shoehorn in a people not mentioned in the passage. In the sixth century b.c., when Daniel wrote, who were Daniel’s people and holy city? Clearly it can only refer to Israel as Daniel’s people and Jerusalem as Daniel’s holy city. Yet many interpreters insist that it means something more, something different than what the text actually says. For instance, H. C. Leupold says, "Here, as so often in prophecy, terms like God’s "people" and God’s "holy city" broaden out to the point where they assume a breadth of meaning like that found in the New Testament (cf. Gal. 6:16)." Another non-literalist, E. J. Young, says, "It is true that the primary reference is to Israel after the flesh, and the historical Jerusalem, but since this very vs. describes the Messianic work, it also refers to the true people of God, those who will benefit because of the things herein described."
Notice that both allegorizers appeal to reasons that are outside of the text. They just believe that it refers to individuals beyond Israel because that’s what they believe. Therefore, the text must have in mind some beyond what it actually does say. This is a clear example of reading meaning into the text from one’s own belief system, which is not what the Bible wants us to do. Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 4:6, "that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written." Gabriel goes out of his way to inform Daniel that the seventy weeks of years are decree for Israel and Jerusalem. Lang notes, "The endeavour to apply this prophecy, in general or in detail, to others than Daniel’s people, Israel, and Daniel’s city, Jerusalem, is an outrage upon exegesis, being forbidden in advance by the express terms used." Gabriel says that God has specifically cut away those 490 years for Israel and Jerusalem, which would not include the addition of anyone else. Wood expands upon this idea and notes:
It should be noted that Gabriel said the 490 years will be in reference to the Jewish people and the Jewish capital city, which would seem to exclude any direct concern with Gentiles. That this concern is to be with the city, as well as the people, militates against the idea that the 490 years carry reference only to Christ’s first coming and not to His second. It is difficult to see how the physical city of Jerusalem was involved in the deliverance from sin which Christ then effected but it will be in the deliverance from the destructive oppression which the Antichrist will bring prior to Christ’s second coming.
In my next installment I will examine the six purposes stated in the second half of verse 24.