Thoughts to Ponder: Chapter 23

Chapter 23: The Seventy “Sevens” ~ Daniel 9:20-27

Q1 – Daniel probably wanted the captivity of his people to be over immediately and Jerusalem restored. Yet, God took a longer view and sent Gabriel to explain His timeline to Daniel. Do you think Daniel understood what Gabriel was telling him?

A1 – By this time in his life, Daniel had already had several divine interactions. The first one, at least that’s recorded, was when he interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great statue in Daniel 2. God spoke through him to the king and revealed the future kingdoms and the coming of Christ. The second was when he interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great tree that was cut down with the stump being left so that it could later be restored in Daniel 4. The third occurred when Daniel interpreted for King Belshazzar the meaning of the words written on the wall by the fingers of a human hand in Daniel 5.

The rest of the divine interactions that are recorded were directed at Daniel himself. His dream or vision in Daniel 7 foretold the coming of four earthly kingdoms and seemed to correspond to Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream of the great statue. His vision in Daniel 8 also foretold of future kingdoms, with Media, Persia and Greece actually being named. Both of these visions revealed that great difficulties would lie ahead for God’s people.

So by the time of this divine interaction which occurred during Daniel’s prayer, he had already been privy to a great deal of information concerning what would happen leading up to the coming of the Messiah, or Anointed One. Additionally, he was a very educated person, and having been from Jewish royalty, he likely had studied the scriptures from an early age. While he may not have understood everything Gabriel told him, certainly he understood quite a bit.

Q2 – Why do you suppose God chose to reveal this part of His plan to Daniel?

A2 – If you study the visions or dreams Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar had that dealt with the future, you’ll notice quite a bit of overlap. But you’ll also notice different bits of information are inserted in each one. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2) revealed that after four kingdoms, God’s eternal kingdom would be established. When Daniel had his dream of the four beasts (Daniel 7), he also glimpsed into the spiritual realm and saw God on His throne. Then, in Daniel’s vision of the ram and the goat (Daniel 8), he was given a time frame of  2300 evenings and mornings before the sanctuary would be reconsecrated. This time, in response to his prayer in Daniel 9, he’s given a more specific timeline—seventy sevens, with the sevens divided into three separate groups.

At this point, it might be good to address Jewish numerology a bit. Numbers could be taken literally, but at times they were also symbolic. The number seven was particularly meaningful to the Jews, as it showed completeness and perfection. God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh (Genesis 2:1-3). As a result, we have a seven day week even today. When Noah built the ark, God commanded that seven pairs of every kind of clean animal and also seven pairs of every kind of bird be brought aboard (Genesis 7:2-3). Many of these animals would be used later for food and also for sacrifice, so God wanted to ensure their survival.

To get an idea of the importance of the number seven and the times when it was used, do a search of the scriptures and browse through the references. Click on the Leviticus references and observe how many times seven was used in Jewish worship and the keeping of God’s commandments.

Seven times seven was also an important number. Every seventh year was a Sabbath year in which the land was to have a year of rest (Leviticus 25:1-7). The people were not to sow their fields or prune their vineyards during this year. This helped to rejuvenate the soil and prevent the depletion of nutrients so the fields would become more fertile and produce better crops in the future.

Then, after seven Sabbath years, or seven times seven years (forty-nine years), the Year of Jubilee was proclaimed. This fiftieth year was very special, because not only were the fields to lie fallow, but also any land that had been sold was to be returned according to how it had been apportioned to their ancestors when God gave them the Promised Land. This kept the land with the appropriate tribe and their lineage. Also, if any Israelite had become poor and sold themselves to be workers, they and their children were to be released from their servitude so they could return to their own clans and ancestral property. (You can read the extensive instructions concerning the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8-55.) Of course, two of these fifty-year periods neatly comprised a century.

So what is the significance of seventy times seven, or seventy sevens? Look at this instance in Matthew 18:21-22, NASB where this number is used: “Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” (Other versions translate this number as seventy-seven, which, of course, differs from seventy times seven, or 490.)

Peter must have been thinking there ought to be a limit as to how many times he should have to forgive someone who kept sinning against him. Seven, which represented completeness, probably seemed like a good number to him. Jesus, with His reply, essentially told Peter, there is no limit. Then He went on to illustrate the true meaning of forgiveness in the parable which follows in Matthew 18: 23-35. Whether the number is more accurately translated as seventy times seven or seventy-seven, either way, Jesus was using an excessive number to make his point.

So when “seventy sevens” occurs in Gabriel’s response to Daniel’s prayer, does this number represent literal years, literal weeks, or figurative time periods? Some historians and scholars interpret this number to mean seventy weeks rather than years, because by itself, seven represents one week. You can see how, with the great amount of symbolism represented by the number seven and its multiples, the meaning of “seventy sevens” becomes highly debatable.

From the context, it seems that “seventy sevens” is how much longer it would take for the Old Law to be fulfilled and the new era, God’s eternal kingdom, to be established. Pinning down the exact time periods, however, seems to be problematic. It could have made more sense to Daniel than to us today.

However, let’s get back to the original question of why God revealed this information to Daniel. You can see how in each interaction, whether in his own dreams or through interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s, Daniel learned new bits about God’s overall plan. That’s probably because too much information at once would have totally overwhelmed him.

Now, it’s likely Daniel had studied the scriptures from an early age and knew something of God’s plan. But what God revealed to him through the course of these divine interactions far exceeded what Daniel could have learned from his studies. The Messiah was someone he had read about, but God, by revealing this detailed information to Daniel, made the coming of the Messiah, or Anointed One, very real to Daniel. The timeline God set forth let Daniel know that this event was on schedule, and it was happening in the not so distant future!

Recall, too, the relationship that existed between God and Daniel. Daniel had lived his life totally devoted to God and was someone so special to God that God highly esteemed Daniel. Daniel was elderly by the time he prayed this special prayer and would not live long enough to personally witness the Messiah or the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom. Yet, through the dreams and visions, God allowed Daniel to glimpse His glory and be privy to His timeline. Much like someone confiding in a good friend, God shared with Daniel the highly condensed version, and in so doing, allowed him to vicariously witness the future.

You can find an interesting discussion of Daniel’s visions and the time periods they spanned in this article entitled, “The Five Visions of Daniel,” by Jay Rogers.

This article, “The Prophecy of the Seven Weeks,” by John F. Walvoord contains a much longer and more detailed discussion on the topic.

Remember to glean from the scriptures what you can understand and leave what you can’t to God. There is much that lies beyond our understanding!

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36, NIV)

Q3 – Think back over the great historical events and the turbulence through which Daniel had lived. God cared for him, supplied his needs and saw him through. In this reading, how does God comfort Daniel once again, even while revealing more turbulence ahead?

A3 – With this special prayer, Daniel begged for God’s mercy. The Jewish people longed for their exile to be over so they could return to Jerusalem and rebuild their city and sanctuary. God, in His reply, reassured Daniel that Jerusalem would be rebuilt with streets and a trench (some versions say a wall and others say a moat, all of which would provide a means of defense).

However, God revealed that the path which lay ahead for His people would be difficult. The rebuilding of Jerusalem would occur during times of trouble. After that would come much greater difficulties, with Jerusalem and the sanctuary being destroyed once again and the Anointed One, the Messiah, put to death. The form of worship that the Jewish people had practiced since they received the Law of Moses would cease. The ruler would put an end to the sacrifice and offering. At the temple, this ruler would set up an abomination that causes desolation.

So how is this comforting to Daniel? Because after all the destruction and horrors that this ruler will cause, he’s going to get his due. The end that has been decreed for him will be poured out on him (Daniel 9:27). Then God’s people will receive at least a measure of relief. Ultimately, good will win.

Recall, too, that by this time in Daniel’s life, he had been privy to several divine interactions. As discussed in the previous question, he seems to have learned another bit to God’s overall plan each time. However, if you go back through the divine incidents that have been recorded throughout the book of Daniel, you see that much of what he was told in Chapter 9 is not new information. God does go into greater detail with the timeline, but much is also repeated from what had been revealed in previous interactions.

This, in itself, is comforting, that God presents the same plan. He doesn’t randomly change His mind. Recall the scripture in Numbers 23:19, NIV: “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” God’s word was something Daniel knew he could count on, just as we can today.

We aren’t told how this information affected Daniel on this occasion, but his previous visions caused him great angst. After the Daniel 7 vision, he stated, “I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself” (Daniel 7:28, NIV). His vision in Daniel 8 disturbed him even more: “ I, Daniel, was worn out. I lay exhausted for several days…. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding” (Daniel 8:27, NIV).

Daniel may have found this interaction disturbing as well. But by giving Daniel new bits of information with each vision and dream, it’s as if God were easing him into the reality of what would occur, rather than hitting him with everything all at once. God knows we are but human: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14, NIV) God knew that giving Daniel too much information at one time would be greater than he could bear. So even in His portioning out all the information, God showed His great care for Daniel.