Note that Daniel refers to Jeremiah’s book as among the other “Scriptures” (lit. “books” but implying “sacred books”) even though Jeremiah was a near contemporary who wrote his prophecy during Daniel’s youth. The text Daniel was reading seems to refer to Jeremiah 25:11-12 written in 605BC which was the year Daniel was taken to Babylon and also the Jeremiah 29:10 written in 597BC the year Ezekiel was taken to Babylon (cf. 2 Chron.36:21; and compare Lev.25:8; 26:18). Daniel read how the desolation of Jerusalem would last only seventy years according to Jeremiah and knew that meant the time was nearing for it to be complete, but he also understood that this did not simply mean that God would accomplish the restoration apart from His people. How should we understand Daniel taking time to reflect upon the Scriptures in light of his own circumstances and what he felt it required of him? What might this suggest about the process of the formation of the Scriptures and their early acceptance as authoritative by (at least some of) the community?
9:3-19 – The Prayer of Daniel. Daniel fully commits himself to humility and sincerity before the Lord as he prays concerning what he has read in Jeremiah about the restoration of Jerusalem. This prayer finds parallel in the prayer of 1 Kings 8; Ezra 9:6-15; Neh.1:5-11; 9:5-38; Baruch 1:15-38; 1QS 1.22-2.1; 4QWords of the Luminaries. That he fasted implies this did not happen immediately. Further, he put on “sackcloth” which was non-traditional clothing that was irritable and was a sign that one was in mourning. This was also the purpose of the ashes. This is the only chapter in Daniel where LORD (the Hebrew Yahweh) occurs. There are also many Hebrew manuscripts that read LORD in place of Lord (Heb. ’adōnāy) in verses 3, 15, 16, 17 and 19. Daniel pleads with the LORD not only as the God of his people, but as his own God.
It is important to note that Daniel begins his prayer with praise and adoration of who God is as well as acclaiming the covenant and the faithful-love (Heb. hesed ; the two should not be read as “covenant of love” like the NIV since they are differentiated in the Hebrew) of God for those who love Him and keep the covenant. However, Daniel then immediately moves to confession of the failure to live up to the covenant on the part of God’s people and he includes himself in this with the “we”. He lists six things as confessions: “sin” (Heb. hāttā’) as a general category of disobedience, “wrong” (Heb. ‘āwôn) or crooked, “wicked” (Heb. rāsa‘), “rebelled” (Heb. mārad), turned away from the LORD’s commands and laws and not listened to the LORD’s servants the prophets. This is quite a litany of charges that Daniel lays out against all of the leadership of his people and, indeed, all of the people themselves including himself.
He ascribes righteousness (Heb. sədāqâ) to the LORD, but justified shame to all of the people who are exiled including the ten tribes of Israel, the people of Judah and specifically His city Jerusalem because of unfaithfulness. It is because of sin that shame covers them and this is not only shame for themselves but in some sense it is a shame for the LORD whose name they bear. Daniel moves at times between the second person and third person in his address to the LORD as if to call himself and his people to this joint confession and to faithfulness to the LORD having pleaded with the LORD for his mercy and forgiveness. Daniel is emphatic about the personal failure of the LORD’s people despite the LORD’s unfailing goodness and despite the clarity of the promise of the covenant concerning the judgment for disobedience (Deut.28:15-68). In what sense could the disaster brought on Jerusalem be considered worse than that brought on other cities that also were destroyed and/or exiled? Because Jerusalem was especially chosen of the LORD for His dwelling and personal revelation as opposed to all other cities. Yet, despite the judgment against their sins there was still no repentance and turning to the truth according to Daniel. This is not to suggest that there were none who did this, but that the people by and large did not and so as a nation they suffered together under the justified judgment of the LORD.
Daniel reminds the LORD of His deliverance of His people from Egypt which serves as THE sign of the LORD’s faithfulness to His people and of His self-revelation. He calls on the LORD to hear his prayer for the people, “your city, your holy hill” knowing that the LORD cares and will act according to His own Name. He prays that the LORD would restore all of this for the sake of the LORD’s name and glory, because the LORD is righteous and merciful and this is the revelation of His very character to the whole world and not because of anything inherently worthy about the people of Israel or the place of Israel or Jerusalem.
9:20-27 – The Vision of the Seventy Sevens. In the very middle of Daniel’s praying, confessing of sins and concern for the restoration of Jerusalem Gabriel arrives with a message. The statement about coming to him “in swift flight” in the English suggests that Gabriel flew to him and follows the popular notion of angels with wings despite that this messenger is never described as having wings. The Hebrew actually may suggest “in my extreme weariness” (Heb. mu‘āp bî‘āp ; see the NASB, NET; Goldingay 228; Miller 250-1) which would fit the context better of one who has been fasting and in intense prayer and given his earlier weariness over revelations from the Lord (cf. Dan.7:28; 8:27; 10:8-9, 16-17). The time of the arrival was the time of the evening sacrifice which places it about 3-4PM even though there would not have been any sacrifices because there was not as yet any rebuilt temple to sacrifice in, but this was a normal time of prayer (Ezra 9:5; Ps.141:2).
The message was released for Daniel as soon as he had begun praying even though he was just now receiving it. He would receive special insight into what he had been praying about because the LORD considered him “highly esteemed”. What might constitute this estimation by the LORD? Whereas Daniel understood correctly that the seventy years were upon him for the end of the exile, yet there were to be seventy ‘sevens’ (that is: 490 years broken into three groups…see the notes below) in order to deal with the sins of Israel completely (“finish…”, “put an end…” and “atone…”) and to fulfill all righteousness (“to bring in…”, “to seal up…” and “to anoint…”).
The decree to “restore and rebuild Jerusalem” could either be the one to Ezra in 458BC (Ezra 7:11-26) or to Nehemiah in 445BC (Neh.2:1ff) and would then be the first seven sevens (49 years) to approximately 409BC or 396BC when the project was completed, but in “times of trouble” (cf. Neh.4:1ff; 9:36-37). The sixty-two sevens to the “Anointed one, the ruler” would be 434 years or approximately (Jesus baptism in) 26AD or (Palm Sunday) 32/33AD. Though precision of dating the latter in such matters depends upon the highly questionable 360 day Jewish prophetic calendar with a thirteenth month included occasionally to offset for the lack of days that results. Just who is the “anointed one” which lacks the definite article in the Hebrew as does the “ruler”? While this could just as easily refer to any king or priest it seems most likely to refer to Jesus as our dating suggests. Especially since this “anointed one” will be “cut off” that is to say that he will be killed or die and be left with nothing some time after the allotted years noted above. So who are the “people of the ruler who will come” that destroys the city and the sanctuary? The antecedent would almost seem to be whomever this “anointed one” was and his “people”, but rather than taking this “ruler” with the “anointed one” that precedes it would seem best to take it with the individual that follows who makes a seven year covenant with Israel and breaks it midway and sets up abominations of desolation until his end. Between these two rulers there appears to be wars and desolations.
While it was not readily apparent in Daniel’s day that there would be a gap of time between the last ‘seven’ and the other sixty-nine sevens history suggests otherwise and Jesus own interpretation of the abomination causing desolation suggests otherwise (Matt.24:15; Mark 13:14). In other words, there appears to still be a future date where the last ‘seven’ years will be accomplished by one who makes and breaks covenant with Israel, putting an end to the sacrifices and offerings three and half years into the covenant and setting up abominations that causes desolation (“on a wing of the temple” should not be read with the NIV, but should read “on the wing of abominations”) until his end. This means that the temple must still be rebuilt at some time in the future and the sacrifices be reinstituted and Israel will wrongfully make covenant with one who will not be faithful just as they were unfaithful and who will be abominable just as they were abominable. But the LORD is faithful and merciful and He will use this to bring Israel back to Himself and bring an end to sin as has already now been done through our Lord Jesus Christ, but shall be fulfilled at his glorious appearing from heaven.