Daniel saw the time was near for the fulfillment of two prophecies by two different prophets: the exiled remnant of Judah would be allowed to return home in 70 years (Jer. 25:11), and the decree which permitted their return would be from Cyrus, foretold by Isaiah 150 years earlier (Isa. 45:1-4, 13). So Daniel prayed for the forgiveness of his and his nation’s sins (Dan. 9:3-19). Gabriel, who stood in the presence of God (Luke 1:19 ), was sent to tell him that God would allow the exiles to return home. Daniel was then given his vision of 70 weeks which revealed the ultimate fate of the nation he loved.
Daniel was told that seventy weeks were determined for the nation. This was a symbolic period of time because seventy weeks would have been less than a year and a half of time. The events surrounding the captivity obviously stretched for many years into the future. Seventy weeks literally consists of one year and sixteen weeks. From the time of Daniel’s vision (about 536 B.C.) to the time of Jerusalem’s destruction (70 A.D.), which marked the beginning and ending of the time in the vision, would have been about 600 years. And, if one substitutes a “year for a day” (as many commentaries on Daniel do), Daniel’s 70 weeks would have equaled 490 years (70 x 7), far short of the actual number of years which the vision itself gives for the beginning and ending of the seventy weeks.
Some solve the problem by saying that the 490 years were not a consecutive chain of years. They say there are three different segments of time that are given, and that the timing between the cessation of the first period (7 weeks) from the departure from Babylon (536 B.C.) to the completion of the walls of Jerusalem (444 B.C.), and the beginning of the second segment (62 weeks) is not given. Then after the second segment of weeks came the last segment, one week. Seven weeks plus sixty-two weeks plus one week does add up to seventy weeks, but still the usual “year for a day” does not work.
The seven weeks of the first segment would have been 49 years, but it was actually 92 years from Cyrus’s edict until Nehemiah completed the walls of Jerusalem. The same problem exists for the last one week segment of time. One year for one day would give seven years, but whether one counts the birth of Christ to the destruction of Jerusalem (70 years) or from the crucifixion of Christ (circa 33 A.D.) to the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.), one would have at least 37-40 years, not seven years. One cannot fit the events of the first segment (seven weeks) into 49 years, nor can one confine the crucifixion of Christ to the destruction of Jerusalem into seven years.
What is to be done? How is one to reconcile this matter? It cannot be reconciled whether one doesn’t count some years between different segments or in pressing the different occurring events of things in the final week if one considers that the seventy weeks mean 490 years.
There is no problem if one recognizes that the vision was symbolic and depicts not literals days or years, but rather spoke of three segments of time not in length of duration but inclusive of certain occurrences. The first segment: seven weeks. The second segment: sixty two weeks. The third segment: one week. Is this an artificial explanation without biblical precedent? Not at all. If we must make the multiple of seventy weeks literal (70 x 7 = 490), why not make the same multiple of Jesus literal? “Then came Peter and said to him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21-22). Did Jesus mean for us to understand that we are obligated to forgive a brother who sins against us 490 times but not one time more thereafter? Do we not instead understand that Jesus was teaching us we must always be willing to forgive a brother who sins against us?
When language is symbolic, who looks for the symbol he sees or what that symbol means? Who looks for a literal image made of gold, silver, brass, and iron from the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in Dan. 2 rather than to the four empires those metals represented? Who looks for four literal beasts — a lion, bear, leopard, and diverse beast in the vision Daniel saw in Dan. 7 rather than four empires those beasts represented?
The figure seven is used repeatedly to describe completeness or perfection, not as a literal number. Who looks for a beast which had seven heads and ten horns who was like a leopard, having feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion (Rev. 13:1), rather than seeing the persecuting Roman government which “made war against the saints” (Rev. 13:7)?
There were three segments of time in Daniel’s vision. The first (seven weeks) was that time from 536 B.C. (the return of exiles to Judaea) to 444 B.C. (the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls by Nehemiah). The second period was the long stretch (sixty-two weeks) between the completion of Jerusalem’s walls until the Messiah’s advent. The advent of the Messiah to the destruction of Jerusalem was the third and final segment of Daniel’s seven weeks. This segment without a doubt was the most significant of all. Discussing the events of that period of time will be the subject of our study in our next article.