The Seventy Weeks of Daniel
by Thomas Ice
Last installment I began a series on one of the most important prophecy passages in the whole Bible—Daniel 9:24-27. I examined, last time, the first-third of Daniel 9:24. This time I will be explore the six purposes of the seventy weeks that have been decreed for Israel, as stated in the remainder of verse 24.
The Six Prophetic Purpose Clauses
As we delve more deeply into the meaning of this text, let’s drop back and note a few structural observations about the passage as a whole (Dan. 9:24-27). Verse 24 is the general statement from Gabriel, while the final three verses provide a particular explanation of the general point. Thus, verses 25-27 will help us understand the main statement of verse 24.
There are six infinitives that tell us when the seventy weeks that have been decreed for Israel and Jerusalem will be fulfilled in history. These six goals are 1) to finish the transgression, 2) to make an end of sin, 3) to make atonement for iniquity, 4) to bring in everlasting righteousness, 5) to seal up vision and prophecy, and 6) to anoint the most holy place. Usually, when a list appears in Scripture, it is important to see if the items should be grouped in subsets.
I believe that these six items are arranged in two groups of three, instead of three groups of two. The first triad has to do with sin, and interestingly these are the exact words that Daniel used in his prayer in 9:5. God is speaking to Daniel’s prayer through the first three goals. The second set of three goals for the 490 year period have to do with God’s righteousness. This was a matter that Daniel was also inquiring about in his earlier prayer (9:7). G. H. Lang agrees when he notes, "for the first three are concerned with the removal of sin, and the last three with the bringing in of righteousness." "The first three are negative in force, speaking of undesirable matters to be removed; and the last three are positive, giving desirable factors to be effected."
Division of these six statements into two groups of threes appear to be supported by a structural observation from the Hebrew text. The first three goals are all made up of two word units in Hebrew. The second group of descriptives all use three word phrases. This structural arrangement would lend literary support to the grouping suggested above.
Before we can determine when these six items will be fulfilled, we must first ascertain their purpose. This we will now pursue as we inspect each phrase.
1) To Finish the Transgression
The verb "to finish" looks to bring something to its culmination. It has the idea of "to close, shut, restrain." Here it has the idea of "firmly restraining" the transgression, thus the specific idea of restraint of sin. "Examination of the use of this word shows that it means the forcible cessation of an activity. It always points to a complete stop, never to a mere hindrance." In this context it is "the transgression" which is being firmly restrained. As I hope to demonstrate throughout this series, I believe that "finish" looks toward the completion of the 70 weeks at the second coming of Christ to set up His millennial kingdom.
The noun "transgression" in Hebrew is derived from the verbal root with the basic meaning of "rebel, revolt, transgress." Transgression is the idea of going beyond a specific limit or boundary. "From all the definitions given we may be certain that it emphasizes the idea of rebellion against God and disobedience to His will." Gabriel has in mind, in verse 24, more than just sin in general, but a specific sin since the definite article is attached to this word—"the transgression." "The article in Hebrew, as in Greek, is ver definite and points clearly to some outstanding thing or object," notes David Cooper. "Thus the expression ‘the transgression’ seems to indicate some specific, outstanding, national sin of the Chosen People." Since the emphasis in this phrase is upon the finishing of Israel’s transgression, then this leads to the conclusion that it will occur at the second coming of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah. Arnold Fruchtenbaum points out that "when speaking of the basis of the second coming of Christ that there are two facets to this basis: first, there must be the confession of Israel’s national sin (Lev. 26:40-42; Jer. 3:11-18; Hos. 5:15) . . ." The emphasis in this first goal is upon when Israel’s national sin—rejection of her Messiah—will be brought to an end. "This passage assumes, therefore," notes Cooper, "that the whole nation repents and turns to God for mercy and forgiveness. Thus this first phrase implies the conversion of the nation. But what is assumed here is stated specifically in the third phrase."
2) To Make an End of Sin
The second goal to be completed at the end of the 70 weeks is to make an end of sin. In the Hebrew, the word "to make an of" literally means "to shut, close, seal; to hide, to reveal as a secret," and has the primary meaning of bringing a matter to a conclusion. Cooper explains:
This word was regularly used to indicate the closing of a letter or an official document. When the scribe had finished his work, the king placed his royal seal upon it, thus showing that the communication was brought to a close and at the same time giving it the official imprimatur.
The Hebrew root word for "sin" is the most commonly used word for sin in the Hebrew Old Testament. Its core meaning is "to miss the mark, to be mistaken". This is illustrated in Judges 20:16 where it says, "Out of all these people . . . each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss." This word itself conveys the basic meaning of "to miss, to be mistaken." Interestingly, the only other uses of this word in Daniel occur in 9:20 (twice). Daniel speaks of "my sin and the sin of my people Israel." Since this Hebrew word does not have the definite article as did "transgression" in the previous phrase, and since "sin" is plural, it seems refer to the sins in general of the nation. "The sealing up of sins, consequently, signifies their restraint under safe custody." "Since the cause of sin must be removed before the cure can be effected, this expression assumes that at the time here foreseen the nation will have turned to the Lord, and that by His Spirit a new heart and spirit will have been given to all the people." Clearly the scene only after the second coming followed by the installation of the millennial reign of Jesus the Messiah.
3) To Make Atonement for Iniquity
The third infinitive "to make atonement for iniquity" is the translation of two Hebrew words. Taking the second one—iniquity—first, we see that it is one of the most common Hebrew words for sin. It has the core idea of twisting or defacing something beyond its intended purpose. While speaking of a sinful act, this word, at the same time, looks to the fact that the reason why one commits iniquity is due to the perverted sinful nature inherited from Adam’s fall. According to The Oxford English Dictionary, "iniquity" means "the quality of being unrighteous, or (more often) unrighteous action or conduct." Its core meaning is "uneven, unequal, wrong, wicked." Thus, the idea of iniquity is used here to speak of that most aggressive nuance of sin flowing from human willful disobedience. This paints a picture of the worst kind of offense before God.
Such an offense requires a heroic response from God. Just such a provision is taught in the verb "to make atonement." Many are familiar with the word "atone" since it takes a prominent place in Israel’s Old Testament sacrificial system. It is used in Genesis 7:14 as both a noun and a verb and carries with it the idea of covering the wood of Noah’s Ark with pitch. When applied theologically to salvation, it communicates "the act functioned to cleanse, wipe away, or purify objects contaminated by sin or uncleanness or make kôper on behalf of persons. This act of purgation served to propitiate Yahweh, thus enabling Him to dwell among His people to work out His purpose through them in the world." The significance of this third phrase is noted by Cooper who says,
doubtless is a clear reference to the time when all Israel in genuine penitence shall acknowledge her departure from God and her national sin. At the same time each individual, of course, will acknowledge his own wrongs and all will call upon God for pardon. Then that which was foreshadowed by the annual atonement will become a reality. At that time the nation will be brought back into fellowship with God and become a blessing in the earth.
The first three of the six goals in Daniel 9:24 have to do with the sin of Daniel’s people, Israel. The basis for dealing with Israel’s sin was provided during the first coming of Jesus when He died on the cross and rose again from the dead to pay for the sin of the Jews and for the sins of the entire human race. However, the application of this wonderful provision for sin will not be realized for Daniel’s people until the end of the 70 weeks. This will be fulfilled by the second coming of Messiah at the end of the tribulation period, which is yet future to our day. Leon Wood has an excellent summary of the first three goals.
The first introduces the idea of riddance, saying that the coming 490-year period would see its firm restraint. In other words, God was about to do something to alleviate this basic, serious problem. The second speaks of the degree of this restraint: sin would be put to an end. The third indicates how this would be done: by atonement. Though Christ is not mentioned in the verse, the meaning is certain, especially in view of verse twenty-six, that He would be the One making this atonement, which would serve to restrain the sin by bringing it to an end. It is clear that reference in these first three items is mainly to Christ's first coming, when sin was brought to an end in principle. The actuality of sin coming to an end for people, however, comes only when a personal appropriation of the benefit has been made. Since Gabriel was speaking primarily in reference to Jews, rather than Gentiles . . . this fact requires the interpretation to include also Christ's second coming, because only then does Israel as a nation turn to Christ (cf. Jer. 31:33, 34; Ezek. 37:23; Zech. 13:1; Rom. 11:25-27).
In my next installment I will examine final three goals stated in the second half of verse 24.
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