By Karen Thompson
First in a four-part series
You often hear eschatologists refer to something called “Daniel’s 70th week.” It’s a phrase that if you don’t know what it means, it’ll make you feel left in the dark when it comes to end time conversations. Where does one go to find out what this phrase means? We must go to the book of Daniel, chapter nine. Daniel chapter nine opens up with Daniel praying about the prophet Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy.
Israel Exiled for 70 Years
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: (Dan. 9:1–3).
At the time of Daniel’s prayer, he along with thousands of other Jewish people were living in Babylon. They were forcibly taken to Babylon when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem and took the royal offspring and the most valuable and skilled people to Babylon. However, at the time of Daniel’s writing, the situation in Babylon had taken a drastic turn. The Babylonian Empire was no longer ruling over Babylon. The Medo/Persian kingdom had successfully invaded and conquered Babylon, killing King Belshazzar in the process. The Jewish exiles living in Babylon were now under the rule of the Medo/Persian Empire.
In verse one, Daniel says this prophecy in chapter nine came in the first year of the reign of Darius, the son of Ahasuerus. He was the seed, or offspring, of the Medes and king over the realm of the Chaldeans (modern-day Iraq). In verse two, we see Daniel praying about Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy: “I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.”
Daniel had been reading Jeremiah’s prophecy that said the exiles in Babylon would return to Jerusalem after 70 years: “For thus says the Lord: after seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place” (Jer. 29:10). By Daniel’s calculation, the 70-year exile had been completed, and so he’s lifting this matter up to God in prayer. He’s praying about the exiles returning to Jerusalem.
God’s Covenant Relationship With Israel
Before we continue our study about Daniel’s 70th week, we need to take a quick, short turn off the road. When teaching end time prophecy, it’s a mistake to assume everyone is familiar with the history of the Jewish people and the Old Testament. In fact, most Christians study almost exclusively the New Testament and rarely even read the Old Testament (except Psalms and Proverbs). In these first three verses in Daniel chapter nine, we just read how Daniel is living in Babylon and is praying about a prophecy that says God will bring them back to Jerusalem in 70 years. For the believer that is unfamiliar with the Old Testament, there are a few questions that need to be answered before we continue our study of Daniel’s 70th week. For instance, why are the Jewish people in Babylon? Don’t they have a special covenant with God to be that holy and set apart people? If so, then how did they end up being exiled in Babylon?
The Israelites’ relationship with God is the key that unlocks the mystery. So that means we need to have a very brief conversation about Israel and her relationship with God; that will tell us the “how and why” the Israelites ended up being exiled in Babylon.
Let’s start at the beginning with their time sojourning in Egypt. When they first arrived in Egypt, they were a large family totaling 70 people. After living in Egypt for 400 years, they increased in size between two and three million. All was good until a newly reigning Pharaoh felt threatened by their numbers and began to persecute and treat them harshly. Their groans were heard by God. To release them from Pharaoh’s grip, the Lord performed many miracles to convince Pharaoh to release them. He called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to the Promised Land.
Before He led them into the Promised Land, the Lord entered into a covenant with them. After traveling for three months, the Israelites came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped. While there, the Lord revealed His divine plan for them. The Lord spoke to Moses and told him to tell them, “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Exo. 19:4–6).
At this point, God declared to the Israelites that they were a special treasure above all other people, and they were to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. Ultimately, the purpose for this kingdom of priests would be to minister His light to the other nations of the earth, to draw them to God. This calling, or holy covenant, is confirmed in many other places in the Word. Isaiah 2:2–3 best describes God’s purpose for His kingdom of priests:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isa. 2:2–3)
God’s plan for them was contingent upon the absolute and unwavering faithfulness of the Israelites to His laws and statutes. If they obeyed all His commandments, He would set them “on high above all nations of the earth” (Deut. 28:1–2). He said their obedience would bring blessings that would “overtake them.” But it was all contingent on their obedience. The most important command they had to obey was the command to worship no other gods before Him. Breaking this command would violate the very purpose for which God raised up this nation in the first place. God warned them that if they ever worshiped other gods, there would be severe consequences. (See Exodus 20:1–5.)
They Failed to Worship God Exclusively
Alas, the Israelites failed to obey the Lord and began to worship other gods. In response, He sent His prophets to warn them, telling them to repent and give up their false Gods. God was merciful toward the kingdom of Israel for a very long time. Through His prophets, He kept pleading with them to repent and consecrate their lives to Him again. But they did not. The Judaic kingdom went through a series of kings, some were good and many were bad. But the king that proved to be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was Manasseh. The evil that Manasseh committed against God provoked Him to wrath, from which there would be no return for Judah.
In 2nd Kings chapter 21, it says Manasseh (696–642 BC) embraced everything that was an abomination to God. In fact, Manasseh surpassed even the evil King Ahab (874–853 BC) in wickedness. Chapter 21 identifies the wickedness that Manasseh brought into the kingdom:
For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord said, In Jerusalem will I put my name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. (2 Kings 21:3–6)
Manasseh worshiped the host of heaven—the sun, the moon, and the stars—and built altars dedicated to them in the house of God! The temple that was built for God to dwell in was filled with idolatry! Manasseh also “practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft, and consulted spiritists and mediums,” all things forbidden by God. The vilest thing about Manasseh is that he “made his son pass through the fire,” which means he sacrificed his son to the false god Molech—a practice expressly forbidden by God (Lev. 18:21).
Second Kings 21:9 says, “Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than did the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel.” Think about that! God sent this nation into the midst of the nations to be a light for Him, to draw the nations to Him. Instead, the nations drew them into their darkness. In fact, the Israelites had become more evil than the Gentile nations! God declared that because of Manasseh’s abominations, He was forsaking the remnant of His inheritance and would allow them to become victims of plunder to their enemies (2 Kings 21:11–15). Judgment was coming. And there was nothing they could do to stop it.
Jeremiah—The Prophet of Doom
The prophet tasked with the job of prophesying to the Israelites of this coming judgment fell to Jeremiah. Whenever I read about Jeremiah’s prophetic task, my heart goes out to him. Uff da! What he went through was brutal. Jeremiah was known by two epithets—“The Prophet of Doom” and “The Weeping Prophet.”
He was called the Prophet of Doom because his task was to prophesy the coming judgment. There was no heading off this catastrophe. It was coming, and it was going to be bad. When I read what the Lord told Jeremiah to do, it makes the hair on my arms stand up. It took a lot of hutzpah to do what he did… and he did it! Just listen to this.
The Lord told him to get a clay jar and tell the elders and priests to meet him in the Valley of Ben-hinnom, which was the garbage dump. In a nutshell, he was to proclaim that the Lord was “going to bring such evil upon this place that the ears of whoever hears of it will tingle.” Jeremiah listed the reasons: “Because the people have forsaken Me and have estranged and profaned this place [Jerusalem] by burning incense in it to other gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents. And have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal” (Jer. 19:4–5). Then Jeremiah described the terror the Lord was going to bring upon them. After that, he took the clay jar the Lord instructed him to bring and smashed it in front of everyone, saying “Thus said the Lord of hosts: Even so will I break this people and this city as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it cannot be mended.” When one of the priests heard what Jeremiah was prophesying, he gave him a severe beat down and threw him in the stocks.
Another time the Lord said to Jeremiah, “Take a scroll [of parchment] for a book and write on it all the words I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah” (Jer. 36:2). It was to be read in the temple. But Jeremiah was in hiding for his life because important people wanted him dead, so he sent his scribe, Baruch, to the temple to read it. Ultimately, the scroll made its way to the king. King Jehoiakim was so angry that he cut it up into pieces and threw it into the fire (Jer. 36).
Important people were angry with Jeremiah. He was continually threatened, mocked, and beat up. People plotted to kill him. Once he was thrown into a muddy pit and left to die, but was rescued. And so much more! All of this took a toll on Jeremiah. After all, he was only human. Jeremiah often lamented his situation, describing all the persecution that came his way. He cursed the day his mother gave birth to him, wishing he had never been born. For all his angst-spoken words, Jeremiah was called The Weeping Prophet.
Though Jeremiah spoke bitterly about all what he had to endure, he couldn’t stop. He tried not speaking forth the Lord’s words but when he did, he said “in my mind and heart it is as if there were a burning fire shut up in my bones. And I am weary of enduring and holding it in; I cannot [contain it any longer]” (Jer. 20:9 Amp.). Did you catch that? It was exhausting trying to stay silent!
Judgment came in the form of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar besieging Jerusalem in 605 BC. He carried off ten thousand people to Babylon, which included Ezekiel and Daniel. Jeremiah was older, so he was left in Jerusalem. Jeremiah prophesied that the exiles should settle down, make homes and plant gardens because they were going to be there for 70 years. After 70 years, the Lord would bring them back to Jerusalem (Jer. 29).
So there you have it. We are now caught up to the place where we see Daniel at the beginning of Daniel chapter nine lifting up Jeremiah’s prophecy to bring them back to Jerusalem. We can now start to examine Daniel’s 70th week. Next week!
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