So, I’ve explained before that whereas Daniel chapters 1 to 6 were straightforward narrative with Daniel describing what happened to him and to his friends in Babylon, Daniel chapters 7 and 8 were what are know as apocalyptic literature. In apocalyptic literature, the Lord reveals heavenly secrets and secrets about his plan for the world through dreams and visions which need to be interpreted.
Today’s chapter — chapter 9 — is unusual in that it contains both narrative and apocalyptic literature. In verses 1 to 19 Daniel narrates for us the prayer he prayed to the Lord in the first year of the reign of Darius. However, in verses 20 to 27, the angel Gabriel appeared to Daniel and gave him this strange message about ‘seventy sevens’ which were to come.
So, you’ve got the first part of the chapter which is straightforward narrative and easy enough to understand; and you’ve got the second part which is apocalyptic and far harder to understand. Now, often preachers who are preaching on this chapter will split it into two: they deal with the prayer in one sermon and they tackle Gabriel’s message in another sermon. However, while the first part is straightforward narrative and the second part is apocalyptic, it seems to me that both parts belong together, because, you see, Gabriel’s message is the answer to Daniel’s prayer. It’s God’s response to his servant’s prayer. And so, I’m going to tackle both parts this evening. So, we’ve got a lot to cover.
Verses 1 to 3
And it begins with verses 1 to 3 where Daniel provides the context for his prayer. Why did he pray as he did at that particular time? Well, that’s what verses 1 to 3 are about. And so, he tells us in verse 1 that it was now the first year of the reign of Darius. Well, Darius — who was also known as Cyrus — was the king of Medes and Persians. You might recall that I said when we were studying Daniel 5 that the army of the Medes and Persians overthrow the city of Babylon and killed Belshazzar, who was the king of Babylon. And the Medes and Persians became the dominant power in the world at that time; and Darius — also known as Cyrus — was their king. He was also the king who threw Daniel into the den of lions. We read about that in chapter 6.
Now, Daniel was an old man by this stage. He was probably in his 80s when Darius took over Babylon. And according to verse 2 of Daniel 9, he was reading his Bible. He was reading his Bible and he understood from the Scriptures — and especially from the book of Jeremiah — that ‘the desolation of Jerusalem’ would last for 70 years. What does he mean by the ‘desolation of Jerusalem’? Well, remember that the reason Daniel was in Babylon was because the Lord had sent his people into exile. Though the Lord had been good to them, they were unfaithful to him; and they disregarded his word; and they ignored his prophets; and they disobeyed his laws. The Lord was patient with them, giving them time to repent; but eventually his patience ran out and he sent them into exile. And so, first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians invaded the land of Israel; Jerusalem was destroyed; and many of the Israelites were taken away into exile, including Daniel and his three friends. And so, the city of Jerusalem lay desolate.
But Daniel understood from the prophet Jeremiah that the desolation of Jerusalem would last 70 years. For instance, Jeremiah 25:11 says that the whole country will become a desolate wasteland; and the land of Israel and the nations surrounding Israel will serve the king of Babylon for 70 years. That’s what the Lord announced through the prophet Jeremiah. And then he goes on to say in verse 12 that when the 70 years are fulfilled, God will punish the king of Babylon and the land of Babylon for their guilt.
So, that’s one place where the Lord announced that ‘the desolation of Jerusalem’ would last for 70 years. He announced the same thing in Jeremiah 29, which is a letter to the exiles from Jeremiah, telling them to settle in the land of exile, because they’re going to be there for a while. However, when 70 years are completed for Babylon, God promised to come to his people in exile and bring them back to the Promised Land.
So, Daniel was reading Jeremiah and he read those two passages; and he understood that the 70 years were almost up. After all, hadn’t God already punished the king of Babylon, because Belshazzar was now dead and the Babylonian Empire had fallen to the Medes and Persians? Daniel understood that the 70 years were almost up and it was time for the Lord to do everything he promised; and it was time for the Lord to issue the decree and to say the word and to allow his people to return to Jerusalem and to the Promised Land.
The time had come. And so, in verse 3 Daniel tells us how he turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition. But he also prayed with fasting and in sackcloth and ashes. These were signs of penitence and signs of sorrow and mourning. And, of course, Daniel was filled with sorrow and mourning, because the reason the Israelites had been sent away into exile was because of their persistent sin and rebellion and because of the hardness of their hearts. And so, as he turned to pray, he displayed sorrow and mourning and penitence, and in his prayer he confessed their sins before the Lord.
Verses 4 to 19
And so, let’s turn to the prayer which comprises three parts. Firstly, there’s what we call invocation when he invoked, or called on, the name of the Lord. Secondly, there’s confession of sin. And thirdly, there’s supplication when he asked the Lord to do something. In fact, our prayers on Sunday follow the same pattern. In the first main prayer on Sundays, there’s invocation when we call on the Lord and praise him. In the second main prayer on Sundays, we confess our sins before the Lord. And in the third main prayer on Sundays, we ask the Lord to help his people and to extend his kingdom throughout the world. The way we pray in church is modelled on Daniel’s prayer. So, let’s look at it together.
Firstly, in verses 5 Daniel invoked or called on the name of the Lord, referring to him as ‘the great and awesome God’. Since he is great and awesome, he is to be feared; and we cannot approach him casually or carelessly, but with reverence and awe — as the writer to the Hebrews puts it — because our God is a consuming fire and his holy wrath burns against his enemies. However, as well as being great and awesome — the one who we must approach with reverence and fear — he’s also the one who keeps his covenant of love with those who love and obey him. So, while he will condemn and punish his enemies, he displays his love and faithfulness and his mercy towards his covenant people. Think of when his people were slaves in Egypt and how the Lord came to punish the Egyptians who were his enemies; and he came to save and deliver the Israelites who were his people.
This then is the God we come to in prayer: he is great and awesome, and so we come before him with reverence and awe. But we know too that he is the God who has entered into a covenant with us; and he has promised to treat his covenant people with love and mercy.
Secondly, in verses 5 to 14 Daniel confesses their sin before the Lord. He begins by saying we have sinned and done wrong and have acted wickedly. Well, it’s very likely that Daniel is quoting the words of King Solomon in 1 Kings 8:47. When Solomon was dedicating the temple in Jerusalem, he asked the Lord to show mercy to his sinful people when they come to him in prayer and confess and say:
We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly.
Daniel quotes those words now in his prayer to the Lord. He then goes on to confess that the Israelites have rebelled against the Lord; and they have turned away from his commands and laws. Instead of walking in the ways of the Lord, they went astray. And he confesses as well that they have not listened to God’s servants the prophets, who spoke in God’s name to their kings and princes, and to their forefathers and to all of them. The Lord sent his prophets again and again and again to his rebellious people to call on them to repent and to turn back to the Lord. The Lord warned his people through the prophets that he would send disaster on them if they did not repent. But they did not listen to his prophets. Like Adam and Eve in the beginning, they disregarded the word of the Lord; and men and women and boys and girls have been doing the same ever since. And Daniel confessed it before the Lord.
And then Daniel contrasted the Lord who is righteous with his people who are covered in shame. And they’re covered in shame — all of them — because of their sin. And he goes on in verse 9 to repeat again that they have rebelled against the Lord and they have not obeyed him and they have not kept his laws. All of them — he confesses in verse 11 — have transgressed his law and turned away from him, refusing to obey him.
Therefore, he says in verse 11, the curses and sworn judgments written in the law of Moses have been poured out upon us. Daniel once again shows us that he knows the Bible, because he’s referring now to Leviticus 26 and to Deuteronomy 28 where the Lord announced to his people blessings for obedience, but curses for disobedience. If they obeyed him in the Promised Land, he would bless them with one good thing after another. But if they disobeyed him in the Promised Land, he would send one disaster upon them after another. He would send the disasters upon them, so that they would humble themselves and confess their sins and return to him. But if they persisted in their sin, if they refused to humble themselves and repent, then eventually he would send them away into exile. The Lord warned them about all of this ahead of time. And Daniel knew all of this and he acknowledges in his prayer how the Lord has done what he said he would do; and he has poured out on them his curses; and he has sent them into exile. In other words, the Lord fulfilled the words he had spoken against them and he brought disaster upon his people and especially upon those living in Jerusalem. The Lord is righteous, Daniel says in verse 14: he always does what is right. But they are not right; and they have not obeyed him.
Well, in the third part of his prayer, Daniel asked the Lord for something. He asked the Lord in verse 16 to turn away his anger and wrath from Jerusalem. And he asked the Lord in verse 17 to look with favour on the desolate sanctuary in Jerusalem. Literally, he asked the Lord to make his face shine on his sanctuary. Instead of looking on the temple with a dark and angry face, look upon it with a bright and smiling face.
And, of course, Daniel knows he has no right to ask these things from the Lord. They’ve done nothing to deserve it. However, he appeals to the Lord’s mercy. He throws himself entirely upon the kindness of God. And in the last verse of his prayer, we feel Daniel’s sense of urgency as he pleaded with the Lord:
O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay!
Why did he say ‘for your sake’? Well, it’s because the city and the people bore the Lord’s name; and so long as the city lay in ruins and so long as his people were held in captivity, then the nations could say that the Lord was weak and powerless and unable to save. They would despise the name of the Lord, thinking that he was not strong enough to save. And so, for your sake, for the sake of the honour of your name, don’t delay, but come and deliver your people and show the world what a great and awesome and faithful and forgiving God you are.
Well, that’s how to pray, isn’t it? We should call on the Lord, who is great and awesome and who is faithful to his people. And we should confess our sins, because all of us are sinners who need God’s forgiveness. And we should plead with the Lord to save his people and to display to the nations how great he is. Daniel provides us with a model prayer which we can use to shape our own prayers.
Introduction to Verses 20 to 27
Well, according to verses 20 and 21, as Daniel prayed, the angel Gabriel came to him. And Gabriel said to him that he had come to give Daniel insight and understanding. And then Gabriel said to Daniel:
As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed.
Isn’t that marvellous? The Bible tells us elsewhere that even before we speak, God knows what we’re going to say. And here we learn that even before we have finished praying, God is able to hear and answer our prayers. We often wonder whether the Lord hears our prayers and whether our prayers make a difference. But here we read how the Lord heard Daniel’s prayer and was so willing to answer it, that he answered it even before Daniel had finished praying.
And on this occasion, the answer to Daniel’s prayer involved giving him a vision. Now, the vision is hard to understand. In fact, pages and pages and pages have been written on these few verses and on what is meant by the phrase ‘seventy sevens’ which we read in verse 24. Many interpreters argue that the 70 part of ‘seventy sevens’ refers to 70 years. After all, back in verse 2 Daniel was talking about 70 years. And so, some commentators argue that when Gabriel says ‘seventy sevens’, he means ‘seventy years times seven’ which adds up to 490 years. However, nowhere in the text do the words ‘year’ or ‘years’ appear. And so, other commentators remind us that this is apocalyptic literature; and in apocalyptic literature, numbers are used, not literally, but symbolically. Furthermore, some translations translate Gabriel’s words as ‘seventy weeks’. However, while it can be translated like that, it doesn’t have to be translated that way; and so the NIV has ‘seventy sevens’, which is perfectly correct.
Well, the commentators argue about the length of the ‘seventy sevens’. And you perhaps noticed from the passage that the ‘seventy sevens’ is divided into three parts, because Gabriel refers to ‘seven sevens’ and ‘sixty-two sevens’ and to ‘one seven’. And the commentators argue about the length of those periods too. However, the thing to remember at the outset is this: whatever the length of the ‘seventy sevens’, the purpose of the ‘seventy sevens’ — or the end result of the ‘seventy sevens’ — is clear. Look again at verse 24 where it says:
Seventy sevens are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgressions, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy.
Well, that’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Gabriel is saying to Daniel that during this period of ‘seventy sevens’ something is going to happen so that sinners will be pardoned and will become righteous in God’s sight. Daniel had been confessing the sins of the people; and here’s God’s answer to him: something is going to happen to finish transgression and to put sin to an end and to atone for wickedness. The power of sin over God’s people will be broken; and the guilt of their sins will be blotted out. And sinners will be declared right with God for ever. And something is going to happen, to seal up vision and prophecy which means there will be no more need for visions and prophecy. And ‘the most holy’ will be anointed. Some commentators suggest this is referring to the temple, which will be rebuilt and reconsecrated to the Lord. But then others suggest that this is referring to a person who will be anointed. So, during this ‘seventy sevens’ period, a person will be anointed. And sure enough, in verse 25 Gabriel refers to the coming of the Anointed One. And in verse 26 he tells Daniel that the Anointed One will be cut off.
So, something’s going to happen so that sinners will be pardoned and will become righteous in God’s sight. And the something that’s going to happen is the coming of this Anointed One, who will be cut off. In other words, the Anointed One will be killed.
Well, Gabriel is referring to the Lord Jesus, isn’t he? He’s the Christ, which is a word which means ‘Anointed One’. He was Anointed by God with the Holy Spirit at his baptism to be God’s Anointed King, who came into the world to deliver his people from their sin and misery so that all who believe in him are pardoned by God for their sins and declared right with God forever. Daniel confessed their sins and asked God to turn from his anger; and in response the Lord sent Gabriel to announce to Daniel the coming of the Saviour into the world who would be cut off on the cross and who would die in the place of sinners in order to atone for our wickedness and to bring in everlasting righteousness for all who believe in him.
So, that’s the purpose of these ‘seventy sevens’. That’s the end result of these ‘seventy sevens’. Whatever the phrase ‘seventy sevens’ means, Gabriel made clear that something was going to happen to deal with sin so that sinners might become right with God. And the something that was going to happen was the coming of Christ the Saviour who would be cut off and die for sinners. And so, we all need to believe in him, the only Saviour of the world. We need to believe in him and keep believing in him, because whoever believes is pardoned by God and will be declared right with God for ever. Instead of being sent away from God’s presence — as the Israelites were sent away from his presence when they were taken away into exile — we’ll be brought in to God’s presence in the new heaven and earth to dwell with him for ever and for ever.
The Message in More Detail
That’s the end result of the ‘seventy sevens’. Bearing that in mind, let’s see if we can make any more sense of the details of Gabriel’s message. So, turn with me to verse 25 which refers to the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. Some commentators say this refers to the decree of Darius — also known as Cyrus — to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. You can read his decree at the end of 2 Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra. Others say it refers to the decree of Artaxerxes about rebuilding Jerusalem. which we read about in Nehemiah. Others though say it refers to God’s heavenly decree which he announced through Jeremiah. Whichever decree it is, it’s the beginning of this ‘seventy seven’ period which also includes, according to verse 25, the coming of the Anointed One, Jesus Christ the Saviour.
According to verse 25, the first 69 sevens in this ‘seventy sevens’ period can be divided into two parts: there’s a ‘seven sevens’ period when Jerusalem and the temple will be rebuilt; and there’s a ‘sixty-two sevens’ period which will be a time of trouble for the people of Jerusalem. If Daniel was hoping for peace and prosperity for God’s people after the rebuilding of the city and temple, it was not going to happen. After all, remember what we learned last week about how Antiochus Epiphanes would come to power and cause all kinds of devastation and suffering to the Israelites in Jerusalem.
Then, according to verse 26, after the ‘sixty-two sevens’ — which means during the final seven, the seventieth seven — the Anointed One will be cut off. Gabriel was announcing that Christ the Saviour will die on the cross at that time to redeem his people.
Then, during the rest of this final seven, this seventieth seven, the people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. In other words, the rebuilt city and temple will once again be destroyed. What’s Gabriel referring to? Well, he’s referring to the time which we read about recently in Mark 13 when the Roman armies besieged Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in AD70. In fact, in Mark 13 the Lord spoke about ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ which was to be a sign for believers to flee from Jerusalem because the end had come. And Gabriel refers to the same thing here in verse 27. He also refers to how war would continue until the end, by which he’s probably foretelling how Jerusalem was razed to the ground by the Romans in AD135 after a revolt by some Jewish revolutionaries. Gabriel was announcing to Daniel how the Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus — who is the ruler to come — will send the Roman armies to punish the Jews because they refused to repent and to believe in him as the only Saviour of the world.
But look at verse 27 where it says that this ruler to come will confirm a covenant with many. Do you remember during the Last Supper how the Lord Jesus spoke about the new covenant in his blood? He was referring to God’s promise to remember our sins no more. By means of Christ’s blood, shed on the cross, all those who believe receive forgiveness from God for all that we have done wrong.
So, the Jews who refused to repent and believe were going to be punished by the Romans, which would be a foretaste of the coming day of judgment when all who refuse to repent and believe will be punished by God forever. But all who believe in Christ who died for sinners are promised forgiveness. And that means — as we read in verse 27 — there will be an end of sacrifice and offerings. There’s no reason to offer animal sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem any longer, because Christ died as the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice for sins. So, Daniel was praying for the restoration of the temple and of Jerusalem, but the Lord was showing him that the time would come when there would be no need for a temple in Jerusalem.
And then, right at the end of verse 27, Gabriel speaks about ‘the end that is decreed’ and which will be poured out on ‘him’. Well, other translations make clear that the end will be poured out on the desolator, the one who destroyed Jerusalem. So, Gabriel is announcing that eventually Rome itself will be punished by God.
And so, this seventieth sevens period — which includes the coming of Christ and his death on the cross for sinners and the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem — ends with the destruction of Rome itself. Daniel was praying for the restoration of the temple and of Jerusalem, but the Lord was showing him that though the temple and city would be rebuilt in the short-term, the time would come when the temple and the city would once again be destroyed. But then the destroyer will also be destroyed, just as every other earthly power and dominion is destined to perish. And the only kingdom that will endure is Christ’s kingdom, which is an everlasting kingdom that will never end.
Daniel was praying for the restoration of the temple and of Jerusalem. And while God would rebuild the temple and the city in the short-term, he had in mind for his people something even better than that, because it was always God’s plan to send his one and only Son into the world. And his Son, the Anointed King, would be cut off for sinners. And all who believe in him will receive — as God promised in his covenant of grace — forgiveness and righteousness and the free gift of eternal life in God’s everlasting kingdom.
And so, we should believe in Jesus Christ, the Anointed King. And we should pray to the Lord. We should pray to the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of love with his people. And when we pray, we should confess our sins and ask for his forgiveness, because there’s not one of us who does not sin against him. And when we pray, we should pray that he will frustrate the plans of his enemies and extend Christ’s kingdom throughout the world, so that more and more men and women and boys and girls will receive his salvation and the free gift of eternal life; and that his name will be glorified among the nations and that people everywhere will praise him as the only God who rules over all for ever and for ever.