New Book: Daniel's 70 Weeks

Chapter 3: The Starting Point for Daniel's Seventy Weeks

Since the 70 Weeks is a Chronological Prophecy, it must have an exact fulfilment if it is of Divine Origin, for the Sovereign God is accurate and precise. Therefore any correct interpretation must demonstrate an exact fulfilment. Vague and approximate fulfilments are not satisfactory. However an exact fulfilment would reveal the Glory of God and demonstrate His Sovereignty over time and history. Clearly then, as a first step in showing the exact accurate fulfilment of the Prophecy, we must establish its correct starting point and its date.

The starting point in Daniel 9:25 is described as: "the Command (‘dabar’ = ‘word from God’) to restore and build Jerusalem."
We are looking for a Decree, inspired by God, that commands and releases the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem as their Capital, restoring a degree of self-governance, even though it is part of a greater Empire.

POSSIBILITIES: There are 4 Possibilities to consider for the Start of the 70 Weeks. Since Israel is in the Time of the Gentiles, these are all Decrees recorded in Scripture made by the Gentile (Persian) Empire controlling Israel. In Daniel’s time, Israel had been taken captive to Babylon. The timing of the 70 Weeks Prophecy was when Babylon had just been defeated by the Medo-Persian Empire. Since this took place near the end of the prophesied 70 years’ Captivity in Babylon (607-537 BC), this spurred Daniel to pray for Israel’s full restoration. In answer to this prayer, God gave him the Prophecy of the 70 Weeks, to indicate how this would happen and to lay out a Timetable for it. The Prophecy indicated that this restoration would happen in stages, including a Decree to rebuild Jerusalem as a City, including restoring its governmental authority as the capital of Israel.

*POSSIBILITY (1) The Decree of Cyrus, in 537 BC (Ezra 1:2-4).

Ezra 1:2-4: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: ‘All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.”

Notice this famous Decree only applied to the restoration of the Temple - it does not mention Jerusalem. It was a Decree simply granting freedom of religion. The Persian records (such as the Cyrus Cylinder) confirm that this was in line with the general policy of Cyrus towards all the peoples of his Empire. Rather than enforcing the worship of the gods of the rulers (as Babylon had tried to do), Cyrus led the Persians to allow each people to worship their own God or gods. In fact, he encouraged this, by helping the rebuilding of Temples throughout the Empire. He believed that this enlightened policy would lead to a happier and more stable Empire. Behind these actions of Cyrus was the hand of God working to restore Israel.
In fact, God prophesied through Isaiah that He would raise up a ruler called Cyrus, who would set the restoration of Israel in motion after her Captivity in Babylon (Isaiah 44:28, 45:13).

The Decree of Cyrus as recorded in Scripture in Ezra 1 clearly concerns the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of worship, but does NOT mention the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a Capital City. Therefore it does NOT qualify as the initial Decree of Daniel 9:25. This is confirmed by the famous Cyrus Cylinder, now in the British Museum (below), which contains his original Decree enshrining freedom of religion, and granting permission to rebuild the Temple. But there is nothing in it answering to the requirements of Daniel 9:25.

 

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Although the Cyrus prophecies of Isaiah 44:28 and 45:13 mention Jerusalem as well as the Temple, this does not mean the Cyrus Decree included the rebuilding of Jerusalem. In these verses, God was declaring His Purposes to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem, and that He was going to use Cyrus as part of this Program. In fact, the Cyrus Decree initiated this Restoration, but all 4 of the Decrees we will study are manifestations of this ongoing Plan of Restoration.

In Isaiah 44:28, it is God who speaks His purposes to Cyrus, Jerusalem and the Temple: “Who (GOD) says of Cyrus:
‘He is My shepherd (leader) and he shall perform all My pleasure,
(God is) saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built”, And
(God is saying) to the Temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.”’

The context (v26,27) confirms that it is God doing the SAYING! God is declaring that He is at work to rebuild His Temple and His City, and that He would use Cyrus to start that process. In God’s sight, the Restoration of His Temple was the priority and so the first Decree (the Cyrus Decree) focused solely on this. It was the legal foundation for the Restoration of Israel’s Temple and its Worship.Thus it is clear that the Cyrus Decree concerned the Temple alone, and so cannot be the Decree that starts the 70 Weeks. Moreover, it fails to give any accurate fulfilment, because 490 years from 537 BC takes us to 47 BC, which is well before the Coming of Jesus Christ.


*POSSIBILITY (2) The Decree of Darius, in 518 BC (Ezra 6:1-3).

Ezra 6:1-3: “Then King Darius issued a Decree, and a search was made in the archives, where the treasures were stored in Babylon. And at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of Media, a scroll was found, and in it a record was written thus: In the 1st year of King Cyrus, He issued a Decree concerning the House (Temple) of God at Jerusalem: “Let the House be rebuilt, the place where they offered sacrifices; and let the foundations of it be firmly laid, its height 60 cubits and its width 60 cubits.”

This confirms what we said about the Cyrus Decree, that it only applied to the Temple of God. Clearly, this Decree of Darius is simply a renewing and reissuing of Cyrus’ Temple Decree, and so cannot be the Decree of Daniel 9:25, for the very same reasons.

*POSSIBILITY (3): Artaxerxes’ Decree in his 7th year, in 458 BC (Ezra 7:12-26). Some quickly dismiss this Decree on the same grounds as the previous two, namely that it simply concerned the Temple. However, on closer inspection, we find it had far greater significance and perfectly fits the requirements of Daniel 9:25, namely, a Decree issued by a king, that originated from the Sovereign will of God. The starting date is the ‘issuing forth’ of a ‘dabar’ (divine decree). This both speaks of its Divine Origin and its datable issuing forth through a human king. Moreover this Decree must be to restore and build Jerusalem (not just the Temple). We shall see that
this ‘Ezra’ Decree indeed released Israel to restore Jerusalem as the centre of governance (capital), as well as to build it up physically. Also we shall see it leads to a perfect fulfilment of the 70 Weeks!

The importance of this Decree can be seen by the great emphasis the Bible puts on it. (1) It makes it clear that this Decree had a Divine Origin (coming as a result of Divine initiative). This is necessary, as it is implied by the word ‘dabar’ in Daniel 9:25, and required by its status as a Great Jubilee Event and the start of Daniel’s 70 Weeks:

Ezra 7:6,27: “Ezra came up from Babylon; and he was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given. The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him.... Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart.”

In Daniel 9:23, ‘dabar’ (word, saying) is used of a word from God, so a Divine Decree in Heaven that appeared on Earth in the words of a Persian king, seems to be the intended meaning here. This is reflected in the words of Ezra 6:14: “they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia.” I believe that the time of the issuing forth or publication of this Decree marks the ‘terminus a quo’ (starting point) of the 70 Weeks.

(2) Its importance is also clear from its centrality to the whole book of Ezra-Nehemiah (Ezra and Nehemiah originally formed a single book), for all of its events originate from it and are based on it.

(3) A whole Chapter of the Bible is devoted to it (Ezra 7), which includes a detailed copy of the Decree, giving the full and exact original wording (unlike with the other decrees, where just a summary is given). This is emphasised in that the Decree itself (v11-26) is the only section of Ezra in Aramaic, rather than in Hebrew. This reflects the importance of preserving the exact original wording of the Decree. This level of accuracy is needed, because of its importance in the story of Jerusalem’s restoration under Ezra and Nehemiah; and so that we can see that it fits the requirements of Daniel 9:25 well.

(4) Its precise date (to the day) is also emphasised strongly (unlike the other decrees) so we can date the start of the 70 Weeks to the day:


Ezra 7:7-9: “Some of the children of Israel, the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the Nethinim came up to Jerusalem in the 7th year of King Artaxerxes (458 BC). And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the 5th month, which was in the 7th year of the king. On the first day of the first month (3rd April according to our present Gregorian Calendar) he began his journey from Babylon, and on the first day of the 5th month, he came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.”

The Decree itself is actually given word for word in Ezra 7:11-26:

Ezra 7:11: “This is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes gave Ezra the priest, the scribe, expert in the words of the Commandments of the Lord, and of His statutes to Israel:

Ezra 7:12: “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, a scribe of the Law of the God of heaven: Perfect peace, and so forth.

Ezra 7:13-24: “I ISSUE a DECREE that all those of the People of Israel and the Priests and Levites in my realm, who volunteer to go up to Jerusalem, may go with you. And whereas you are being sent by the king and his 7 counselors to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, with regard to the Law of your God which is in your hand; and whereas you are to carry the silver and gold which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem; and whereas all the
silver and gold that you may find in all the province of Babylon, along with the freewill offering of the people and the priests, are to be freely offered for the house of their God in Jerusalem - now therefore, be careful to buy with this money bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them on the altar of the house of your God in Jerusalem.

And whatever seems good to you and your brethren to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, do it according to the will of your God. Also the articles that are given to you for the service of the house of your God, deliver in full before the God of Jerusalem. And whatever more may be needed for the House of your God, which you may have occasion to provide, pay for it from the king’s treasury.

And I, even I, Artaxerxes the king, ISSUE A DECREE to all the Treasurers who are in the region beyond the River, that whatever Ezra the Priest, the Scribe of the Law of the God of Heaven, may require of you, let it be done diligently, up to 100 talents of silver, 100 kors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil, and salt without prescribed limit. Whatever is commanded by the God of Heaven, let it diligently be done for the House of the God of Heaven. For why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? Also we inform you that it shall not be lawful to impose tax, tribute, or custom on any of the Priests, Levites, Singers, Gatekeepers, Nethinim, or Servants of this House of God.”

Now so far, the emphasis has been entirely on offerings and provisions for the Temple. Since this Decree is meant to show honour to the God of Israel (as part of a general goodwill policy towards the subjects of the Persian Empire), it was fitting to mention His Temple first of all. However, this Decree also gave Israel (under Ezra) authority to govern themselves according to their own Law (the Law of Moses). In this way, this Decree RESTORED Jerusalem as the centre of Israel’s Governance, which also allowed them to BUILD:

Ezra 7:25-26: “And you, Ezra, according to your God-given wisdom, set magistrates and judges who may judge all the people who are in the region beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God; and teach those who do not know them. Whoever will not observe the Law of your God and the law of the king, let judgement be executed speedily on him, whether it be death, or banishment, or confiscation of goods, or imprisonment.”

Ezra had the authority to fully establish Civil Laws for Israel according to the Law of Moses, and to enforce them, even with the death penalty. This is why it was significant that he was an expert in the Law of Moses, for the Law did not just cover personal morality and worship, but included Civil Law for the governing of the nation:

Ezra 7:6,10: “Ezra came up from Babylon; he was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given.

The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him... For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.”

Ezra was given all he had requested: (1) Authority and provisions to beautify the Temple and enhance its worship. (2) Authority to restore Government in Israel, centred on Jerusalem, based on the Law of Moses. This necessarily included authority to rebuild Jerusalem.

These 2 aspects of the Decree are mentioned in his summary at the end:

Ezra 7:27-28: “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers,
Who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart,
(1) to beautify the House of the Lord which is in Jerusalem, and (2) has extended mercy to me before the king, and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty princes. So I was encouraged, as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me; and I gathered leading men of Israel to go up with me.”

Therefore, the Decree clearly included authority to RESTORE and BUILD Jerusalem, in fulfilment of Daniel 9:25. The word RESTORE refers to the restoration of the social, religious, political and governmental life of Jerusalem, whereas the word BUILD, refers to a corresponding physical building program to match Jerusalem’s Restoration as the Capital (the Centre of Government and Worship).

Now, some who just pick up on the emphasis on the Temple in this Decree, deduce that it does not qualify, but a closer reading shows clearly that this Decree included the Rebuilding of the City and its Administration. It empowered Ezra to ordain laws and establish magistrates and judges with authority to administer justice and punish, with penalties up to and including: "death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment" (Ezra 7:25-26). So Ezra was fully authorised to restore the Commonwealth, and the means were placed at his disposal to enable him to do so. It gave Ezra a free hand to restore Jerusalem physically (by Buildings), and governmentally (by Laws), as well as spiritually (by the Temple): “And whatever seems good to you and your brethren to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, do it according to the will of your God” (Ezra 7:18).

Despite all this, some doubt that the Decree included permission to physically build up Jerusalem, and that this had to await Nehemiah, 13 years later, and based on this it did not fulfil Daniel 9:25. However, this was not Ezra’s own interpretation of the Decree as both his WORDS and ACTIONS show. Of all people, he should know!

Ezra 9:9: “For we were slaves. Yet our God did not forsake us in our bondage; but He extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to revive us, to repair the House of our God, to rebuild its ruins, and to give us a WALL in Judah and Jerusalem.”


Here we can clearly see that he believed that the Decree from the Persian king included the right to REBUILD Jerusalem, including its WALL! In fact, soon after this Decree in 458 BC by Artaxerxes, the Jews began to rebuild the City and its Walls, as recorded in Ezra 4:7-23 (obviously under Ezra’s direction and authority, because they believed the Decree had released them to do so). Ezra 1-6 describes the rebuilding of the Temple before Ezra, except for a parenthesis in Ezra 4:6-23 (indicated by the repetition between v5 and v24), where in describing local resistance to this work, Ezra then also describes the resistance that he faced in his time. This attempt must have been made under Ezra in 458 BC, for the Decree granted him exactly these extended powers (7:18, 25; 9:9). This Passage shows that the group that returned with Ezra attempted to restore the Walls of Jerusalem, but this attempt was thwarted by the Samaritans (Ezra 4:11,12,23).
Therefore, they were not able to complete this aspect of the work.

These enemies wrote a deceptive letter to King Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:8-16), warning him that the Jews were rebuilding the Walls and the result of this was that they would rebel, once they had rebuilt Jerusalem and its Walls. They did not base their argument on the fact that the Jews were acting illegally, because they knew the Decree had given the Jews the right to rebuild. Rather they played on his fears by cleverly referring him to past rebellions of Jerusalem. The king fell for this, ordering work to cease for a time: “Now give the command to make these men cease, that this City may not be built until the command is given by me” (v21). He did not say that they had been acting illegally. This is why he simply phrased it as a postponement. He could not cancel the Decree that he had previously made, but he obviously had the authority to make another Decree that postponed part of its implementation for a time.
The king had given an all-embracing Decree to "restore" (socially and religiously) and "rebuild" (physically) Jerusalem, which included rebuilding the Walls: "The king had granted Ezra everything he asked" (Ezra 7:6-7). However, when their enemies accused them of planning rebellion, he gave them the right to stop the Jews working on their rebuilding project until further notice.

This is why Nehemiah in 445 BC (13 years after the Ezra Decree), was surprised and upset to hear that Jerusalem's Wall and Gates were still broken down (Nehemiah 1:1-3), despite the Decree giving them the right. It seems that Ezra was too occupied with social government and religious restoration to go to Persia and use his influence with the king to turn this situation around. Instead this job fell to Nehemiah, whom God had raised up as a man in whom the king greatly trusted. However, Nehemiah was simply implementing the earlier Decree.

The ‘Decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem’ as the governing Capital of Israel in the 7th year of Artaxerxes is the Starting Point of the 490-year Countdown to Messiah (Daniel’s 70 Weeks). Although much of this Decree involves the Temple, it also gave Ezra the authority to restore and rebuild Jerusalem as a Centre of Government. This was certainly Ezra's understanding of it.


Thus the Decree of Artaxerxes to Ezra in 458 BC
must be the Decree to rebuild and restore Jerusalem.
This is the start of Daniel’s 70 Weeks (Daniel 9:25).

 

*POSSIBILITY (4): Artaxerxes’ Decree in his 20th year (445 BC) (Nehemiah 2), releasing him to rebuild the Walls of Jerusalem.


Typically Dispensationalists (following Sir Robert Anderson) have chosen this as the Decree for the 70 Weeks, because it is to do with
the rebuilding of the Walls, and because they think it gives an exact literal fulfilment (albeit using a 360 day year), whereas (they think) the 458 BC Decree (causing the 70th Week to end in AD 33) cannot give a dispensational fulfilment (in which the 70th Week is yet future).
It is my hope (as a Dispensationalist myself), through this book, to positively demonstrate that there is a Dispensational interpretation based on the Ezra Decree that ticks all the boxes, and negatively to show that the Dispensational interpretation based on the Nehemiah Decree is invalid, and does not work when the calculation is checked.

It helps to remember Ezra-Nehemiah essentially form one book and that the Nehemiah Decree (in 445 BC) can only be understood correctly in the context of what had previously happened in Ezra (458 BC onwards). We have seen that 13 years before, there was a Decree to Ezra, releasing him to return to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. Although building work had started on the City and the Walls, local enemies had persuaded the king to bring this work to a standstill. Meanwhile, God had raised up Nehemiah to be the king’s cupbearer, his most trusted man (for he was the one who tasted all his drinks for poison). God would use Nehemiah to get the building going again:

Nehemiah 1:1: “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the 20th year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had
escaped, who had survived the Captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the Captivity in the Province are there in great distress and reproach. The Wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its Gates are burned with fire.” So it was, that when I heard these words, I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of Heaven.”

If the Ezra Decree had never given Israel the right to rebuild the Walls of Jerusalem, then Nehemiah could not have had any expectation of Jerusalem being rebuilt. However, he was clearly shocked by the news that the Walls were broken down, and the Gates burnt. He knew the Decree had given Ezra the right to go back to restore and rebuild, and that the rebuilding of the City and its Walls had started under Ezra. So he had expected great things, but when he was told about the current state of the Walls and Gates, he was overcome with sorrow, causing him to fast and pray. The broken down Walls and burnt Gates could not have been the result of Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction in 586 BC, but the more recent opposition, when their enemies forcibly stopped the building (Ezra 4).

Nehemiah was upset, because the Walls should have been rebuilt because of the previous Ezra Decree in 458 BC. So he prayed for the right opportunity to ask Artaxerxes, the king of Persia, for permission to go to Jerusalem and restart the Building of the Walls of Jerusalem:

Nehemiah 2:1-9: “It came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the 20th year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before. Therefore the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.” So I became dreadfully afraid, and said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the City, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its Gates are burned with fire?” Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favour in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the City of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.”

Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), “How long will your journey be? And when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time. Furthermore I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the Gates of the Citadel which pertains to the Temple, for the City Wall, and for the house that I will occupy.”

And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me. Then I went to the governors in the region beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me.”

In this way, the king gave Nehemiah permission to rebuild the Walls of Jerusalem. Many believe that this is the relevant Decree, because it emphasises the Walls, but as we have seen a previous attempt had been made on the basis of the earlier Ezra Decree. It was the failure to implement that Decree that upset Nehemiah, and so he gained permission to assist in accomplishing the work that Ezra had started, but which had been retarded by the opposition. So this was not the originating Decree, but a renewal and reactivation of the earlier one. The king had temporarily suspended the building that had started under the Ezra Decree, saying: “Now give the command to make these men cease, that this City may not be built until the command is given by me” (Ezra 4:21). He commanded work to stop, until he said otherwise, and now through Nehemiah he was saying otherwise. Thus it is dubious whether the permission of Artaxerxes to Nehemiah to restart the building should be even given the status of a Decree, since it simply reactivates the Ezra Decree.

The Nehemiah ‘Decree’ did not initiate the Rebuilding of the City. This had already started under the previous Ezra Decree. It simply gave permission to Nehemiah, releasing him to go back to Jerusalem to continue the Rebuilding of her Walls that had begun under Ezra.

Nehemiah 2:13: “I viewed the Walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its Gates which were burned with fire.”

Nehemiah 2:17,18: “Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the Wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work.”

Thus the Decree of Daniel 9:25 does not fit the permission given to Nehemiah to finish the rebuilding of the Walls (in 445 BC). You can find the real Decree strongly marked in Scripture in Ezra 7, and dated precisely to Nisan 1, 7th Artaxerxes (April 3rd, 458 BC). The Divine Origin of this ‘dabar’ is revealed in Ezra 7:27: “God has put such a thing as this (Decree to release Ezra to restore both the Temple and the City) in the king’s heart.” The restoration of Jerusalem involved setting up a governmental and judicial administration for Israel, centred on Jerusalem, as well as rebuilding the City and its Walls. Nehemiah was just part of implementing this Decree. When he heard that the rebuilding of the Walls had stopped, he was simply given permission to execute the earlier Decree. So this was no new Decree.

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