By Robert Anderson
THE VISION OF THE "SEVENTY WEEKS" THE PROPHETIC YEAR
As the solution of the problem of the Seventy Weeks is my personal contribution to the Daniel controversy, I may be pardoned for dealing with the subject here in greater detail, albeit this involves some repetition. It is all the more necessary, moreover, because in his recent work Professor Driver has adopted the laboured efforts of the foreign sceptics to evade the Messianic reference of the vision. Indeed, his exposition of the passage reminds us of that sort of dream in which words never have their natural meaning and events always happen in some unexpected way.
In the ninth chapter of Daniel the scene is laid in Babylon, and the occasion is the approaching end of the "Desolations," an era which the critics without exception confound with either the "Servitude" or the "Captivity." "I Daniel," the writer tells us, "understood by the books the number of the years whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet for the accomplishing of the desolations of Jerusalem, even seventy years." Then follows the record of his passionately earnest prayer on behalf of his city and his people,3 which prayer brings in answer the angel's message. Here is the text of Dan. ix. 24 - 27 (R.V.)
"Seventy weeks are decreed upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish transgression and to make an end of sins and to make reconciliation for iniquity and to bring in everlasting righteousness and to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. Know therefore and discern that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the anointed one (or Messiah) the prince shall be seven weeks and threescore and two weeks: it shall be built again with street and moat, even in troublous times.
And after the threescore and two weeks shall the anointed one (or Messiah) be cut off and shall have nothing: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and his end shall be with a flood, and even unto the end shall be war; desolations are determined. And he shall make a firm covenant with many for one week: and for the half of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease."
Well may Professor Driver and Dean Farrar comment upon the hopeless divergence which marks "the bewildering mass of explanations" offered by the numberless expositors of this passage. But there is no reason why the intelligent reader should follow these eminent critics who, in their "bewilderment," have adopted the most preposterous interpretation of it ever proposed. For such indeed is the suggestion that any devout Jew - whether the prophet of the Exile or a Maccabean zealot, it matters not which - could thus anticipate "the complete redemption of Israel " apart from the advent of Messiah. It is absolutely certain that the vision points to the coming of Christ, and any other view of it is indeed "a resort of desperation."
May I now invite my reader to follow me in the path which I myself have traversed in seeking the explanation of the vision? Rejecting all mystical or strained interpretations, let him insist on taking the words in their simple and obvious meaning; and with the help of a key which, though long overlooked, is ready at hand, he will find the solution, full and clear, of what may have seemed a hopeless enigma.
Here was a man trained by his Scriptures to look for a Messiah whose advent would bring fulness of blessing to his people and city. But his people were in captivity and his city was in ruins. And having himself already passed the allotted span of life, he could not hope to outlive the period of the Divine judgment of the Desolations, of which some seventeen years were still unexpired. So he set himself to plead for light; and the answer came that the realisation of the promised Messianic blessings was deferred until the close of an era of seven times the seventy years of the Desolations - not seventy years, but "seventy weeks" of years.'
These seventy weeks, moreover, were divided thus-7+ 62 + i. The period "unto Messiah the prince" was to be "seven weeks and threescore and two weeks;" and at the close of the middle era -"after the threescore and two weeks "- Messiah was to be "cut off." In other words, the presentation and rejection of Messiah were to be 69 weeks, or 483 years, from the epoch of the era.
The first question, then, which claims attention is the character of the year of which this prophetic era is composed. Here expositor after expositor and critic after critic has held in his hand the key to the whole problem, but has thrown it away unused. With the Jew the effect of his laws was "to render the word week capable of meaning a seven of years almost as naturally as a seven of days. Indeed the generality of the word would have this effect at any rate. Hence its use to denote the latter in prophecy is not mere arbitrary symbolism, but the employment of a not unfamiliar and easily understood language."- Smith's Bib. Dic., art. "Week."
All are agreed that the "seventy weeks" of verse 24 are seven times the seventy years of verse 24; if, then, the duration of the seventy years of the Desolations can be ascertained, the problem is solved.
Seventy years was the appointed duration of the Servitude to Babylon. But the stubborn refusal of the people to submit to that judgment, or to profit by the further chastisement of the Captivity, which followed eight or nine years afterwards, brought on them the terrible scourge of the Desolations. The essential element in this last judgment was not merely ruined cities, but a land laid desolate by a hostile invasion, the effects of which were perpetuated by famine and pestilence, the continuing proofs of the Divine displeasure. The Desolations, therefore, were reckoned from the day the capital was invested, the 10th day of the 10th month in the ninth year of Zedekiah. This was the epoch of the judgment as revealed to the prophet Ezekiel in his exile and for four-and-twenty centuries it has been observed as a fast by the Jews in every land. As an interval of seventeen years elapsed between the epoch of the Servitude and that of the Desolations, so by seventeen years the second period overlapped the first. And this explains the seemingly inexplicable fact that a few refractory Samaritans were allowed to thwart the execution of the work expressly ordered by the edict of Cyrus. Until the era of the Desolations had run its course the Divine judgment which rested upon the land vetoed the rebuilding of the sacred Temple.
As the epoch of that era is recorded with absolute definiteness, so also is its close. It ended upon the 24th day of the 9th month in the second year of Darius Hystaspis of Persia. The reader will do well here to peruse the prophecy of Haggai and the first chapter of Zechariah. I will quote but a single sentence of each: "Then the angel of the Lord answered and said, 0 Lord of hosts, how long wilt Thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which Thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years?" "Consider now from this day and upward, from the four-and-twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid, consider it. . . . From This day will I bless you."
Now the Julian date of the 10th day of the 10th month in the ninth year of Zedekiah was the 15th December, B.C. 589; and that of the 24th day of the 9th month in the second year of Darius Hystaspis was the 7th December, B.C. 520. The intervening period, therefore, was exactly sixty-nine years. But sixty-nine years contain 25,200 days, the precise equivalent of seventy years of 360 days. It is clear, therefore, that, as the era of the Desolations was a Divine judgment upon Judah, the period was measured with all the accuracy of a judicial sentence.
Even if this stood alone it would be conclusive. But, further, we are expressly told that the era of the Desolations was fixed at seventy years, because of the neglect of the Sabbatic years. Therefore we might expect to find that a period of 70 X 7 years, measured back from the end of the Desolations, would bring us to the time when Israel entered into their full national privileges, and thus incurred their full responsibilities. And such, in fact, will be found to be the case. From the year after the dedication of Solomon's temple to the year before the foundation of the second temple was a period of 490 years of 360 days.
But even this is not all. No one doubts that the visions of the Revelation refer to the visions of Daniel, and for this purpose they may be read together. And there we find a part of the prophetic era sub-divided into the days of which it is composed. Half of one week of the vision is twice described as forty-two months 2 and twice as 1260 days. But 1260 days are exactly equal to forty-two months of thirty days, or three and a half years of 360 days.
To English ears the suggestion may seem fanciful that a chronological era should be reckoned thus in luni-solar years. But it was not so with those for whom the prophecy was given. Such, it is reasonably certain, was the form of year then in use both at Babylon and at Jerusalem. Such was in fact the year of the Noachian age. Tradition testifies that it was the year which Abraham knew in his Chaldean home, and which was afterwards preserved in his family. And Sir Isaac Newton avers that
"All nations, before the just length of the solar year was known, reckoned months by the course of the moon, and years by the return of winter and summer, spring and autumn; and in making calendars for their festivals, they reckoned thirty days to a lunar month, and twelve lunar months to a year, taking the nearest round numbers, whence came the division of the ecliptic into 360 degrees."
And in quoting this statement, Sir G. C. Lewis declares that
"All credible testimony and all antecedent probability lead to the result that a solar year containing twelve lunar months, determined within certain limits of error, has been generally recognised by the nations adjoining the Mediterranean from a remote antiquity."
In view of all this mass of cumulative proof, the conclusion may be regarded as raised above the sphere of controversy or doubt, that the prophetic year is not the Julian year of 365+ days, but the ancient year of 360 days.