We fast forward a few years again in Daniel 9, which occurs during the first year of King Darius’ reign, the king who overthrew Belshazzar at the end of chapter 5. Perhaps it was the downfall of Babylon that triggered in Daniel’s memory the words from the book of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah had predicted in Jeremiah 25:8–14 that Babylon would conquer Judah, then, after seventy years, Babylon itself would fall. And now, Daniel has seen this come true! Babylon had begun its conquest over Judah in the year 605 BC, and the Medio-Persian Empire overthrew Babylon around 539 BC. Judah’s terrible oppression at the hands of their enemies lasted just about seventy years.
But this reference is about more than God’s predictions coming true. It’s also about his promises coming true. With the defeat of Judah’s enemy, Daniel also recognizes why it was that Judah was exiled in the first place. For hundreds of years, the people had rebelled against God, broken his commandments, and ignored the prophets’ warnings about coming punishment. The only way God’s people can be restored is if they repent. And on the eve of God ending this exile and restoring his people again, that’s just what Daniel does. Daniel’s prayer is a model of confessing sin and repenting of it. Notice verse 3: Daniel is fasting and covering himself with sackcloth and ashes. He’s in mourning. He knows his and his people’s helplessness. Out of a godly sorrow, he begs for God’s mercy to forgive the people of their sins. He also begs for God to show them the steadfast love that he had promised his people in his covenant. Throughout this prayer, Daniel states that God was in the right to punish his people, but he also remembers that God had promised to love his people and never forsake them. How can a sinful people who deserve punishment find favor with God again? Only by God himself giving them the insight by his truth to cause them to turn from their iniquities (v. 13).
One good practice for all of us is to take the prayers of God’s people in the Bible and turn them into prayers we can use for ourselves. If each of us prayed Daniel 9 every day, think how God would use that to weed out the sin in your life and to draw you closer to him. Think of what kind of revival would sweep through Tyrone if we longed to be forgiven and rid of our sin the way Daniel does.
“Lord, you are the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments. I have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. I have not listened to the warnings in your Word. I am filled with shame at how I’ve turned away from you. You have every right to pour out your punishment on me. But, O Lord, according to your great mercy, turn away your anger and wrath. Make your face to shine upon me again. O Lord, give me insight from the truth in your Word and cause me to confess and repent of my sin. Exchange my sin for the righteousness Christ earned for me. May the new life I have in him govern everything I do, and may I never go back to my sin again. O Lord, hear me; O Lord, forgive me. Amen.”
No sooner than Daniel starts his prayer than an angel is sent out from God’s presence to give Daniel a word of mercy as well as a word of understanding about a vision concerning a period of seventy weeks. This vision of seventy weeks is different than the seventy years of captivity that Judah went through. And unlike the previous two visions, we don’t get an explicit interpretation of this vision. As you can imagine, there are many attempts at interpreting these seventy weeks. I’ll share the interpretation I find most compelling.
These seventy weeks describe the period between Judah’s return from exile in 538 BC until Jesus’ death and resurrection around 33 AD. The most helpful piece of information I find in these verses is in verse 24 when Gabriel explains that the purpose of the seventy weeks is “to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness…and to anoint a most holy one.” Something big and something final is going to happen near the end of these seventy weeks! And who is the most holy anointed one? Who brings in everlasting righteousness? None other than Jesus Christ. Verse 26a describes Jesus’ death on the cross, and verses 26b–27 describe, in some way, the rest of time until Christ comes. You can see how similar Daniel is to Revelation, as Pastor Lawrence mentioned a couple days ago.
Whatever interpretation you have of these seventy weeks, though, the number seven is clearly very important here. Seven is God’s number of perfection. So whether you believe the “sevens” should be interpreted literally or metaphorically, it’s clear that this period of time is a perfectly-appointed period of time by God himself. Behind all the events that happen in human history on this earth, God has perfectly planned it all out. All the more reason for his people to trust him and to endure and not to lose heart.