Daniel Chapter 9
In looking at chapter nine, we will break it into two sections. Firstly we are going to spend time looking at just who God is through Daniel’s prayer and do so as a reminder of the greatness of God. Daniel speaks to God as the Holy One who keeps covenant and mentions law, sin, righteousness, compassion, forgiveness and mercy. We take a brief look at all of these areas to remind ourselves of who it is that is really in control of this world: the All-Knowing One who lives in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16). Secondly we are going to look at what could be termed ‘divine advertising.’
In scripture, many words and numbers are used as ‘divine advertising’ in that they are loaded with meaning. This may seem strange to many, yet is a practice that is in use today if we think about it. For example, a golden letter ‘M’ is all that is needed to remind people of McDonald’s and think about everything from Cheese burgers to French fries. In scripture, words and numbers carry many pictures as part of God’s divine advertising. In light of this, we will be taking a detailed look at the numbers ‘seventy’ and ‘seven’ which are used in the latter part of chapter nine. This may seem confusing and laborious at first but is done so that we see the full theological impact concerning what is being said. God is always in charge, knows all things and will bring about His purposes no matter what is going on.
Fifty years have passed by since the fall of Jerusalem and we are in the first year of the reign of Darius. Cyrus now rules from his headquarters at Ecbatana and the events of this chapter occur around one year after the last vision.
Daniel has studied scripture and is aware of the prophecy of Jeremiah 25:11-13, recognising that God had appointed 70 years for Israel’s captivity and that judgement would fall on Babylon and hostile nations. However prophecy reveals that the restoration of the land will not bring the restoration of all things due to the hand of man. Whilst there is hope, it is not to be based on man’s doing but on the grace and mercy of the Holy One. Ultimately all renewal and restoration comes from the hand of God.
God is always concerned about what is right for His people. His purpose is not to fix us as one would a toy, but to redeem and restore us. Because of this, His faithfulness will involve punishment and discipline at times. Whilst this should never be trivialised, it has to be seen in the context of the bigger picture. God’s anger is never spoken of as lasting forever (Psalm 103:9), unlike His love which does:
“For as the skies are high above the earth, so his loyal love towers over his faithful followers. As far as the eastern horizon is from the west, so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us.”
Daniel prays in Sackcloth and ashes
“So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.” Daniel 9:3
In coming to pray we have already made a conscious decision. We have chosen to act in faith and seek God before all else. The negative effects of the world may have stepped across the threshold of our lives and we may feel totally powerless and inadequate: yet we can pray. In genuinely seeking God for who He is, and recognising who He is – our Father, our friend and Lord over all, we find mountains falling and valleys being raised. In prayer, we are doing what we need to do first; we are giving God our attention and we are focusing on the very heart of life itself; we are engaging with the Holy One. In prayer, everything else becomes second as we see God in His rightful place as master of our lives. In prayer, all that shouts at us is removed as it were to a distant hill-top as our attention is centred once again on the ressurector of lives. In prayer we slow down, we rest, we re-orientate our hearts and minds and receive. In prayer, Daniel knew that He was known and knew that He was heard as he approaches God in sackcloth and ashes.
In turning to God in sackcloth and ashes, Daniel is acknowledging that the fruit of Israel amounts to nothing before God when it comes to receiving forgiveness and reconciliation. The sackcloth which should hold grain is empty.
In the New Testament, we see that those who are rooted and established in God’s word can produce a harvest of a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (Mat 13:8). This supernatural harvest (far beyond the profits of a normal harvest!) comes through intimacy with the Father and a total reliance on the leading of the Holy Spirit. Israel as a nation had chosen to build her own way and so her sacks were empty – hence Daniel is in sackcloth. Daniel also approaches God in ashes.
As we shall see later, sin speaks of the fire of our own actions which destroys that which we try to build. Therefore sackcloth and ashes speak of our inadequacy, our failure and our ruination outside of God. Despite being a high ranking politician in a pagan society, Daniel could still put on sackcloth and ashes and identify with his people in doing so, recognising the bankruptcy of all their actions. In this identification with others and willingness to stand alongside and intercede, we see the heart of a true servant.
“…and presenting my request before the Lord my God concerning his holy mountain…”
In the above verse, the ‘holy mountain’ refers to the hill on which the Temple was located in Jerusalem and as mentioned in a previous chapter, the Temple was the place where God chose to reveal His localised presence to His people. But what is holiness?
God is the Holy One
“Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." Isaiah 6:2-3
God is the Holy One who is the all-loving One, compassionate, merciful, and awesomely perfect in every way. He is the ‘separate One’ whose perfection is far superior and way beyond any concept we might have of perfection. Despite being other-worldly perfection, He seeks to reach out and touch the most rebellious and broken of lives in amazing gentleness with the offer of reconciliation and wholeness. This can be seen for example, in the way the angel responds to Isaiah’s cry of recognition that he is an unclean man before the Holy One (Isaiah 6:3-7). Ultimately God’s willingness to help man is seen in Jesus. Jesus stood in our place so that we could come home and is the One who said the following words:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
The only way we can truly rest is through forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Daniel is aware of this and prays accordingly to the Holy One.
The gift of holiness
Life is a gift and ultimately all holiness is derived. In other words holiness is always given; it is given in grace and received through faith. Therefore holiness is not about what we do first and foremost; it is about what has been done by another. It is also about whom we belong to: the One who makes us holy.
To get the point, just ask yourself this question; what was it in the objects and places that the Bible calls holy that makes them holy? The answer has to be ‘nothing’ because they are inanimate objects. What makes them holy is that they have been set apart for a purpose by God. We have been set apart to be His sons and daughters through embracing the work of God (Ex 31:31, Lev 20:8) in Christ. (2 Cor 5:17). Jesus wore our bruises and took our punishment so that we could be clothed in His riches and enter life in its fullness.
Jesus: “The man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The one with the cauliflower ear and split lip. By whose swollen eye and ruptured spleen we are somehow healed”.
F. Buechner in, ‘Telling the Truth’ p 21.
We, the sinner, the rebel, the disturber of God’s peace and the ones who get it wrong so many times, belong to God (1 Peter 2:9). We have been set apart through the work of Jesus and in belonging to God’s family, can begin to become like Him. However, this ‘becoming like Him’ is not through trying to copy Jesus in the way many do. All this leads to is failure or legalism. Becoming like Jesus speaks of relationship and therefore speaks of two things above all else. It speaks of intimacy with the Father and a reliance on the leading of the Holy Spirit.
In turning back now to look at this prayer of Daniel, we see that the distinctive name for God features in it. This name speaks of the special relationship between God and Israel at that time.
In his prayer, Daniel recognises God’s nature and character and that it is God who has kept His side of the covenant. All the breakdown of relationships between man and God have initiated from man’s side. Were man to stand before God in a court of law, he would have no hope.
On one occasion, Satan (the accuser), picks up on Israel’s seemingly hopeless situation and challenges God concerning the High Priest of Israel at that time (Zach 3). As far as Satan is concerned, a holy God cannot accept a sin-ridden rebellious people. In doing this, Satan completely fails to see that man has a representative who makes a way whereby man can find forgiveness: God.
Without compromise to His holiness, God removes the High Priest’s filthy rags and clothes him in authority and grace:
“…Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes." Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you." Then I said, "Put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.”
Satan was not aware of the full depths of God’s plan of salvation. God could offer temporary remission for sins through the blood sacrifice of a lamb, not because of any intrinsic value within itself, but because of who it pointed to: Jesus Christ. In Jesus, holiness and love meet without compromise (John 1:29). Like the returning prodigal son, we are now clothed with the best robe in the house (Luke 15:22); we are clothed in the salvation-enabling work of Christ (Gal 3:27).
Daniel is aware that God keeps His covenant of love
I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands…”
God is the one who establishes covenants, formulating them and offering them to man as a means of help and support on the road to reconciliation and restoration.
In the Bible, God’s covenants are conferred upon man, who is always the receiver. In all of God’s covenants with man, we see His love, grace, mercy and holiness towards those who deserve nothing. Therefore in the Bible, the term ‘covenant’ speaks of the deep binding relationship that God forges with His people.
The Hebrew word for covenant is ‘beriyth’ (Gen 6:18 and Hosea 6:7), which means a treaty, alliance or agreement based upon a relationship between two or more parties. Yet in order to see this word in full bloom, so to speak, we need to understand the roots from which the word covenant comes. The purpose of covenant is to bring man into fellowship and a place of safety.
“In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety.”
The word covenant comes from the ‘root’ (barah) meaning ‘to select’ and ‘barut’ meaning ‘meat.’ Therefore in covenant, we have a picture of selecting and cutting the best meat (Gen 31:44, 2 Chron 29:10, Ezek 34:25) as a covenant relationship is entered into. In God’s covenant with man, sacrificial blood was necessary because man’s life was forfeit due to sin (Lev 17:11, Eph 1:7).
In the Ancient Near East, part of the covenant ceremony involved cutting animals in half and having both parties who were making the covenant walk through the gap between the separate parts of meat. In doing so each party was effectively saying, “If I break the covenant, may what has been done to these animals be done unto me. More about this later, but what we need to remember for now is that all the covenants that God made are for our benefit.
“God is the sovereign being who initiates the covenant, who announces its conditions to people and who rewards the human recipients of the covenant with promise and blessing.”
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, p 177
In Jeremiah 33:20, we read that God has a covenant with day and night, as does Jer 33:25, which states that God “…established his covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth.” Earlier, in Jeremiah 31:35-36 we see that it is God’s decrees that regulate the sun, moon and stars, whilst Psalm 115:16 tells us that “the heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind.”
God created this world for a purpose and makes sure the world continues whilst that purpose is fulfilled. God’s purpose is to share the love that resides within the Trinity with another being, and so the world was created and given to Man. Man was created a morally upright being with the ability to reach out beyond self to the One true God who continuously desires to bless.
From this we see that God is the One who instigates communication with man. God is also the One who makes covenant and who fixes its terms and conditions. Think about it! God is the one who, in sovereign freedom, binds Himself to the covenant. Because God is a covenant keeper, and covenant is an expression of His love; He still keeps covenant when man falls into sin and becomes the rebel. This does not mean that man gets away with anything, but that God will discipline with the purpose of restoration. This does not mean that God will not, on occasion, allow us to reap what we sow as can be seen for example in the splitting of Israel into Israel and Judah shortly after the time of Solomon. In a sense, Israel and Judah became like the cut meat of the covenant: separated.
In all of this we have to remember that God has always been committed to covenant. He has always been committed to saving man and restoring all things as can be seen from Rev 13:8, Titus 1:2-3, Eph 1:4, and 2 Tim 1:8-10.
In a day and age when broken relationships are increasingly becoming the norm, we need to remember something. We need to remember that God’s covenants speak of the strongest binding agreements that are possible in this universe. Ultimately this comes about because it is the perfect Shepherd-King, Jesus Christ, who comes and keeps man’s side of covenant as our representative. God is love (1 John 4:16) and His love is not a sentimental, weak or emotional ‘up and down’ love. It is a love that knows how things should be and seeks to bring them about for the benefit of others.
The depth of relationship that God expresses through covenant, can be summed up as loving-kindness expressed in grace and mercy, with man’s response to this being seen in how man loves God and fellow man. We are called to remember what God has done and remembering is always a call to action.
“But the Lord continually shows loyal love to his faithful followers, and is faithful to their descendants, to those who keep his covenant, who are careful to obey his commands.”
In a very real sense, man was called to face God in covenant, yet was never called to stand in his own strength. This, for example, explains why Abram was put into a deep sleep (Gen 15:12-15) when the Abrahamic covenant was forged. God, represented by a blazing torch passed through death. Ultimately this looks forward across history to Jesus, the light of the world, who passed through the valley of the shadow of death.
To put it in a nutshell, our heavenly Father is the source of covenant (John 3:16, 17) and its keeper. Jesus is the high priest and sacrificial blood of the covenant and the Holy Spirit is the completer of the covenant in helping us to gain in experience what is ours in our position, as sons and daughters of God. Think of a child being adopted into a family and then learning to enjoy all that this means and we begin to get the idea.
Daniel prays to the One known as ‘God,’ ‘Lord’ and ‘LORD'
In Daniel’s prayer we see Him addressing our heavenly Father as, ‘God,’ ‘Lord,’ and ‘LORD.’ Before moving on, we explore these terms to get a clearer and deeper picture of our covenant-keeping God.
“In the beginning God (Elohiym = plural form of El) created the heavens and the earth.”
The term ‘God’ refers to the fullness of His divine power as the One who creates and sustains all things. Whilst words like ‘power’ are abstract, there are pictures behind Hebrew words such as El (God), which help engage the mind more fully and feed on what is being said. The Hebrew pictures behind the name ‘God’ (El) are the head of an Ox and a Shepherd’s staff.
As a young boy, I remember being asked by a farmer to guard the entrance to a field to prevent his bull from escaping whilst he took the cows out. The bull started walking towards me at an increasing pace. It was a large well-muscled animal and it only took me a few seconds to decide to get out of the way. I had been told that if you take hold of the ring in a bull’s nose, you can control it. But on looking at the size of the huge bull, I also decided not to test the information. It is amazing how fast you can think when trouble arises!
In an agricultural community, everyone would have seen the strength of an ox ploughing a field, and would have concrete pictures on which to base the might and strength of God. God is not an Ox, but something of His power can be understood in seeing an Ox breaking up the ground with a plough. God’s power and might can also be seen in His actions…
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you possess understanding! Who set its measurements - if you know - or who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its bases set, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang in chorus, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? "Who shut up the sea with doors when it burst forth, coming out of the womb, when I made the storm clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, when I prescribed its limits, and set in place its bolts and doors, when I said, 'To here you may come and no farther, here your proud waves will be confined'? Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, or made the dawn know its place...”
God is Spirit (John 4:24) and resides in unapproachable light (1Tim 6:16). No one has seen Him in His essential essence, yet He is known through His words, deeds, actions and imagery that conveys what He is like.
The second picture contained in the word ‘God’ (El) is that of a Shepherd’s staff. A shepherd’s staff would be used to lead sheep and deal with predators. It also had a curved handle that was wide enough to fit around the neck of a sheep allowing the shepherd to pull sheep out of danger. Therefore the staff was both a sign of authority, guidance and protection.
A shepherd in the ANE would sometimes break the leg of a prone-to-wander sheep and then bind the leg and carry the sheep until it healed. Through this bonding the sheep would then follow the shepherd and bell, and others would follow this sheep. In Jesus we have the true Lamb of God who was the willing and perfect sacrifice.
God is the awesomely strong Creator of all things. He is full of strength and power and all authority is His. He is like a shepherd who guides, teaches, strengthens and protects His sheep. In Numbers 6:24 we read, “The Lord bless you and keep you” and here the word “keep” speaks of being hedged in as one would with a flock of sheep also carrying with it the idea of watching over. Although the same word is not used in Job 1, we read that Job was protected – hedged in (Job 1:10). God’s law is given to strengthen and protect.
“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.”
God is “The God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” (Psalm 77:14). When Job was undergoing great hardship, he found comfort and help along with a challenge when God reminded Job of just who God is (Job 38:4-12): the Creator. He knows the stars by nature and composition (Ps 147:4), and the number of hairs on our head (Mt 10:30). Note also that God rejoices over one sinner that repents (Luke 15:32).
Daniel prays to God, knowing that He is the awesome Shepherd-Creator and the only One who can truly sustain life.
The Hebrew word behind ‘Lord’ is ‘Adonai’, this being a word that speaks of authority, ownership and mastery over all of life. The Hebrew pictures contained in the word Adonai include a door and a seed. The Lord is the One who is the door to life and who protects and enables us to feed and grow through all He provides. He is the Shepherd who leads us into green pastures (Ps 23:1-2 Ezk 34:11-2), and His love endures forever (Ps 136:3-4).
The first usage of Adonai (Lord) in scripture is found in Genesis 15:2. Prior to this, the LORD (Yahweh: eternal One who raises up/resurrects) had told Abraham that He was his shield (standing for king, Ps 84:9) and very great reward (Gen 15:1).
When we seriously seek the Lord with all our hearts, there is the promise of a supernatural harvest (Luke 8:8). Abraham then begins his reply to the LORD with, “O Sovereign Lord….” In doing so, He is acknowledging that God is indeed the One who provides and protects. Daniel was aware of the reasons why God’s people were in captivity, yet was also aware that God was protecting them from themselves. Whilst the enemy may hurt and destroy us, it is fallen man who ultimately destroys his or her own life through ignoring God, yet it is to Him that we belong…
The name ‘Lord’ (Adonai) speaks of the one who has authority, ownership and mastery over all life. He is the One who protects; the Shepherd who leads to green pasture (Ps 23:1-2 Ezek 34:11-2), and whose love endures forever (Ps 136:3-4).
God encountered Moses through a burning bush on a mountainside in the wilderness. A pillar of fire would later guide Israel and the glory of His presence would be seen as a fire on top of a mountain (Ex 24:17-18).
To the Hebrew mind the wilderness would come to be known as the place of hearing with the root word from which ‘wilderness’ springs (dabar) conveying the idea of speaking and order. God is the One who spoke a world into existence (Gen 1:1, John 1:1) and He would bring His people out of the hustle and bustle and oppressive ways of a pagan nation in order to impact their hearts and minds with truth.
Daniel prays to the awesome Shepherd-Creator and the only One who can truly sustain life. He knows God as ‘the Lord’, the Covenant Head who sustains His people, who bestows gifts and equips (2 Peter 1:3). He is the One who has put everything under His feet (Psalm 8), speaking of absolute mastery and the earth trembles at His presence (Psalm 114:7).
In Daniel’s prayer we see the usage of both ‘Lord’ (Adonai) and ‘LORD’ (Yahweh). The word ‘Yahweh’ is from a Hebrew root meaning “breath” (Hayah), which has the extended meaning of “to exist.” The first usage of LORD is in Genesis 2:4 and 2:7 where we read of life being breathed into man. Man rose from the dust of the ground as a living being.
From this we see that Yahweh speaks of the LORD who raises us up and therefore as the One who resurrects, even in the worst of circumstances. For example, man is raised from sin and rebellion to security and friendship with God. Even in the midst of suffering and death, God can still bring life and blessing; He is the ‘raiser-upper.’
Abel was raised up to God despite being murdered (Heb 11:4), as was Stephen when stoned to death (Acts 7:55-60). In a very real sense Noah (whose name means ‘Rest’) was raised up at the time of the flood and Moses was raised up when God met him at the burning bush (Acts 7:30-33).
Moses didn’t think of himself as anything special (Ex 3:11), yet God still said “I am with you.”(v12) Moses said, “Who shall I say you are?” God said, “Everything you need.” Moses said, “I can’t really speak” (4:10), God said, “Who gave man his mouth?”(Ex 4:11) God is the One who can breathe life into all situations, which is why Paul writes, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13).
The term, ‘LORD’ is a word that speaks of relationship and therefore of covenant. In Christ, God gives life to those who are, by nature, caught up in rebellion and death. He is the One who causes us to stand again. Let us remember to think about this – that the LORD says “Live” in all His power and glory whenever we find ourselves in difficulty. God is not some distant/absent landlord, He is a King who walks with His people by the Spirit. All we need to do is reach out to Him.
The amazing prayer of Daniel clearly reveals that despite the passage of time and the difficulties of living in a foreign land and being immersed in a foreign government, Daniel had not forgotten who he belonged to. Neither has he forgotten that the Life-breathing, resurrecting-One who has authority and mastery over all life is someone he can approach. Whilst having nothing in his hands, he was able to turn and receive from the eternal One, the true keeper of the covenant. As the Psalmist writes of God:
“He is the one who forgives all your sins, who heals all your diseases, who delivers your life from the Pit, who crowns you with his loyal love and compassion, who satisfies your life with good things, so your youth is renewed like an eagle's” Psalm 103:3-5
God’s ‘loyal love and compassion’ speaks of His covenant love. Whilst man is the breaker of relationships; God is continually the restorer and ultimate covenant-keeper as seen in the One who stands in our place: Jesus Christ.
Daniel is aware of Israel’s turning from God and ignoring of the law (Dan 9:5f)
In Daniel’s prayer we also see that he is very aware of how his people had turned from God and ignored the law. We often read about people breaking the law, yet in reality it is the law-breaker who is broken as is the case of a man who ignores the law of gravity and jumps off of a high building. Daniel was aware that Israel had damaged herself through breaking God’s law and was now reaping her harvest and the punishment for being a covenant-breaker.
For a society to function properly, there needs to be moral laws in place preventing the strong from exploiting the weak and enabling families and loved ones to grow up in a safe and secure environment. Law - when it is right, just and fair, brings freedom and gives us frameworks to live within that are uplifting for all. Where there is no law everything descends into chaos and we lose our freedom. For example, if all laws ceased at midnight tonight, look at what could happen. Anyone could steal from us, beat us up, or abuse us in any way they liked. There would be nothing to prevent this from happening, since there are no laws to call people into account and no criminal justice system to deal with wrongdoing. After all, what is right and what is wrong if there are no laws and no such thing as absolute truth? Even with laws in place we find that people suffer, so think how much worse it would be without them. Just imagine, for example, your son or daughter going for a walk in a community without any law except the so-called ‘law of the jungle.’ Would you find peace of mind in thinking of them walking around in a lawless society or would you experience fear, worry, anxiety and a sense of hopelessness and helplessness?
A lack of law and order brings bondage, not freedom, as does an excessive adherence to law as a means of controlling people or earning blessing. In the New Testament, we see that Jesus often came against those who had not ignored the law but had lost sight of the heart that gave it. Yet how do we know that the law, summed up in God’s law of love, is not just another rule put in place by man?
If we pause and think about it, we soon realise that God’s Law of Love (Mat 22:37-40) is completely beyond the power and ability of any sinner to keep. In fact, it is so contrary to human nature that we can be certain that it did not originate with man, because obedience to it requires sinless perfection. That’s like inventing a law that you know no one is going to be able to keep.
Apart from this, it is not possible for someone to have forged the Law of Love. This is because forgers (creators of false information) forge documents for the purpose of self-gain. A forger is not concerned with love, either to God or fellow man. They do things to benefit themselves, yet this law cannot benefit them because they cannot keep it. From this we see that it has to have come from God.
The Law of Love speaks of the inner motives of the heart and mind, and goes far beyond outward actions, which can be deceptive. God requires love of Him as the supreme motive behind all our actions and as the inspiration behind all our thoughts and words. Whatever is not motivated by love of God is transgression – it breaks the first and greatest commandment of His Law. Understanding this and knowing God’s demands effectively removes all claims to self-righteousness and reliance on any form of good works for salvation. All too often a person can look and act in one way, yet be thinking and scheming in another. The ‘good works’ of others can fool us all, yet God does not look at the things man looks at; He looks beyond the outer action to the heart and mind.
“You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.”
Daniel is aware that his people had not only failed to keep the law, as all do, but had also not desired to put God first and attempt to keep the heart of the Law. They, like so many, had turned the law into something it was never meant to be. In light of so many turning from the law, or making it into something it is not, we now look at the meaning of Torah – the Law of God.
The Torah speaks of the teaching of God with the word ‘Torah’ being derived from a Hebrew verb meaning, “to point with the finger or hand” or “to shoot an arrow”. From scripture and what has been said so far, we see that it speaks of a Father who is perfect in all His ways, and who desires to instruct and help us.
Picture a loving Father standing beside a child and pointing out the best way to live and we get an idea of what Torah is all about. Our Father wants us to know how to ‘hit the target’, how to get the very best out of life; how to be complete. Ultimately the Law is that which points us back to this loving Father.
God’s Law is not given to hurt us, or to curtail our freedom. It is given to show that we are not free (no-one can keep it), yet also provides those who try their best to keep the heart of the law with some freedom. If we want to see the full impact of the heart of the law upon a man, then all we need do is look at Jesus. He is the perfect embodiment of the law. In Jesus’ ministry of living out God’s law we see men and women forgiven, restored, healed, delivered and set free from condemnation (John 3:17, Rom 8:1). In short, we see life as it should be. The law reveals sin for what it should always be seen as: rebellion and destruction, yet also reveals God to be a loving God. This is because law always tells you something about the lawmaker. Yet how is this possible?
Human laws are undeniable evidence of both the existence and character of lawgivers since the types of laws they give tell us something about the lawgiver. For example, a law stating we have to buy shares in all companies owned by government ministers may well be telling us that the lawmakers are selfish, abusive and out for personal gain. Since laws tell us something about the nature of the lawmaker it stands to reason that only a God who is Love by nature could have made the Law of Love. God’s law of love summarises all His laws and clearly reveals His heart (Luke 10:27)
“The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”
The Torah reveals that God is a loving God of order and not chaos. It also reveals that man is a sinner. Daniel was fully aware of this but still aware that he could approach God in repentance and faith.
Sin and repentance
“The basic psychological problem is trying to be what we are not, and trying to carry what we cannot carry. Most of all, the basic problem is not being willing to be the creatures we are before the Creator.”
Dr F. Shaeffer, A Christian Worldview, volume 3 page 330
Sin is our failure to live as God’s son or daughter with the transgression of sin, including ignoring God as we seek to live by our own strength and resources. In existing this way, we then become a slave to our own smallness and yet paradoxically exercise a power that can destroy the very life we seek to protect and promote! Yet sin is also more than this.
Sin is also a missing of the mark - a shooting of the arrow at a target and never hitting it. The fruit of this is estrangement, it can be frustration through never being able to get the best out of life as the rebel who wants to do it their own way. Yet there is also another powerful picture behind the word sin.
In Hebrew thought, sin also spoke of ‘the fire that destroys the name’. When we realise that ‘name’ speaks of nature and character (eg Dopey the dwarf is called Dopey because he is dopey), we gain a very clear picture as to what is being said. Our sinful actions and our going it alone burns and destroys the very life we think we are preserving. No one in his or her right mind would burn a five-pound note, yet when we sin we are doing much more than this. We are burning/destroying the life we have been given.
Sin hurts; it burns and destroys our lives and damages those around us with the words we speak being a fire that destroys others (James 3:6). Sin also leaves us vulnerable and open to the spiritual forces of darkness, which is described by Paul in one place as the ‘fiery arrows’ of Satan (Eph 6:16). In sinning we become separated from God and in a sense find ourselves in the living death of our own existence.
“Death may come from greater and greater devotion to sensation (sex, violence, or drugs) or from retreat into the isolated, machine-like world of the careerist ego – cold, calculation, often fuelled by amphetamines. In either case there is an ever-tightening self-inflicted solitary confinement based on continually repressing the need for love.”
Prof P.Vitz in Psychology and Religion.
Sin is totally offensive to God and cannot be justified in any way. It is also totally destructive in its effect on man, yet there is hope.
In Isaiah’s vision of God, found in Isaiah chapter six we see a man calling out from the heart and being released at a point of confessed need. As Christians this help in purging sin, and finding power to live is ours, right now through the work of Christ. By His stripes we are healed from the brokenness of separation from God (Isaiah 53:5).
In Daniel’s prayer we see the heart of a man who was willing to confess the sin of his people and seek God. He knew that despite the power of the empires in which Israel suffered exile, the only thing that could truly separate Daniel from God was always going to be within him.
Daniel knows that God is righteous: “You are righteous, O Lord…” (9:7)
In Daniel’s prayer we also see that he addresses God as the Righteous One; the only One who can show us the right way to live.
For man, righteousness speaks about living according to God’s standard, He being the One (Prov 21:12; 1 John 2:1) who created this world (Gen 1:1) and placed us in it (Gen 1:27-8). One of the pictures contained in the word ‘righteousness’ is ‘straightness’ as in a straight path and this picture ties in with the Torah – the teaching of God which shows us the requirements of covenant relationship.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, Torah speaks of a Father’s teaching for His children – a pointing out of the right path to follow – a straight path. In His amazing grace and mercy, God’s righteousness is that which He reveals to us and permits us to share in as we turn our lives over to Him.
To state it very briefly, righteousness is about following a path of conduct that is in accordance with the requirements of a particular relationship. This relationship – this way of living – is to be with the One who wants us to know Him as a heavenly Father. He is the one who laid the earths foundation, shut the sea behind doors, gave orders to the morning and showed the dawn it’s place (Job 38:4,12). He knows the nature and composition of every atom and molecule, determines the number of stars and calls them by name (Psalm 147:4-5). Despite this amazing truth, we often treat His world as if it were ours to do with as we please, as we seek to dominate and control life around us in order to make us feel secure in an environment that has become hostile and unpredictable. We set our own goals, carve out our own path, know the truth in part and then fill in the missing pieces with our own ideas. That’s rather like having half a map and filling in the rest: it may look good, but invariably it leads nowhere. When we take only part of God’s teaching – forgetting the heart that gave it – and seek to apply it in our own strength, we end up walking in self-righteousness. Yet God has not given up on us.
God’s righteousness is seen in the perfect way in which He reaches into our world as the One who remains faithful to the covenant. His righteousness is His salvation-creating activity and in Jesus we find the Righteous One, the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2). The everlasting righteousness that Gabriel speaks of later in chapter nine is God’s righteousness.
In Daniel’s awareness of the sacrificial system that God put in place in Israel we find a man who knows that ultimately, it is only God who provides a way for man to find forgiveness and reconciliation; it is God who makes man righteous. Because of this awareness, Daniel addresses God as the Righteous One (Dan 9:7). It is not because of the righteous deeds of his nation that Daniel is praying to God, because there is none. It is because God’s compassion is abundant and because God is a forgiving God (9:19).
Daniel knows that God is merciful and forgiving (v9)
Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, pay attention, and act!”
Daniel 9:19 (NET)
The profoundly amazing truth is that forgiveness comes about through God’s generosity (John 10:28, Romans 3:23, 1 Peter 1:3-4) and is undeserved by us; it is totally unmerited in any way. Yet let us make no mistake – this forgiveness that is ours is very costly and comes about through the work of Christ alone. It is in Him that we are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).
Our forgiveness came through Jesus’ pain, His suffering, His willingness to accept vulnerability and ridicule and stand in our place in the limitation of the flesh. Jesus’ life was a life of forgiveness and in serving His Father, Jesus opened the only way whereby a person may be saved: His way.
Forgiveness carries the picture of sin being covered and the restoration of broken relationships. One of the main words for forgiveness comes from the root word ‘nasar’ which speaks of lifting up and taking away. It is interesting to see where this word is first used and it carries with it a powerful picture of what God has done for us.
‘Nasar’ is a word first used in Genesis 7:17 to speak of the waters lifting Noah’s Ark. Noah and his family were ‘covered’ (kaphar) with God’s protection and lifted from judgement. We have been brought into a different environment through being clothed in the work of Christ (Gal 3:27). We have been lifted out of separation and condemnation and brought home through the work of a heavenly King.
There are many pictures in the Bible that speak of forgiveness and release, and an interesting one is found in the day of Atonement – the Day of Covering.
As we have previously mentioned, in the Old Testament on the Day of Atonement, a goat was sacrificed as part of the sin offering (Lev 16:5). The provision of a sacrifice by God pointed to Him as being the One who we have to receive from if we are to find forgiveness. This is a generous love and all the more amazing when we remember that God is the One that man has most offended.
A goat was sacrificed as part of the sin offering on the Day of Atonement and a second goat (known as the scapegoat) was then released (Lev 16:8ff). The priest would confess the sins of Israel over this scapegoat that was then released into the wilderness, symbolising God taking away Israel’s sin. In Jesus, we see God’s sin bearer, the One who carried our debt and allows us to walk in freedom.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
Another Old Testament word relating to forgiveness is ‘Sallach.’ This word speaks of ‘sending away’ or’ letting go’ and is always used in the context of what God has done. This picture is then carried through to the N.T. (aploou and Charisoma) where we again see a setting free; a letting go. Through the work of Christ we have been lifted out of debt. We have been cleansed, renewed and are raised up and seated in heavenly realms (Eph 2:6, PS 40:2-3).
“Religion is more than an aid in the development of the merely human; its goal is to raise the human to the level of the holy.”
We have been set free in Christ and this freedom is expressed in many ways: through changing thought patterns, attitudes and the way we reach out to others.
Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”!
We have been saved by God’s generosity; we are being saved by God’s generosity and we will be saved through God’s generosity.
It is this amazing generosity and the power of the Holy Spirit that helped a man called, Robert Rule, in a situation that he never thought he would ever face. Robert Rule stood in a courtroom opposite a man who had murdered his daughter and many others. He looked at the serial killer, Gary Ridgway, and said…
“Mr Ridgway…there are people here that hate you; I am not one of them. You’ve made it difficult to live up to what I believe in and that is what God says to do and that is forgive. You are forgiven sir.”
We are the ‘forgiven ones’ through Christ. Our lives are a gift from God (Rom 6:23, I Pet 1:3-4) and we are not to live them independently from Him. In God alone we have the ability to forgive in a way that keeps no records of wrong (1 Cor 13:5). We also forgive in a way that has no thoughts of moral superiority over those forgiven because we ourselves are ‘forgiven ones’.
The basis for forgiving others is not their repentance or remorse; it is the fact that we have been forgiven and are living right now in the fruit of this forgiveness; that we did not earn and cannot maintain in our own strength (Eph 4:32). Therefore, first and foremost, forgiveness is a decision based on what has been given to us by God, and not by what has been done to us by others. As Paul writes, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13) and this includes being able to forgive others.
Daniel was able to live in a pagan nation with many who wished to ‘convert’ his thinking or seek his death without allowing it to affect his heart and mind. This came about because Daniel knew God and also understood what God required of him.
Rabbi Russell Resnik in, “Divine Reversal” points out that “one of the great contrasts between the Jewish and Christian religious outlooks is that Christians are concerned first with what you believe – whether you are sound in doctrine – and Jews are concerned with how you act – whether you’re a mensch (a real human being) in your behaviour. The Jewish Jesus doesn’t let us get away with using “Jesus died for my sins” to avoid responsibility for our behaviour. When we consider following him, we must think about changing not just our religious behaviour, but everyday behaviours, including those within our business and professional worlds.”
(Rabbi Russell Resnik, ‘Divine Reversal – The Transforming Ethics of Jesus’ page 29.)
All over the world there are amazing stories of those who have undergone great difficulty and hardship, who not only remain sane in heart and mind but are also able to reach out to others – even the enemy.
The following story is taken from the book ‘Miracle on the River Kwai’ by Ernest Gordon who was a prisoner of the Japanese in the Second World War in a camp made famous by the film ‘Bridge over the Kwai.’ The following passage is taken from a time when the Japanese were beginning to realise that they might lose the war and had started moving POWs into different camps. The event occurs during a train journey.
“...Further on, we were shunted on to a siding for a lengthy stay. We found ourselves on the same track with several car-loads of Japanese wounded. They were on their own and without medical care. No longer fit for action, they had been packed into railway trucks, which were being returned to Bangkok. Whenever one of them died en route, he was thrown off into the jungle. The ones who survived to reach Bangkok would presumably receive some form of medical treatment there. But they were given none on the way.
They were in a shocking state I have never seen men filthier. Their uniforms were encrusted with mud, blood and excrement. Their wounds were sorely inflamed and full of puss, crawling with maggots. The maggots however, in eating the putrefying flesh, probably prevented gangrene.
We could understand now why the Japanese were so cruel to their prisoners. If they didn’t care a tinker’s damn for their own, why should they care for us? The wounded men looked at us as they sat with their heads resting against the carriages waiting fatalistically for death. They were the refuse of war there was nowhere to go and no one to care for them. These were the enemy, more cowed and defeated than we had ever been.
Without a word, most of the officers in my section unbuckled their packs, took out part of their ration and a rag or two, and, with water canteens in their hands, went over to the Japanese train to help them. Our guards tried to prevent us, but we ignored them and, knelt by the side of the enemy to give them food and water, to clean and bind up their wounds, to smile and say a kind word. Grateful cries of “aragatto!” (thank you) followed us as we left”
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Forgiveness is an amazing gift to receive, yet as we are all only too aware, it is not always so easy to give. One man who found it hard to forgive is the father of Mary Karen Reid who died in the Virginia Tech shooting massacre. Yet this hurting father found hope in the Lord and received help from his daughter even though she had died. This came about through reading the last entry made in her diary on the morning of the day she would enter heaven. She wrote:
“When deep injury is done to us, we never recover until we are willing to forgive. Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
Daniel is aware of God’s compassion (Daniel 9:9; 19)
In continuing to look at Daniel’s prayer which helps us see just how well Daniel understood God, we read that Daniel is aware of God’s compassion. In all of the turmoil and struggles of the world we live in, it is important to remember that our God is a compassionate God.
The people of Israel knew God as the compassionate One who brought His people out from under the illegitimate rule of an Egyptian Pharaoh. They also knew that He was the One who sought to bring them out from the tyrannical rule of self. God is the One who does not “treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Ps 103:10). He is the compassionate One (Dan 9:18).
“So Moses chiselled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”
In scripture, the Hebrew word for compassion (racham) can be pictured as the womb that surrounds life and also as the inner chamber of water where the baby is protected in whilst in its mother’s body. ‘Racham’ is also a word associated with the deep feeling at the pit of the stomach – the desire to reach out and help others. Daniel knew that God was a compassionate God; One who felt for His people.
Compassion also speaks of the passion of the Shepherd and in Jesus we see the Shepherd of Psalm 23 reaching out to all people. In the gospels we see that Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw a crowd like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36, Mk 6:34). He was also moved with compassion when aware of the hunger in those who had followed him out to the desert place (Mt 14:14, 15:32, Mk 8:2).
In Jesus we see compassion for the leper, (Mark 1:41), the two blind men (Mat 20:34) the widow of Nain (Luke 7:13) and a man who had a demon –possessed son (Mark 9:22).
In the parable of the landowner we see the great compassion, sensitivity and a willingness of God’s rule and reign. In the landowner (depicting the kingdom of God) we see a power and authority that goes out at all times of day to help those who were struggling. In the Ancient Near East a landowner would always send his servants to do this task, therefore in this parable we see God’s compassion and willingness to become personally involved in what is essentially man’s failure and responsibility.
Other examples of compassion that are clearly seen in scripture include the master who had compassion on a servant who was unable to pay his debt (Mt 18:33) and the compassion of a Father who welcomes home a prodigal son (note Luke 15:20).
God truly is the ‘marginalised One’ who like the Samaritan in the parable of the Good Samaritan, goes to the aid of a wounded traveller at great cost to himself, both physically, financially and time-wise (Luke 10:33).
In Daniel’s prayer, we see a man speaking to the One who is the present and future hope of all people. Daniel did not rely on the sixty-plus years he had been in captivity, nor was his view of God distorted by the cataclysmic events of the nation around him as if he were too small to be noticed. Daniel knew that God is a forgiving God. God’s awareness and acceptance of Daniel (through God’s work alone) and reliance on Him is seen in Gabriel’s statement to Daniel: “you are highly esteemed” (Dan 9:23).
In verse 19 we see that Daniel wants God to act so that people could see exactly who God is. He did not want people to form their opinion of God from the failure of his people to reveal God.
The answer to Daniel’s prayer: 9: 20-27
Daniel is noticed, loved and supported in all of this and is gifted a certain amount of understanding, as are we in diligently seeking to know more of God as we walk the scriptures in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. No matter what is going on, we are supported by the One who stands with us as well as beckoning us forward into our future with Him.
Although Daniel would not have been aware of what all the events Gabriel spoke of were about, subsequent generations could see that what was prophesied came about in various forms. In this there is the underlying truth that God is aware of all things and is in ultimate control. As we go through this next section, let’s remember what we have already seen concerning God in Daniel’s prayer. God is our heavenly Father, the Shepherd and strength of the home. He is the life-breather and covenant-keeper whose grace and mercy are awesome to behold. God is the One who reaches out to us in compassion and love.
In moving into the latter part of chapter nine, we do so by looking at how the number ‘seventy’ and ‘seven’ is used in scripture since numbers are mentioned in Gabriel’s words to Daniel. In doing so we hope to capture something of the ‘weight’ behind these numbers and gain insight into their theological significance.
In looking through scripture, we see something of how the number seventy is used and viewed and in doing so we see a picture which begins in Genesis 10 where we read of what became known as the ‘table of nations’ (seventy nations). Abraham was called out of the seventy nations to be the ‘father’ (source) of the nation, Israel, who was called to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 51:4). Israel was called to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6) with the temple being a house of prayer for all the nations (Isaiah 56:7). To get the picture concerning why a light was needed (for man’s benefit and not God’s), think of it like this…
If you were going to have a large extension put on the side of your house, you would probably get at least three quotes from local builders. Imagine that in doing so, you were presented with three completely different ways of getting the job done. Due to this you would look at a previous extension done by each of the firms. In doing so, you only find one builder who’d followed regulations and the extensions built by the other builders already had hairline cracks and damp problems. All builders had said they could do your extension, but the fruit of their labours revealed the one who you would believe. In working with Israel, God was going to reveal His way of salvation, yet ultimately Israel would also fail. However, there was still hope because throughout Israel’s history, God spoke of a Messiah who would come and stand in man’s place.
God chose Abram out of the seventy nations and later we read of seventy of his offspring (Jacobs family), going down into Egypt (Gen 46:27). In this we see that Israel has a calling (to come out of) in order to be a light. Yet in Jacob and his family (seventy) going down into Egypt, we see that the ‘called ones’ also need to receive sustenance and forgiveness. Jacob’s sons had sought to kill their younger brother, Joseph, and finally sold him into slavery. Yet Joseph remained true to God and ended up second in command in the most powerful nation on earth. Eventually Jacob’s sons had to go to Egypt to find food. Food was only available because God had worked through Joseph to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and Pharaoh listened. Joseph’s brothers had not sought God and so sin reigned in their lives. Now, in Egypt they were able to receive great blessing from the very one they had sought to kill and sent into slavery: Joseph. Joseph’s brothers and their families find sustenance (food in a time of famine) and, in the case of the brothers, forgiveness from the very one they had wanted dead.
The people called to be a light (Abram was a called out of the seventy nations) needed blessing and forgiveness (the brothers had wanted to kill Joseph and sold him into slavery) yet the seventy family members (brothers and wives etc) find grace and mercy in an unexpected place through a ‘resurrected’ brother. Before continuing we can note certain similarities between Joseph and Jesus.
Joseph was a shepherd and Jesus is the Great Shepherd. Joseph was hated by his brothers and Jesus was hated by those He came to save. Joseph was sent out to his brothers by his father and was sold into slavery by those who should have protected him. Jesus was sent out by His father and was sold for the price of a slave: thirty pieces of silver. Joseph was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and Jesus was falsely accused by many Sadducees, Pharisees and people from the ruling classes. Through Joseph’s public ministry that began at the age of thirty (Gen 41:46), Israel (brought out from amongst the nations) would become a light to the Gentiles. This would not have happened if Joseph’s brothers had remained in their sin. They were brought to Egypt (seventy members of their family in all) and found forgiveness and reconciliation. A later generation was able to leave Egypt through the work of God alone.
From all of this, we see that Israel’s origins and calling are framed by two lists of seventy. Israel came out of the table of nations in the ancient world (Gen 10) and Jacob and his descendants numbered seventy after their arrival in Egypt (Deut 10:22) and reconciliation with Joseph (Gen 46:26-27).
“Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.”
On leaving Egypt under the guidance of Moses and Aaron, the nation was then represented by seventy elders who on one occasion accompanied Moses to eat and drink before the Lord …
“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.”
Eating together in the Ancient Near East was a sign of friendship and acceptance and the eating and drinking before the Lord was a meal that signified the blessing of the covenant.
In this table-fellowship we have a foretaste of the things that are to come (Rev 19:6) and the meal was a clear demonstration that God is the One who blesses and refreshes us along the way. God is the One who sets a table in the wilderness (Psalm 78:19) where the ‘bread of angels’ was eaten (Ps 78:25) and is the One who lets us eat even in the presence of our enemies (Ps 23:5) as is seen in the Passover meal being eaten in a hostile nation (Egypt) before the Exodus. For us, as Christians, eating around the Lord’s Table is a reminder and a proclamation that we, who were once His enemies, have now been totally accepted through His Son.
Continuing to look at how the number seventy is used, we read that seventy elders were appointed to bear the burden of government with Moses
“The Lord said to Moses: "Bring me seventy of Israel's elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Make them come to the Tent of Meeting that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.”
Moving into the New Testament, we find Jesus choosing twelve disciples as representative of the twelve tribes of Israel. The larger group that He sent out (seventy-two (Luke 10:1)) represented the seventy (sometimes seventy-two nations of Jewish tradition).
In the sending out of these disciples, we see a picture of a Messiah-empowered, Spirit-filled people and a prophetic picture of a restored Israel. Therefore the number seventy can speak of both origins and blessing. It speaks of a calling to be a light to the whole world and yet there is more than this because the number seventy is also linked with judgement.
For example in 1 Samuel 6:19 we read of the seventy men of Beth Shemesh being struck down for looking into the Ark of the Lord and then in 2 Samuel 24:15 we read of 70,000 men (multiple judgement) being struck down from Dan to Beersheba as a result of David’s census of fighting men. Then there is the seventy years of exile that Daniel picks up on (Daniel 9:2) which was prophesied by Jeremiah:
“This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years.”
From what we have been saying so far, we see that seventy can speak of origins, blessing and judgement and from all we have been looking at, we see how this number carries great meaning to those prepared to think about it. At the risk of being pedantic, it speaks of reaching out to the world and of the blessing God desires to impart. It also speaks of judgement, can speak of a certain time scale and carries theological significance. Ultimately, it reminds us that God is aware of all things and that all time is in His hands.
Through the book of Daniel, we are reminded yet again of God’s calling, His blessing and His judgment. We are reminded that we are part of a plan and purpose that began before the dawn of time and will continue beyond this life as dusk settles and all evil is removed. The reason we are a part of this plan is because, in God’s great provision in Christ, we are the forgiven ones. Before continuing any further we now look at how the numbers seventy and seven are used by Jesus to speak of our need to forgive.
On one occasion, Peter, asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his brothers and asks if it should be seven times. In His reply Jesus said, “I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt 18:2:2) and these words would not have been lost on anyone who knew the scriptures. In looking at why Jesus uses this number, we see the difference between fallen man and a forgiving God. To see this contrast we need to go back to
In looking back to Genesis 4:24, we read of Lamech boasting about killing a man, this far exceeding the punishment due to the crime (“If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times"). Jesus picks up on this, showing that the forgiveness we offer is to be continual and a forgiveness that far exceeds what is really deserved. Another point of interest is that Jesus is the seventy-seventh generation from God in the legal lineage of His foster-father Joseph (Luke 3). Therefore, in Genesis we see a man boasting and stating that he should be avenged seventy-seven times whilst in Jesus we see God’s answer to man’s sin – the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation. We must remember that the place of forgiveness (atonement) is also the place of judgement (death of the sin-offering). In Jesus, we have a King who wore our bruises and paid the price for our rebellion.
Having started to look at how the number seventy can be used, let’s turn to the words Gabriel gave in response to Daniel’s prayer. They are, in part, prophetic and what we need to recognise here is that prophecy can be fulfilled completely and at once or over a period of time and therefore in more than one point in history. Note, for example, the prophecies concerning Tyre which were fulfilled over a number of generations.
In our reading in Daniel, seventy sevens speak of the perfect judgement of God. There were to be seventy years in captivity and seven-fold chastisement. We pick this ‘ingredient’ up from Leviticus 26:28 where we read…
“…I will be hostile towards you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over…”
Although we could be accused of labouring the point, we now need to speak about ‘seventy’ yet again.
The usage of seventy to speak of blessing and judgement is known as chronograpy. Chronography is a description or record of history in measurements, which does not necessarily mean that the measurements can be tied down (re time) to exact dates but sometimes to the season instead.
For example, Jesus speaks of wars and rumours of wars which point to a season (Mt 24:6-18) and of nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom. However people are to see these things with their spiritual eyes. Evil will not triumph and therefore the trials and tribulations of the world are not death throes. Though the earth has been subjected to decay, through God’s intervention it is going through birth pangs (Rom 8:22).
The Christian community was aware of Jesus’s words of warning (war, famine and disaster) and many fled to the mountains in the events preceding 70 AD. They did not know the exact time, but were aware of the season they were in. More about this later.
From what we have been looking at so far, we see that the mention of seventy and sevens provides a theological overview as to what is going on and why. Remember that seventy can speak of origins and of blessing and judgement. We will take a closer look at ‘seven’ in a moment but for now let’s turn to judgement.
All judgement is part of God’s ultimate purpose of redemption in seeking to bring the whole created order back into harmony. If we look at individual cases of judgement, we can lose sight of this. Judgement is part of a much bigger picture which is all about the redemption of man. Ultimately the greatest judgement fell on the most innocent man: Jesus Christ - it is through Him that we come out from judgement and into blessing.
At the risk of being repetitive, in Daniel 9:24 we see that the main purpose of judgement is to end rebellion, bring sin to completion, make atonement for iniquity and bring in perpetual righteousness. This is ultimately going to happen in God’s intervention through His One and only Son (John 3:16-17) and will be fulfilled at the end when God calls time on this world as it now stands.
The ‘seventy weeks’ are declared from heaven, pointing out that it is God who has decreed that the events were to be allowed to come about in this way: it is the length of time that God has set. In seeing this, it is also important for us to note yet another point concerning the numbers seven and seventy! We have already noted that ‘seventy’ can be linked in with origins of calling, light, forgiveness and judgement reminding us that everything is ultimately in God’s hands. We now look to the number seven and blessing.
In Israel, a period of seven years was known as a sabbatical year cycle. In this year, the land was allowed to rest with no crops being planted. Therefore the Sabbath year was also a period of rest for the people and livestock. In this cessation of activity and focus on the Lord there was the recognition that the earth belonged to the Lord and is not man’s to do with as he pleases. There was also the recognition that God alone is man’s true provider.
In Israel, after seven sevens (the Sabbatical year cycle) came the Year of Jubilee when all slaves would be set free and land was returned to its proper owner (see Lev 25). God is aware of man’s failings and does not endorse exploitation. Instead God seeks to build on the blessing that He provides and this is why we have restoration and rest in both sabbatical and jubilee years.
Theologically, the number seven and seventy also represent a full measure of time. God’s blessing ultimately prevails despite man’s failure and rebellion. The sealing up of these time periods (which will be viewed from an earthly perspective and a heavenly perspective) speaks of authentication. Both Jeremiah and Daniel’s visions will be seen as true when the period of time passes. Now let’s move from our understanding of the ‘ingredients ‘in ‘seventy’ and ‘seven’ to focus on historical events.
From verse 25, the prophecy takes on a different form with issue of the decree to restore Jerusalem. The catalyst for this event would have been the decree of Cyrus.
Cyrus issued a royal decree stating that the Jerusalem Temple could be rebuilt. Those involved in the building work and the Temple itself would therefore be protected by Cyrus. The edict was only for the rebuilding of the Temple and when Israel’s enemies saw other building work going on they complained. The result of this was that the initial building programme was brought to a halt for a season.
The seventy weeks that are spoken of did not begin at the sanctioning of the Temple. Instead, it began when the commandment was given to restore and rebuild Jerusalem - as mentioned in Daniel 9:24-26. As already stated, this decree to rebuild Jerusalem occurred circa eighty-two years after Cyrus’ decree concerning the Temple. In the intervening time between Cyrus’ decree and that of rebuilding Jerusalem, many exiles would have lived among the ruins and a few restored homes as depicted in Nehemiah 1:3.
So to put it in a nutshell, Cyrus was the catalyst to getting Jerusalem and the Temple rebuilt. He had only sanctioned the temple and when people started building the walls as well, there were complaints from surrounding nations. This halted the programme for a period of time during which returnees lived amongst the ruins (Neh 1:3). At the end of this period, the decree to rebuild Jerusalem was issued (mentioned in Dan 9:224-26) and sanctioned by Artaxerxes Longimanus.
As already mentioned, the initial decree (the catalyst) came from God through Cyrus and was issued circa 538-7BC. We know this from words recorded in Ezra 1:1-2 where we read:
“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: "'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah...”
From the issue of this decree (through Cyrus) through the rebuilding of Jerusalem and to when an anointed One comes, there were going to be seven sevens and sixty-two sevens. Before moving on, let’s note another point - this time referring to groups of sevens.
Cycles of time
Groups of sevens are known as Heptads, with a heptad being a repeating cycle of seven. Therefore the use of sevens can be used to refer to days, weeks or even years.
In our reading, the Hebrew word for ‘weeks’ in Daniel 9:24-26 is in the masculine form. The normal feminine form refers to single weeks whereas the more unusual masculine form refers to multiples weeks and also years (heptads). We also see that in Daniel’s vision, we have the weeks being divided into three parts: seven (equalling forty-nine years), sixty-two (434 years) and the mention of seven again (9:27).
As already mentioned, in all likelihood the first seven sevens would have started with the decree of Cyrus and referred to the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem as is mentioned in Ezra and Nehemiah. These were distressful times with both external and internal struggles, yet the purpose of rebuilding was to restore Jerusalem and the Temple. The time between the restored Jerusalem (mentioned in Ezra and Nehemiah) and the cutting off of the anointed one is spoken of as being 62 sevens (434 years).
During this period (62 sevens/434 years) there were serious attacks on the sacrificial system, such as that made by Antiochus Epiphanes. Yet although cataclysmic events were going to come about as men wrestled for power, nothing was unknown to God and the journey of destruction would not stop ultimate blessing from arriving through His grace and mercy.
In Daniel 9:25, we read of an anointed one (the noun is indefinite) rather than the Anointed One. All anointing (set apart and empowered) ultimately points to the Anointed One (Acts 4:26). In this sense, an anointed one points forward to the Anointed One as indeed a lamb that was slain pointed to the sacrificial death of Christ (John 1:29) and the Sabbath is as shadow of ultimate rest in Christ as Paul states in Colossians 2:17. If at this point you are still having problems in thinking of an anointed one (empowered one), note that Cyrus is called an anointed one (Isaiah 45:1) as are God’s people in Habakkuk 3:13. Again, all anointing from God ultimately points to His strength and provision and so to Jesus Christ as The Anointed One.
In our reading, the most likely initial candidate for ‘an anointed one’ is, Onias 3rd, who was the High Priest murdered by Antiochus Epiphanes (who became Emperor in 175BC) circa 171BC. This brought about a seven-year persecution of Jerusalem which steadily increased and included the desecration of the temple and imposition of a false sacrificial system circa 167BC.
In relating to these events we read (9:27) that the sacrifice (the killing of animals) and offering (relating to grain, wine and oil) was brought to an end. This occurred when Antiochus Epiphanes decreed that the Jews were to stop sacrificing in the temple. We have covered some of this ground before, yet before moving on let’s fill in a little more detail concerning this particular Antiochus.
Antiochus was a Greek King in the Seleucid Empire, originally founded by Seleucus Nicator following the division of the empire created by Alexander the Great; Antiochus worshiped Baal Shamem (also known as Zeus), Lord of heaven. On being turned back by the Roman Commander, Popilius Laenas, he took out his frustration on Jerusalem. Antiochus sent his general, Apollonius, along with 20,000 troops to destroy the temple and sacrifice a pig to his preferred deity. This idol became known as a type of the future abomination (Mt 24:14). This continued for circa 3.5 years after which people joined Joseph Maccabees who eventually restored worship in the temple. Yet the work of man can never achieve the purposes of God.
Now let’s move to looking at God’s overarching plan. In doing so we see a typological relationship between false Messiahs’ and worship and the One true Messiah.
In the arena of the world, we have seen man entering the Temple by force and seeking to control. We also see religious man (Joseph Maccabees) restoring the sacrificial system and temple worship (thus removing the abomination that Antiochus had placed there). We also need to recognise that God can come against the way religious man seeks to live out God’s law in man’s strength. What I mean by this is that ultimately the problem in the Temple was always going to be man. Man ignores Gods’ word, seeks to replace God’s word with himself or believes he can fulfil the law in his own righteousness.
By the time of Jesus, the temple was, in some respects, little more than a man-empowered symbol. The temple courts were used by money-lenders for personal gain and the temple was in no ways a house of prayer for all the nations. In the death of Jesus, the veil of the temple was torn in two as the temple became totally defunct. Believers in Christ are now spoken of as a spiritual house of living stones (1 Peter 2:9); those indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16). Let’s now do a brief recap of events.
A brief recap of events
In the first period of forty-nine years (seven sevens), we have the rebuilding of the temple by Ezra and Nehemiah with the installation of the priesthood. The temple is again going to be destroyed and rebuilt. We see this in the time of Antiochus and Joseph Maccabees. An anointed one was killed (Onias the High Priest at the time) yet at a later stage the Messiah, the Anointed One, is going to stand in Jerusalem. He stands as both the great High Priest (Heb 4:14) and the sacrificial offering (Rom 8:3) after which would come the final destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. After the crucifixion (cut off), the people of the ruler come and destroy the city and the sanctuary. This destruction came at the hand of the Romans under Titus in AD 70 at the decree of his father, the Emperor Vespasian. Let’s now take a closer look at events leading up to this.
In 66AD, many Jews in Judea had revolted against the Roman Empire; Nero appointed Vespasian to deal with the rebellion and he promptly marched out with the fifth and tenth legions. Titus (his eldest son) then joined him with the fifteenth legion and 60,000 soldiers marched towards Jerusalem.
Back in Rome, Nero commits suicide and the senate seeks to appoint a new emperor. The year which then followed Nero’s death became known as a year of civil war and the ‘year of the Four Emperors.’ Eventually the Roman armies in Judea take matters into their hands and declare Vespasian emperor in July 69. Titus is then left to deal with the Jewish rebellion.
An incredible contrast
In what we have been looking at we see an incredible contrast. Taking a panoramic view of events we see, on one side, the power of man removing and controlling the sacrificial system (Antiochus Epiphanes) and also the son of the all-powerful Roman Emperor wreaking havoc and destruction. On the other side we have the Creator, the One to whom all power belongs. He sends His Son who willingly comes in the weakness of the flesh to stand in our place so that we could find forgiveness and reconciliation.
From a heavenly point of view, the old covenant sacrificial system has been put away for ever through the grace, mercy and righteousness of God: Jesus Christ has stood and stands in our place.
Prior to the desecration of Jerusalem by Titus, Antiochus Epiphanes 4th had dedicated the Temple to Zeus and in 40 AD the Emperor Caligula ordered a golden statue of himself as Zeus incarnate to be placed in the Temple. This never came about due to his assassination in 41AD. When General Titus sacked Jerusalem, he set up the worship of Roman Standards (70AD) and centuries later we have the building of the Dome of the Rock under Umayyad Caliph Abal-aMalik ibn Marwan in 691AD. From an earthly point of view there is no real temple, yet from the Kingdom of God there is, for Paul says to ordinary everyday people who have accepted the gift of life in Jesus, “you are the temple of the Holy Spirit.”
“Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?”
1 Corinthians 3:16
Throughout the events spoken of in this chapter, we have prophetic utterances which are fulfilled at various times and through various ways in history, chronologically and theologically. In all of this we see the ups and downs and ins and outs of life yet realise, yet again, that ultimately, God is in control. However, when it comes to suffering and hardship there are many who seem to think that God is not present. But why does suffering continue?
Why suffering continues?
I wonder if we realise that pain and suffering continues because of at least three reasons. Firstly, it continues because of man’s inhumanity to fellow man. Secondly, our world has been allowed to continue by God despite the fact that within the world there is very little difference between what we would call good and bad people. For example, David was by nature, no different from King Ahab. Both men coveted and ended up as murderers (2 Sam 11:1-17, 1 Kings 21:7-16). The truth is that, In the vast majority of cases, the only difference between a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ person is the amount of social restraint that is upon them. For example, in Saudi Arabia there are strong laws against drinking alcohol and the country is seen as teetotal. Yet this does not mean the people in Saudi are better than others. The fact that it is only social restraint that holds them back is seen in how many of them immediately pick up alcohol when the plane they are flying in leaves Saudi airspace.
We are all, whether good or bad by worldly standards, in need of salvation and God allows this world to continue at present so that as many as possible can come to Him. Therefore, in this way, suffering continues because God is gracious and merciful. This leads us on to our third point.
Thirdly our world continues because God is about His work of redemption. This can be clearly seen in the many testimonies of men and women who have come to Christ from all manner of backgrounds, including false belief systems. Take, for example, the story of Mitsuo Fuchida:
Mitsuo Fuchida was the chief pilot in the Japanese Air Force who led the assault on Pearl Harbour; his bomber was first over the target and last to leave. On 5th August 1945, Mitsuo was at a conference in Hiroshima the day before the first atom bomb was dropped by the Americans, but unexpectedly found he had to leave that evening at 5pm. After the explosion, he went back and looked through the ruins as part of the investigating team. None of them knew about radiation poisoning at that time and almost all of the 70-man team died whilst Mitsuo remained in good health. At that time he thought someone out there must be protecting him.
After the war Mitsuo became bitter and disillusioned and began drinking heavily. It was during this time that he wrote a booklet called ‘No More Pearl Harbour.’ In it, he said that he began to realise that the mess in the world was due to human nature. He also wondered what could change people.
It was during this time that Mitsuo also spoke to Japanese prisoners who were returning home from the United States and he asked some of his returning friends how they were treated. To his surprise, several of his friends told him about a young woman named Peggy Covell who had come to visit and help them whilst they were imprisoned. They had asked her why she was so kind to them and in reply she told them that the Japanese had killed her Christian missionary parents and she knew they would have forgiven the killers. Because of this she was helping them: because of Jesus.
A few years later in 1948, Mitsuo was given a tract about an American prisoner of war who had forgiven the Japanese for their cruelty to him. As a result of this, he purchased a New Testament and read Luke’s Gospel and in the story of the crucifixion, came to Jesus’ prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). He later wrote: “I was impressed that I was one of those for whom Christ had prayed those words. The many men I had killed had been slaughtered in the name of patriotism, because I did not understand the love that Christ wishes to implant within every heart. Right at the moment I read that prayer, I seemed to meet Jesus for the first time. I understood the meaning of his death as a substitute for my wickedness and so, in prayer I requested him to forgive my sins and change me from a bitter disillusioned ex-pilot into a well-balanced Christian with purpose in living.”
Within a few years, Mitsuo was making regular trips back to Pearl Harbour and preaching the gospel, yet found many who did not want to forgive. However one year in Florida, one of America’s top airmen in the war came to listen to him. He was not interested in church but was interested in what a fellow pilot who had been an enemy of his country had to say. After the meeting he put his faith in Christ and later wrote: “All the thrills of flying do not compare with the joy of knowing the Creator of the skies as Saviour and Lord.” (Taken from ‘War and Grace’, p 122f).
In all the suffering and pain that our world goes through, God is still reaching out to man, often one by one, whether this be a wayward Adam and Eve, an exile in Babylon or a struggling Peter who had, on one occasion denied knowing Jesus.
God communicated with Daniel and revealed part of his plan, as He has done to many who go through difficulty yet who still accept that God is in control despite their struggles.
Today, the One who will one day call time on this world continues to reach out to those who (from a worldly perspective) are sometimes the most unlikely of converts. Take, for example, the story of Steven Wells.
Steven Wells is a surgeon who grew up as a Black Muslim practicing a form of Islam that mixes Black Nationalism with hatred of white people. As a teenager he started playing basketball with a boy who always talked about Jesus – the Jesus who was Saviour and also God. Steven started to gather more information about Jesus and started perceiving that Jesus actually worked in people’s lives. He wrote…
“The Jesus I came to know was human and closer to me. He came to earth to seek me, to show me compassion, to show me God’s love. That view of God was foreign to me because the Muslim god is far away. He has no real contact with you on a personal level. But I began to see that Jesus is the one who comes down and touches you, he talks to you, and he’s precious to you. He feels what you’re feeling and is touched by your infirmities. And that was what drew me and caught me and won my heart.”
He’s Been Faithful’ page 130.Editor: Carol Cymbala.
As we said at the beginning of our study on this section, Daniel is noticed, loved and supported in all that he goes through. He is given (gifted) a certain amount of understanding, as are we all to a certain degree when we diligently seek to know more of God as we walk the scriptures in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. No matter what is going on we are supported by the One who stands with us as well as beckoning us forward into our future with Him.
Although Daniel would not have been aware of what all the events Gabriel spoke of were about, subsequent generations could see that what was prophesied coming about in various forms. In this there was the awareness that God is aware of all things and is in ultimate control.