Response to “Cyrus’ or Artaxerxes’ Decree? Issues in Dating the 70-Week Prophecy”
by Roy Gane | March 6, 2020 |
An October 2019 article in Adventist Today by André Reis raises some objections to the Seventh-day Adventist interpretation of Daniel 9:25, which specifies the event that commences the “seventy weeks” prophesied in verses 24-27. Seventh-day Adventists view the “seventy weeks” as the first segment (70 x 7 = 490 years) that is “cut off” (verse 24) from the “2,300 evening(s) morning(s)” of Daniel 8:14. Therefore, if Adventists are wrong about the beginning point of the “seventy weeks,” we are wrong both in seeing this prophecy as an accurate prediction of the time when Christ would come and also about the termination of the “2,300 evening(s) morning(s)” (= 2,300 years) in A.D. 1844.
Reis’s arguments that the Persian decree of Cyrus, rather than the later decree of Artaxerxes I that went into effect in 457 B.C., began the “seventy weeks” are not supported by the evidence, as shown by the following responses to points that he has made:
1. Who decreed that Jerusalem should be rebuilt according to Isaiah 44:28?
With Reis, several English translations indicate that it is Cyrus who says of Jerusalem that it shall be (re)built. However, these renderings do not accurately reflect the Hebrew discourse, according to which it is God who says these words, following a string of participles with him as the subject in verses 24-28. Verse 28 begins with another participle: “who says.” The Lord is still speaking, this time of Cyrus. The second half of the verse begins, “and [Hebrew conjunction waw] saying [infinitive] concerning Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built…’” This simply extends the saying action expressed by the participle at the beginning of the verse, where it is the Lord who speaks. It is God who says of Jerusalem, “She shall be built.”
Isaiah 44:28 does not predict a decree of Cyrus to restore and rebuild Jerusalem in fulfillment of Daniel 9:25. Cyrus did play an important role in God’s plan, as Isaiah 45:13 prophesied without mentioning a decree by Cyrus. The process of building began with Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4; 6:3-5), continued with Darius I (6:6-12), and culminated with the decree of Artaxerxes, as indicated by Ezra 6:14.
2. Is the dabar, “word,” in Daniel 9:23 the same as the dabar, “word,” in verse 25?
Reis argues that the “word”/decree of Cyrus had already gone out and therefore fulfilled the prediction of Daniel 9:25:
Gabriel comes and explains that God heard Daniel’s prayer and that a “dabar” (9:23), lit. “word” had gone out. He is then told to consider this “dabar,” which is again repeated in 9:25: “Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word [dabar] went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem…” which indicates this ‘dabar’ is probably one and the same.
However, simple discourse analysis shows that in verse 23, the “word” that went out is the message in verses 24-27 that Gabriel brought to Daniel in the first year of Darius the Mede (verse 1, not yet Cyrus in Babylon; see 6:28 [Hebrew verse 29]; 10:1) and told him to consider. Included within this overall message is the future “going out” (noun motsa’; not a past tense verb for “went out”) of another “word”: the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (verse 25).
3. What does “to restore and build Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:25) mean?
As a modern reader of an English translation, Reis assumes that restoration of a city refers to rebuilding houses and other buildings, which was begun at Jerusalem under Cyrus. However, the verb translated “restore” is the Hiphil (causative) of shub. When this verb takes a city as its direct object, as in Daniel 9:25, it refers to restoration of its ownership to a political entity that previously possessed it (1 Kgs 20:34; 2 Kgs 14:22).
It was the decree of Artaxerxes I (Ezra 7:11-26) in the seventh year of this king’s reign (verses 7-8; 458-457 B.C.) that returned the ownership of Jerusalem back to the Jews by giving them autonomous (within the Persian empire) civil control of the city so that they could govern it by their own laws and with their own judicial system (verses 25-26; see Roy Gane, Who’s Afraid of the Judgment? The Good News About Christ’s Work in the Heavenly Sanctuary [Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2006], 73-74; see also 59-86 and https://spectrummagazine.org/2020/contamination-purification regarding the beginning of God’s pre-Advent judgment in 1844 and answers to objections regarding this interpretation, including misidentification of the “little horn” as Antiochus IV Epiphanes). By restoring Jerusalem to Jewish control, Artaxerxes implicitly gave them permission to rebuild the walls of the city in order to make it a real city (Ezra 4:12), rather than just a settlement.
4. Messiah (“Anointed One”) to come after 7 weeks or 69 weeks?
As elucidated by modern Bible translations, Daniel 9:25, in fact, does not reveal that “the Messiah, the Prince”, i.e., “Jesus,” comes after 69 weeks but rather after 7 weeks…NRSV: “from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time”…
The issue here is interpretation of the Masoretic punctuation, in particular the athnakh, which represents a primary pause or verse division. A literal translation of the Hebrew of Daniel 9:25 reads as follows without any interpretive English punctuation (my translation, with supplied words necessary for English in brackets):
…from the going out of a word to restore and to build Jerusalem until an anointed one a leader [there will be] seven weeks (athnakh) and sixty-two weeks it will be restored and built [with] square and moat but in distress of the times (i.e., distressful times).
The Hebrew words for “and sixty-two weeks” immediately follow the words for “seven weeks.” These two sequential time periods follow the words “from…until…,” which call for an indication of time that terminates at the coming of “an anointed one, a leader.” This correlates with verse 26, where “an/the anointed one” is “cut off” after the 62 weeks, not after the seven weeks.
The fact that mashiakh, “an anointed one,” lacks the definite article (“the”) in verse 26 does not at all prove that this must be a different “anointed one” than in verse 25. Zdravko Stefanovic points out regarding mashiakh nagid, “an anointed one, a leader,” in verse 25: “Neither of these two nouns has the definite article, but they may still be considered as definite because the passage is poetic and most of the nouns in verses 24-27 are indefinite” (Daniel: Wisdom to the Wise: Commentary on the Book of Daniel [Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2007], 355; see also Paul Joüon, S.J. and T. Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew [Rome: Editrice Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 2006], 11 [§3d]).
Continuing in verse 26, the words, “it will be restored and built [with] square and moat…” describe the state of Jerusalem during at least part of the time between “the going out of a word to restore and to build Jerusalem” and “an anointed one.” According to the Masoretic punctuation, this state of the city would be during the second segment— the “sixty-two weeks.” This does not mean that “an anointed one” would come after the “seven weeks,” but that the time until “an anointed one” would be seven weeks, plus sixty-two weeks during which Jerusalem would be in a state of having been restored and (re)built with square and moat, but in a difficult time.
5. Who “shall make a strong covenant with many for one week…” (Daniel 9:27)?
Then we read in v. 27: “He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator” (Dan 9:27). The initial pronoun “he” refers to the coming prince who destroys the city and the sanctuary and makes an alliance with many for a week, not the “anointed” one who had already been removed (“shall have nothing”)! This evil prince who makes such an alliance for one week is the same “little horn” that removes the daily sacrifice and in its place puts “the transgression that makes desolate” in the sanctuary in Dan 8:13.
What sense would it make for this destructive prince (not to be confused with “an anointed one, a prince,” in verse 25) to make strong a (pre-existing) covenant for (the benefit of) the many for one week (following the Hebrew meaning)? The context indicates that the actual antecedent of “he” is someone else.
The “seventy weeks,” i.e., weeks of years (The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 4:1384), concerning the Jewish people in Daniel 9:24-27 are about their covenant with the Lord (see verse 4). However, the events of verse 26 appear to devastate the covenant because “after the sixty-two weeks,” i.e., during the “one week” (verse 27) that is the seventieth of the “seventy weeks,” the “anointed one” would be “cut off” and “have nothing” (verse 26a). Subsequently, Jerusalem with its temple would be destroyed by “the people of the prince who is to come” (verse 26b).
Nevertheless, there was hope because “he” (who is this?) would make strong (Hiphil of g-b-r), i.e., “confirm” (NET Bible), a “covenant with many” (verse 27a). To confirm a covenant indicates that it would already exist; he would not establish a new covenant, which would be expressed with a different verb (from the root k-r-t; e.g., Gen 15:18; 21:27; Exod 24:8).
What existing covenant could be in view here? In Daniel 9, it is the covenant between God and his people (see also Dan 11:22—“the prince of the covenant”; verses 28, 30—“the holy covenant”). If so, the logical antecedent of “he” at the beginning of Daniel 9:27 is the “anointed one,” not the destroyer.
Desmond Ford logically concluded regarding Daniel 9:24-27:
It is the true Christ who is the great center of this amazing prophecy. The blessings of verse 24 are the result of His work. He is the One who comes in verse 25 and is “cut off” in verse 26. Likewise He is the One who makes strong, that is, “confirms,” the covenant in verse 27. The only reference so far to the opposing prince has been one stressing his people rather than himself, and to make antichrist the initiator of the covenant is to depart from the trend of the passage…
Furthermore, the New Testament interprets this passage. In Mk 14:24 we read of One who in the seventieth week of years ratified the covenant for many (Daniel [Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1978], 233-34).
The most natural interpretation of the Hebrew text of Daniel 9:24-27 identifies the time when the Messiah would come: 69 (7 + 62) weeks of years = 483 years after 457 B.C. With no zero year between B.C. and A.D. time, the 483 years would reach to 27 A.D. At that time, Jesus became the “anointed one”/Messiah when he was “anointed” by the Holy Spirit at his baptism (Luke 3:21-22; see also 4:18; Acts 10:37-38) and began his ministry “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (Luke 3:1; see The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, 5:243-247). By identifying Jesus as the Messiah, Daniel 9:24-27 and other messianic Old Testament prophecies, including Psalm 22 and Isaiah 52:13-53:12, proclaim the Gospel in advance.
Roy E. Gane, Ph.D., is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Languages, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University.