(First published in newsletter # 11 in 1995)
There is another prophecy which we will discuss this issue- the “70 weeks of Daniel”. Again, our beliefs are different from many of the popular interpretations. We believe this is a very important prophecy- but before we discuss it, we need to have a basic understanding about “Israel.”
GEN 32:24 Jacob… there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day…. 26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he [Jacob] said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. 27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. 28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more JACOB, BUT ISRAEL: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
To Jacob was given the same promise given to first his grandfather Abraham, and then his father, Isaac:
GEN 35:11 And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; 12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.
And it was Jacob’s sons and 2 grandsons whose names were given the tribes of Israel.
But who exactly were these people and why were they so special? When Abraham was called out of his father’s country, we learn that idolatry was so universal that his own family worshipped idols:
JOS 24:2 And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood [Euphrates River] in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and THEY SERVED OTHER GODS.
But because of HIS complete faithfulness, Abraham was chosen to father the people to whom would be given the great honor of being God’s representative people. They were to preserve the knowledge of Him, and they were to be faithful to Him, SHEDDING HIS GREAT LIGHT TO THE ENTIRE WORLD.
GEN 18:18 … Seeing that ABRAHAM shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and ALL the NATIONS of the earth SHALL BE BLESSED IN HIM?
God gave great and wonderful promises to these people IF ONLY THEY REMAINED FAITHFUL TO HIM. These promises were CONDITIONAL on their obedience, and many things promised, never came to pass because of their failure in this respect. Remember our discussion about “conditional promises”?
DEU 4:25 When thou shalt beget children, and children’s children, and YE SHALL HAVE REMAINED LONG IN THE LAND, AND SHALL CORRUPT YOURSELVES, and MAKE A GRAVEN IMAGE, or the likeness of any thing, and shall DO EVIL in the sight of the LORD thy God, to provoke him to anger: 26 … YE SHALL SOON UTTERLY PERISH FROM OFF THE LAND whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed. 27 And the LORD shall SCATTER YOU AMONG THE NATIONS, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen,…
2KI 17:6 In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them… in the cities of the Medes. 7 For so it was, that the children of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God,… and had feared other gods, 8 And walked in the statutes of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they had made. 9 And the children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the LORD their God,… 18 Therefore the LORD WAS VERY ANGRY WITH ISRAEL, and REMOVED THEM OUT OF HIS SIGHT: there was NONE LEFT BUT THE TRIBE OF JUDAH only.
To ensure that Israel/Ephraim never returned as a nation, foreign people were brought in to inhabit their cities:
2KI 17:24 And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria INSTEAD OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.
Why did this happen? The 10 tribes that were Israel/Ephraim had made an alliance with the Syrians and the result was their complete downfall:
ISA 7:8 For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, THAT IT BE NOT A PEOPLE.
And it came to pass. As a nation, they were no more. However, those who of Israel/Ephraim who remained faithful, WOULD be heirs to the promise. Only the nation as a collective people were cast off.
LEV 25:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD. 3 Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; 4 But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.
Then, He told them what the result would be if they did NOT observe the sabbath of the land:
LEV 26:33 And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste. 34 Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. 35 As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.
For 70 years, they remained in captivity. And during this captivity, Daniel was given the prophecy which laid out the fate of the nation of Israel- the prophecy of the “70 weeks of Daniel”, which will now be examined.
A good example to explain this is to look at America. This nation was founded as a Christian nation. For many years, the principles of God were observed. It was the nation which would complete the spreading of the gospel to the entire world. However, in time, as we all well know, as a Godly nation, America fell. Today, it must be a pure abomination in God’s eyes. However, God’s people are STILL in the nation, and they STILL continue to do His work.
Thus it was with Israel. The leadership of the nation was it’s downfall. Our downfall is due to our leadership. The entire point here is that we must here view Israel “as a collective body of people”; as a nation. But the pronouncement of it’s fall did not pronounce the doom of the faithful among it. And here is the prophecy which foretold of it’s doom.
The most important thing that must be understood is the time which marks its beginning. It is stated that it begins “at the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem”. If this referred ONLY to the building of the temple or the physical act of building the city, it could have only needed the word “build”- but it stipulates, “restore”. How could Jerusalem be restored? As the center of the Jewish nation it would never be restored until it was again the center of their government. Just because the Jews were allowed to return there and build their homes and the temple didn’t mean it was “restored”- it wouldn’t be “restored” until they were once again able to restore their government as God had decreed at Mt. Sinai, under the Mosaic law.
In 537 BC, the Persian general, Cyrus, conquered Babylon and set his uncle, Darius the Mede, as governor over Babylon. In 535 BC, 2 years later, Darius died and Cyrus became king. This was exactly 70 years after the captivity began in 605 BC, and Cyrus issued the decree which freed the Jews to return to Jerusalem to build the temple. Here is that “decree”:
EZR 1:2 Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. 4 And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. Another account of this decree is given when Darius searches for and finds the decree of Cyrus: EZR 6:3 In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded, the place where they offered sacrifices…, 4… and let the expenses be given out of the king’s house: 5 And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored, and brought again unto the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to his place, and place them in the house of God.
This decree did 2 things, basically- 1, it freed the Jews to return to Jerusalem; and 2, it commanded them to build the temple. Cyrus’ decree provided funds for the project and restored the vessels from the temple which had been taken to Babylon. But no provisions were made for the restoration of the Jewish economy.
Darius’ Decree in 520 BC.- the 2nd Decree–
In 520 BC, Darius I (“the Great”) now king, located the decree of Cyrus. He then issued a decree, showing that Cyrus’s decree was still in force, and he made some of his own additions. However, this decree only concerned the building of the temple, the vessels and the sacrificial animals. This entire decree is in Ezra 6:1-12, the first part of which restates Cyrus’ original decree. The following was added by Darius:
EZR 6:8 Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered. 9 And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail: 10 That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons. 11 Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this. 12 And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed.
Artaxerxes’ Decree in 457 BC- the 3rd Decree–
Then, in 457 BC, Artaxerxes issued a decree, which was quite comprehensive:
EZR 7:12 Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time. 13 I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee. 14 Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellors, to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand; 15 And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem, 16 And all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the province of Babylon, with the freewill offering of the people, and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem: 17 That thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meat offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. 18 And whatsoever shall seem good to thee, and to thy brethren, to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do after the will of your God. 19 The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem. 20 And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king’s treasure house. 21 And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, 22 Unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. 23 Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? 24 Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them. 25 And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not. 26 And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.
There are a few things here which make this decree the one which marks the beginning of the 70 weeks-
1) It gives Ezra the ability to collect all the gold he wants from even among the king’s subjects, and they will give it as a “freewill offering”- Ezra 7 :16
2) It says Ezra can use whatever is left over for any purpose he deems necessary- this will allow the people to rebuild the entire city. Ezra 7:18
3) It makes a provision for the priests, Levites, etc., so the temple can be in constant operation. Ezra 7 :24
4) It instructs all of his vassals around Judea to give Ezra whatever he has need of- no questions asked. Ezra 7:21, 22.
5) It reinstates the same policies that the 2 prior kings gave in their decrees.
6) But finally, it allowed Israel semi-autonomous rule under the “law of thy God”! Not only that, they were told to:
EZR 7:25 …set magistrates and judges, which may judge ALL THE PEOPLE THAT ARE BEYOND THE [Euphrates] RIVER, all such as know the laws of thy God; and TEACH YE THEM THAT KNOW THEM NOT.
The only decree which provided the means for Jerusalem to be “built” and it’s government “restored” was that of Artaxerxes. Only this decree gave them the ability to rule themselves and be subject to the Law of their God. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1985 Ed.) Vol. 17 page 947, without mentioning Artaxerxes by name, mentions Ezra’s coming to Jerusalem, which we know was with the decree of Artaxerxes. Here, from a secular source, we can see the impact of the decree which Ezra carried with him from Artaxerxes:
“Ezra continued these measures and stressed the reading of the Law, the observance of the sabbath and the prohibition of mixed marriages. Thus, the separation of the Jews was insured, and the uniqueness of their faith was maintained”.
And with this, we now have the beginning of the “70 weeks of Daniel”- 457 BC.
Neh 2:4 Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it. 6 And the king said unto me,… For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time. 7 Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah; 8 And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.
Nehemiah asked for the wood ONLY because it had been promised by the 3 royal decrees- no new “decree” was issued here. The old decrees were merely enforced or complied with.