Various approaches to Daniel 9:24-27 reveal a Biblical prophecy that divides Biblical scholars upon the matter of exact meaning. The most common understanding from the days of early Christianity to modern times has been that the text is one that prophecies the coming of Christ; but other interpretations, like the eschatological interpretation, view the prophecy as one that concerns the end times. This paper will show how a synthesis of the traditional interpretation and the eschatological interpretation provides what may be called a fuller, or perhaps more complete, view of Daniel 9:24-27.
As Francis Gigot notes, "linguistics, the context, and the ancient translations of Daniel are most of the time insufficient guides towards the sure restoration of the primitive reading"; however, exegetes are able to form a limited idea of a possible meaning to Daniel 9:24-27 by familiarizing themselves with the Book of Daniel as a whole and its place in Hebrew Scripture.
The Book of Daniel is a narrative account told in both the third person and the first person. The Book begins by introducing Daniel and his three captive friends and shows their faithfulness to God by their refusal to partake of the royal food. The Book goes on to relate a dream of King Nebuchadnezzar and how only Daniel is able to interpret it, how Daniel's friends are thrown into a furnace after refusing to worship a false idol, how God preserves them, and how the King shows support for their God by passing a decree that favors Him as well as gives them positions of importance in the kingdom. The Book continues with another dream, another interpretation, an account of Balthazar who sees the famous writing on the wall, and visions of Daniel, which are given from his first-person perspective.
Daniel 9:24-27 falls within the context of these visions. From an eschatological standpoint, Daniel's visions may be viewed as prophecies meant to prepare the reader for Judgment. The overall theme of Daniel 9:24-27 is one of repentance ("put an end to sin"), growth ("rebuild the streets"), death, ("the Anointed One will be put to death," "desolations have been decreed"), and the making of a new covenant ("He will confirm a covenant with many"). The theme, therefore, has an arc that rises from sin and repentance to the establishment of a new covenant designed to bring men to Heaven. The vision itself is given to Daniel by the angel Gabriel and is, therefore, a kind of reassurance that Daniel's people are not to be subject to slavery forever. This slavery has been interpreted as a slavery to sin by Church Fathers but has also been interpreted as a kind of political or social slavery by other exegetes of other ages.
Its specific place in time is within the first year of the rule of Xerxes' son Darius over Babylon. Daniel writes out of his distress at seeing his people displease God. In response to the earlier prophecies of Scriptures, Daniel laments that he knows Jerusalem will suffer desolation for seventy years, as Jeremiah foretold. In turn, Daniel prays and does penance. In the middle of his prayer and penance, he is visited by Gabriel, who succors Daniel with a vision that is meant to enlighten him. As Daniel himself offers no interpretation of this vision, but rather follows it with another in the next chapter, Biblical scholars and Church Fathers have given the "prophecy of the seventy weeks" essentially three different interpretations.
The Principal Interpretations and Alternate Views
The ancient, or traditional, view asserts that Daniel 9:24-27 concerns "the appearance of Christ in the flesh, His death, His establishment of the New Covenant, and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans."
Modern scholars, especially non-Catholic scholars, however, see the verses as referring to "the time of Antiochus Epiphanes," with Christ more or less only secondarily (if at all) mentioned; a third interpretation is given by both Church Fathers and modern theologians writing from the eschatological perspective, which views Daniel 9:24-27 "as a prediction of the development of the Kingdom of God from the end of the Exile to the fulfillment of that kingdom at Christ's second Advent."
These three interpretations form the typical framework of exegesis on the prophecy of the seventy sevens.
However, these three classic interpretations are by no means the only ones that have been presented in exegetical works. Sir Isaac Newton of the Age of Enlightenment viewed Daniel 9:24-27 as a prophecy referring to the rise of Zionism. Newton's publisher, Sir William Whitla saw in Newton the marriage of the scientific modern age and Biblical scholarship, and according to Whitla, "Newton's interpretation of the so-called prophecy of the seventy weeks 'referred to the latter days' and believed that Newton's work gave support to his own enthusiasm for contemporary Zionism."
Yet, Whitla was only one commentator on Newton's exegesis and others saw it as a depiction of the advent of the Age of Reason, of which Newton was a principal part; still others understood it in anthropological terms, somewhat similar to those used on the subject of Teilhard de Chardin's Omega Man.
What this shows is that not only is interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27 often divided, but so too is interpretation of the interpretation. In a kind of Talmudic tradition of commenting on commentary, Daniel 9:24-27 may almost be made to fit any sort of prediction, time, or vision of radical change in society. The most important point to remember when examining the hermeneutics involved in exegesis is that exegetes are not bound to read Scripture in a uniform way. By placing the verses in their historical-literary context, however, one can derive Scripture's meaning less from his own time and place and more from the time and place in which it was written.
David Lurie, for example, takes a less restrictive view of the word "sevens" when he states that "an analysis of the Hebrew word sabuim…leads to the conclusion that the 'sevens' can be any integer multiple of seven years."
This reinterpretation of the Hebrew meaning of sabuim, itself an uncommon pluralization of sabua, allows Lurie to assert that "the 532 years that elapsed between the decree of Cyrus and the birth of Christ are a mathematically exact fulfillment of the 'seven "sevens" and sixty-two "sevens" that, according to Dan 9:25, were to elapse between the 'command to restore and build Jerusalem' and the advent of 'Messiah the Prince.'"
In other words, Lurie views Daniel 9:24-27 as an explicit prophecy of the coming of Christ the Messiah, fulfillment of the other Old Testament prophecies. By taking a less restrictive and more historical-literary approach to the verses, Lurie's interpretation supports the traditional interpretation of Daniel that views the verses as a reference to Christ.
This Messianic interpretation is supported by the fact that Church Fathers and Biblical scholars can point to several other Messianic prophecies in Daniel as well as in the rest of the Old Testament. Indeed, Hebrews themselves accepted the Messianic interpretations of Scripture. That "the first century AD was a time of great Messianic expectation among the Jews," according to Robert C. Newman, confirms the Messianic reading offered by the ancients as well as by exegetes like Lurie.
Because of the connection to Christ, therefore, and Daniel's prayer for mercy that precedes the vision, an obvious parallel between Matthew 18:22 and Daniel 9:24 emerges. To Peter's question, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Christ answers that penitents shall be forgiven "seventy times seven" times, which is commonly interpreted to mean that there is no limit to the number of times a repentant sinner should be forgiven. If this is Christ's message to Peter, and Daniel's prophecy can be both historically and literally interpreted as a vision of Christ as Messiah, Daniel 9:24 may be understood as a message of peace, clemency and mercy. Christ speaks of unlimited mercy to Peter; likewise, it may be asserted that Gabriel speaks of unlimited mercy to Daniel: "Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place." This is Gabriel's immediate response to Daniel's exhortation, which conveys a need for the sort of mercy shown by Christ to Peter. It is important to note Daniel's prayer prior to the vision: "Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears you Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive!" (Dan 9:17-19). Daniel prays for forgiveness and Gabriel assures him in Daniel 9:24-27 that he and his people shall have…