Corresponds with Sabbath School Study Guide: Dec 4-10
The chapter is dated to the year 538 BC when the world was ruled by a new empire, the Medo-Persian. Following Babylon’s fall there were among the exiles great expectations to be set free and return to Palestine. The period of time from Jeremiah’s prophecy of the 70 years of the Exile, or the ten sabbatical years during which the land was at rest from people’s sins, was coming to an end. The text from Jeremiah 29:10 and 11 says:
This is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
An ancient document known as the Cyrus cylinder contains the words of this king whose generous policies made him very popular throughout ancient world. One section of the document reads as follows:
I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters… When I entered Babylon in a peaceful manner, I took up my lordly reign in the royal palace amidst rejoicing and happiness… My vast army moved about Babylon in peace; I did not permit anyone to frighten (the people of) [Sumer] and Akkad. I sought the welfare of the city of Babylon and all its sacred centers. As for the citizens of Babylon, upon whom he imposed corvŽe which was not the god’s will and not benefiting them, I relieved their weariness and freed them from their service…I returned the (images of) gods to their sacred centers … and I let them dwell in their eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned (to them) their dwellings…
The beginning of the Book of Ezra speaks of King Cyrus in a similar way, but unlike the cylinder which gives credit to Babylon’s god Marduk, the text of the Bible claims that it was Yahweh who raised Cyrus to power and also moved his heart to make a proclamation of freedom for the exiles.
The central concept in this chapter is God’s covenant with his people. Covenant is a word that means agreement or contract, but some scholars translate it as “relationship.”. The covenant between God and His people was made at Sinai. God promised to be Israel’s God, and the people pledged to be His people. The words that regulate the terms of this agreement are called covenant stipulations. A summarized version of these stipulations is found in ten short words that are known today the Ten Commandments. They were written back to back by God’s finger on two stone tablets, and kept in a box called the ark of the covenant which was located in the holiest place in the sanctuary. One tablet represented God and the other the people. When the covenant was broken the people of Israel went into exile and only a remnant was able to survive.
The plan of this chapter may be proposed as follows:
Relevant Biblical Passages
- Daniel 9:1-3. The chapter is dated to the first year of the Medo-Persian Empire that replaced Neo-Babylon. While the two visions about the little horn were given to Daniel in the first and the third years of Belshazzar, the two revelations about the Messiah he received in the first and the third years of the Medo-Persians. How did Daniel come to learn that the exile would last for seventy years? Is there any other place in the Bible that shows that the prophets were diligent students of the words that had been given to them and to their colleagues? (See 1 Peter 1:10-12).
- Daniel 9:4-6. Daniel’s prayer begins with confessions. His people have sinned in the context of their covenant with God. Why does Daniel call that covenant the “covenant of love”? Isn’t the way in which Daniel identifies with his sinful people remarkable? Notice how many synonyms for sin he is using in these verses! Can you remember other important biblical personalities who interceded for their people before God in similar ways?
- Daniel 9:17-19. Daniel continues and ends his prayer with a series of petitions. What is the first thing he mentions in his petition? Aren’t the words such as “Give ear, O God, and hear!” and “open your eyes and see!” examples of very strong anthropomorphism? What is the purpose of a frequent use of the second person pronoun “you” and of the adjective “yours” in Daniel’s petition?
- Daniel 9:24-27. These verses contain the revelation brought to Daniel by Gabriel. Verse 24 is a summary statement, while the rest of the verses is an elaboration on that verse. This verse is a masterpiece of Hebrew literary artistry. The expression “for your people” consists of two words in the original and is followed by three statements each made of two words. In the same way “for your holy city” is three words in Hebrew followed by three statements each consisting of three words. The period of time given here is an extension of the “seventy years” that now become “seventy ‘sevens'”. When taken literally this period covers 490 years, while figuratively it can mean an unlimited time period. Is there any other place in the Bible where the figure “seventy sevens” or “seventy times seven” is used?
Our text talks of a conflict between two rulers: The first one is an Anointed ruler who comes to his people and is cut off. The second ruler is a Destroyer who at the end comes to his own destruction. Why is it that Daniel does not call the covenant made by the Anointed ruler “new covenant”? When is this covenant confirmed? What are some of the reasons that had led many Jewish and Christian interpreters of the past to see a clear announcement of the Messiah’s coming in these verses?
Lessons for Life
Prayer with the study of the inspired writings was important in Daniel’s life. Was Daniel trying through his prayer to influence God and make him do something that he wouldn’t otherwise do? Do I in my prayers present myself to God in the way of the proud Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14), or as Daniel who identified himself with his sinful people?
The words of Gabriel suggest the theme of two exiles: The shorter one of Judah in literal Babylon, and the longer worldwide stretching down through history. The person who made the return from the first exile possible was King Cyrus. Do I believe that Christ is the only one capable of leading his people out of a universal Babylon?