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The Christadelphian | October 2011

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial New beginnings
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “The Seventy Weeks prophecy” | Dudley Fifield
  • “When I am weak, then I am strong” | D. C.
  • The Lord’s prayer | Geoff Henstock
  • Questions Jesus asks “Art thou a master of Israel?” | Paul Aston
  • Moabite daughter of Abraham 6 – In Bethlehem’s fields | Michael Ashton
  • Crucifixion | Ken Clark
  • “She hath done what she could” | F. W. Turner
  • Signs of the times European integration | Mike Jenner
  • Israel and their land A Palestinian State?
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Sunday morning:

“The Seventy Weeks prophecy”

WE might think that the Seventy Weeks prophecy is not the most appropriate subject for a Sunday morning exhortation. Certainly from the point of view of expounding the time period itself and the manner in which it is divided into first seven, then sixty-two and finally a concluding week, it is more appropriate to a Bible class or a study evening.

Nevertheless, what could be more fitting than to contemplate the terms of a prophecy that finds its fulfilment in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ?

It is worth noting some of the suggested references to the words of the prophecy to be found in the New Testament:

  • Daniel 9:25 – “Messiah the Prince” (Acts 3:15; 5:31).
  • Daniel 9:7 – “To the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and unto all Israel” (Acts 2:14,22).
  • Daniel 9:26 – “The people of the Prince” (Matthew 22:7).
  • Daniel 9:21 – “The angel Gabriel” (Luke 1:20).
  • Daniel 9:24 – “Seventy weeks are determined” (“the time is fulfilled”) (Mark 1:15).

Without entering into the detail of the time period itself, indicated above, there is much to be learned from the circumstances out of which the prophecy arose.

The background

The prophecy was given to comfort and console Daniel in his distress at the calamities that had overtaken the people of Israel and the revelation given to him in chapter 8 of the long period of time that was to pass before their final deliverance.

It was in the third year of Belshazzar (Daniel 8:1) that Daniel was given his vision of the ram with two horns (verse 3), the he-goat (verse 5) and the little horn of the goat (verse 8). Against the background of the return from captivity which Daniel knew to be imminent (9:2), he was told of these successive oppressors that were to arise and of the long period of two thousand three hundred years that was to elapse, during which the land was to be trodden under foot, before the sanctuary would be cleansed:

“And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” (8:14)

In the midst of these revelations, as the angel spoke to him, Daniel fell into a deep sleep with his face to the ground. He was raised up by the touch of the angel’s hand to hear his interpretation of the vision. This spoke symbolically of death and resurrection and was an assurance to Daniel that through these long periods of downtreading he should sleep in the dust of the earth, to rise and stand in his lot at the end of the days (12:3).

Nevertheless, the effect of the vision on Daniel, with the hope of the return from captivity burning in his heart, was devastating: “I Daniel fainted, and was sick certain days … I was astonished at the vision” (8:27). The word rendered “astonished” means literally ‘appalled’. It is the same word elsewhere translated “made desolate” (8:13; 9:27; 12:11). He was filled with this sense of devastation, an overwhelming horror because of the transgression of his people. And in fear and apprehension for their future Daniel turned to his God in prayer (9:3-19).

Daniel’s prayer

We know that it was Daniel’s custom to pray towards Jerusalem and to give thanks to God for all His goodness three times a day (6:10). Here was a man who was practiced in the art of prayer. He understood its importance and had come to appreciate the significance of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple when he besought the Lord to hear the cry of His repentant people when they prayed towards that place (1 Kings 8:35-48).

Daniel was not a priest but he was nevertheless eminently suited, by his spiritual experiences, to intercede on behalf of his people. It was not just a personal prayer, but he spoke on behalf of all his people, presenting himself before God as their representative.

Daniel, adopting a spirit of mourning and deep penitence, approached God with “fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (9:3). He was aware of the depth of Israel’s depravity and was at pains to emphasise the faithfulness of God who always remains true to His word. He addressed God in the words of the Book of Deuteronomy:

“O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments.” (verse 4; see Deuteronomy 7:9,21)

Israel had no cause for complaint. The consequences of disobedience had been clearly stated in the Law of Moses (note Daniel 9:10-13). Daniel therefore clearly acknowledges that all strata of the nation had been guilty before God (verses 7,8) and, while the righteousness of God remained inviolate, to the whole nation – Judah, Jerusalem and Israel – belonged confusion of face. All Israel had been humiliated for the wrong they had done.

Intercessor

Notice that throughout this prayer Daniel, although a righteous man, made no attempt to disassociate himself from the sins of the people. He prays as one of them; he speaks on their behalf; he acts as their representative. In this respect he foreshadows the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What then can be done for this people? The law has cursed them; it can offer no hope of reconciliation. Daniel appreciated that although the seventy years of captivity were drawing to an end, Israel generally had not attained righteousness. As a nation they were not worthy of the blessing of restoration that God had promised. However, through his reading and meditation on the word, he had come to an understanding of the character of God. Now recalling the declaration of His name to Moses (Exodus 34:6,7), like David in his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah (Psalms 32 and 51), he acknowledges the sin, iniquity and transgression of the people and on this basis pleads the forgiveness of God (Daniel 9:5,7).

Although concerned because of the iniquity of all Israel and the calamities that had overtaken them, Daniel was not motivated simply by self-interest or just for the welfare of his people. Like Moses before him, his overriding concern was for the reputation of Israel’s God. So he reminds God of the deliverance that He wrought in bringing the people out of Egypt; the manner of which had given Him a name of renown in the sight of the nations (verse 15). Now, however, the nations that were round about were looking at the things that had befallen Jerusalem and the nation, and were drawing the conclusion that Israel’s God was powerless to save them (verse 16).

It is these thoughts that led Daniel to the climax of his prayer:

“We do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness, but for thy great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.” (verses 18,19)

The Angel Gabriel

Daniel is given an instantaneous response to his prayer; an answer that was to give comfort and reassurance to him in his distress. As he was speaking and presenting his supplication before God the angel Gabriel, whom he had seen in the visions of Chapter 8 (verse 16), appeared to him with the message, “I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding” (9:22). Indeed, because he was greatly beloved, even as he began his prayer the command had gone forth for Gabriel to appear to him and to give him the revelation that he might “understand the matter, and consider the vision” (verse 23).

Daniel was concerned about the fulfilment of God’s promises (verse 2). The message of the angel was, however, that if he was truly concerned with the accomplishment of God’s purpose he must think not of seventy years but of a period of seventy times seven years. This of course is the symbolic meaning of the expression ‘seventy weeks’. Smiths Bible Dictionary in the entry headed “Weeks” says:

“With the Jew the effect of his laws was to render the word week capable of meaning a seven of years almost as naturally as a seven of days. Hence its use in prophecy is … but the employment of a not unfamiliar and easily understood language.”

Seventy weeks were determined for the execution of those things that the angel was to reveal to Daniel. The RV reads “decreed” for “determined” and while agreeing that the word can figuratively be rendered so, Strong’s Concordance points out that the word means literally ‘to cut off’. Hence the seventy weeks is “cut off” from the longer period of two thousand three hundred years of Daniel 8, for the accomplishment of the things revealed by Gabriel.

The message given

By the conclusion of the seventy weeks, six things were to be fulfilled and for convenience these can perhaps be best divided into two groups of three. First of all it was:

  1. to finish the transgression, then
  2. to make an end of sin, and
  3. to make reconciliation for iniquity (verse 24).

Here indeed was a wonderful message of hope and deliverance. Daniel had sought forgiveness and deliverance for his people in the context of their return from captivity after seventy years. He made his prayer in a state of perplexity and despair, but Gabriel told him not of the limited blessing that he looked for but of the end of all transgression. For if it were to be finished it involved the final triumph over sin, the ultimate deliverance that all men of faith had longed for and prayed for from the very beginning.

The purpose of God was to make an end of sin and as a climax to make reconciliation for iniquity. The verb translated “to make reconciliation” means literally ‘to cover or to atone’ and is used consistently throughout the Old Testament for the atonement obtained by blood sacrifices.

Daniel’s prayer had been concerned with the question of how a righteous God could forgive the dreadful sins that his people had committed. He had based his plea, as David before him, on his understanding of the character of God as revealed to Moses (Exodus 34). So the angel, in describing the victory to be achieved by God through the advent of Messiah the Prince, uses the same three words that were characteristic of Daniel’s prayer and which were quoted directly from God’s declaration in Exodus 34.

The three words “transgression”, “sin” and “iniquity” covered every form of wrongdoing that humankind was capable of committing. Sin in all its forms was to be completely destroyed. The consequence of this victory over sin was that God would:

  • Bring in everlasting righteousness,
  • seal the vision and prophecy, and
  • anoint the most Holy.

The righteousness of God

In his prayer Daniel had acknowledged and emphasised the righteousness of God (verses 7, 14,16) in contrast to the complete inability of man to achieve such a standard (verses 5-15). Now, however, this righteousness was to be made available to mankind not through any power that they possessed but by divine provision. Forgiveness was to be offered to men and women in a way that did not compromise the righteousness of God. It was to be imputed by faith. This was the blessing of Abraham that faithful people had looked for in all generations. “He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Psalm 24:5). To seal the prophecy was to authenticate it; to ensure its fulfilment; and this of course was accomplished by the Lord Jesus in his death and resurrection. For all that God had promised was confirmed in him. “All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Finally God was “to anoint the most Holy”. In a sense the sentence is incomplete and expositors have deliberated on whether the reference is to a place or a person.

If we look again at Daniel’s prayer, we note that he refers to the literal city of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:16,18). He speaks of “the holy mountain of my God” (verse 20) and undoubtedly he was thinking of the place where God had chosen to put His name. His custom to pray three times a day towards Jerusalem was surely a reflection of his meditations on Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8). It would appear then that in his prayer Daniel’s plea was for Jerusalem and the temple, that most holy place in which God was pleased to dwell. The angel’s message was, however, designed to carry Daniel’s thought beyond the literal buildings that he prayed for. The apparent ambiguity of the expression created by the omission of the word ‘place’ is by design. It was not in a temple built with hands that God is pleased to dwell, but in that individual through whom all these things were to be accomplished.

It is, we suggest, conclusive that the reference is to the one who was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power – the Lord Jesus Christ. To this truth the New Testament scriptures bear witness:

“I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.” (Matthew 12:6)

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up … he spake of the temple of his body.” (John 2:19-21)

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly (see Daniel 9:7,11), that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36)

Conclusion

These things were revealed to Daniel that he might understand the matter and consider the vision (Daniel 9:23). It was firstly to instruct him and was also given for his own personal study and meditation. So it is with us. We are taught and given understanding by our initial reading of the word, but by study and meditation we gain that greater understanding and deeper perception. So Daniel came to understand that Messiah the Prince should be cut off for the accomplishment of all that God had promised and covenanted to do. He looked forward in keen anticipation. We have the privilege of looking back and rejoicing in the knowledge that our Heavenly Father has done all these things so that our salvation might be assured and that we too with Daniel might stand in our lot at the end of the days (12:13).

Dudley Fifield

 

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