Summary: Daniel is thinking about 70 year, Gabriel invites him to think of 490, Jesus invites us to look to the very end of time.
Singing the Songs of the Lord in a Strange Land February 13, 2005
This Is Bigger Than You Think!
If you were here last week, you remember the context of Daniel 9 (quickview) . The people of Israel had never truly served only God. God had given them generation upon generation to turn from their wicked ways and serve him – he sent prophets and Holy people to teach them to return to God, but they never did. Finally, as we see in Daniel 1 (quickview) , God gives them over to their enemies and Nebuchadnezzar carries them off, out of the Promised Land and into captivity in Babylon.
In the beginning of Chapter 9, Daniel is in his 80s, and he is reading from the prophet of Jeremiah about how the desolation of Jerusalem would last 70 years. This would mean that Israel’s salvation was close at hand. This news drives Daniel to his knees and he confesses the sin of his people. He proclaims that God is right in his judgment of Israel, and that Israel was in the wrong. He pleads for mercy from God, not because of Israel’s new-found righteousness, but because he is a merciful God, and his name would be glorified in this great act of mercy.
I believe that Daniel’s prayer of repentance steps into the process of God’s plan to bring the people back to Jerusalem. God has already brought Cyrus in to defeat the Babylonians, and it will be Cyrus that gives the decree to return the exiles and rebuild Jerusalem.
The Appearance of Gabriel
Gabriel the Archangel shows up while Daniel is still praying – he says that he has come because Daniel is highly esteemed – not because he is highly esteemed in Babylon, but because God love him so much. This is another reason that we need to see Daniel as a model – even God esteems him!
Gabriel says that he’s come to explain things to Daniel. And this is what he says …
Oh, now things are so much clearer!
Daniel is trying to understand Jeremiah’s prophecy that Jerusalem will be desolate for 70 years. He realizes that this time is coming up soon, and he is trying to understand it. Gabriel stretches his view. Daniel is looking as God’s plans over 70 years, Gabriel says that God’s plan for Jerusalem stretches over 70 weeks of years (a phrase similar to “a month of Sundays”). So, instead of 70 years, Gabriel is setting Daniel’s sights on roughly 490 years.
Even that number needs to be taken loosely – numbers are symbolic more than exactly chronological in apocalyptic literature. Remember when Peter comes to Jesus and says “how many times do I need to forgive my brother? Seven times?” Jesus says, “no, seven times seventy times!” By this we don’t take him to mean that we can count up to 490 times and on the 491st time we can whack them. Jesus is using the numbers to say just keep forgiving just as God keeps on forgiving you.
In Biblical times, the number 7 was seen as a perfect number. So by using the phrase seventy sevens, Gabriel was saying “In God’s perfect time” along with the idea of 490 years. It is a little like when my children ask me how much longer to get to the cabin, and I say “a really long time.”