24. Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.
24. Septuaginta hebdomades finitae sunt super populum tuum et super urbem tuam sanctum, 1 ad claudendum scelus, et obsignandum peccatum, et expiandam iniquitatem, et adducendam justitiam aeternam, et obsignandam visionem, 2 et prophetiam, et ungendum sanctum sanctorum. 3
This passage has been variously treated, and so distracted, and almost torn to pieces by the various opinions of interpreters, that it might be considered nearly useless on account of its obscurity. But, in the assurance that no prediction is really in vain, we may hope to understand this prophecy, provided only we are attentive and teachable according to the angel's admonition, and the Prophet's example. I do not usually refer to conflicting opinions, because I take no pleasure in refuting them, and the simple method which I adopt pleases me best, namely, to expound what I think delivered by the Spirit of God. But I cannot escape the necessity of confuting' various views of the present passage. I will begin with the Jews, because they not only pervert its sense through ignorance, but through shameful impudence. Whenever they're exposed to the light which shines from Christ, they instantly turn their backs in utter shamelessness, and display a complete want of ingenuousness. They are like dogs who are satisfied with barking. In this passage especially, they betray their petulance, because with brazen forehead they elude the Prophet's meaning. Let us observe, then, what they think, for we should condemn them to little purpose, unless we can convict them by reasons equally firm and certain. When Jerome relates the teaching of the Jews who lived before his own day, he attributes to them greater modesty and discretion then their later descendants have displayed. He reports their confession, that this passage cannot be understood otherwise than of the advent of Messiah. that perhaps Jerome was unwilling to meet them in open conflict, as he was not fully persuaded of its necessity, and therefore he assumed more than they had allowed. I think this very probable, for he does not let fall a single word as to what interpretation he approves, and excuses himself for bringing forward all kinds of opinions without any prejudice on his part. Hence, he dares not pronounce whether or not the Jewish interpreters are more correct than either the Greek or the Latin, but leaves his readers entirely in suspense. Besides, it is very clear that all the Rabbis expounded this prophecy of Daniel's, of that continual punishment which God was about to inflict upon his people after their return from captivity. Thus, they entirely exclude the grace of God, and blame the Prophet, as if he had committed an error in thinking that God would be propitious to these miserable exiles, by restoring them to their homes and by rebuilding their Temple. According to their view, the seventy weeks began at the destruction of the former Temple, and closed at the overthrow of the second. In one point they agree with us, -- in considering the Prophet to reckon the weeks not by days but by years, as in Leviticus. (Leviticus 25:8.) There is no difference between us and the Jews in numbering the years; they confess the number of years to be 490, but disagree with us entirely as to the close of the prophecy. They say -- as I have already hinted -- the continual calamities which oppressed the people are here predicted. The Prophet hoped the end of their troubles was fast approaching, as God had testified by Jeremiah his perfect satisfaction with the seventy years of captivity. They say also -- the people were miserably harassed by their enemies again overthrowing their second Temple; thus they were deprived of their homes, and the ruined city became a sorrowful spectacle of devastation and disaster. In this way, I shewed how they excluded the grace of God; and to sum up their teaching shortly, this is its substance, -- the Prophet is deceived in thinking the state of the Church would improve at the close of the seventy years, because seventy weeks still remained; that is, God multiplied the number in this way, for the purpose of chastising them, until at length he would abolish the city and the Temple, disperse their nation over the whole earth and destroy their very name, until at length the Messiah whom they expected should arrive. This is their interpretation, but all history refutes both their ignorance and their rashness. For, as we shall afterwards observe, all who are endued with correct judgment will scarcely approve of this, because all historians relate the lapse of a longer period between the monarchy of Cyrus, and the Persians, and the coming of Christ, than Daniel here computes. The Jews again include the years which occurred from the ruin of the former Temple to the advent of Christ, and the final overthrow of their city. Hence, according to the commonly received opinion, they heap together about six hundred years. I shall afterwards state how far I approve of this computation, and how far I differ from it. Clearly enough, however, the Jews are both shamefully deceived and deceive others, when they thus heap together different periods without any judgment.
A positive refutation of this error is readily derived from the prophecy of Jeremiah, from the beginning of this chapter, and from the opinion of Ezra. That deceiver and impostor, Barbinel, who fancies himself the most acute of all the Rabbis, thinks he has a convenient way of escape here, as he eludes the subject by a single word, and answers only one objection. But I will briefly shew how he plays with frivolous trifles. By rejecting Josephus, he glories in an easy victory. I candidly confess that I cannot place confidence in Josephus either at all times or without exception. But what conclusions do Barbinel and his followers draw from this passage? Let us come to that prophecy of Jeremiah which I have mentioned, and in which he takes refuge. He says, the Christians make Nebuchadnezzar reign forty-five years, but he did not complete that number. Thus he cuts off half a year, or perhaps a whole one, from those monarchies. But what is this to the purpose? Because 200 years will still remain, and the contention between us concerns this period. We perceive then how childishly he trifles, by deducting five or six years from a very large number, and still there is the burden of 200 years which he does not remove. But as I have already stated, that prophecy of Jeremiah concerning the seventy years remains immovable. But when do they begin? From the destruction of the Temple? This will not suit at all.
Barbinel makes the number of the years forty-nine or thereabouts, from the destruction of the Temple to the reign of Cyrus. But we previously perceived the Prophet to be then instructed concerning the close of the captivity. Now, that impudent fellow and his followers are not ashamed to assert that Daniel was a bad interpreter of this part of Jeremiah's prophecy, because he thought the punishment completed, although some time yet remained. Some of the Rabbis make this assertion, but its frivolous character appears from this, Daniel does not here confess any error, but confidently affirms that he prayed in consequence of his learning:from the book of Jeremiah the completion of the time of the captivity. Then Ezra uses the following words, -- When the seventy years were completed, which God had predicted by Jeremiah, he stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia, to free the people in the first year of his monarchy. (Daniel 1:1.) Here Ezra openly states, that Cyrus gave the people liberty by the secret impulse of the Spirit. Had the Spirit of God become forgetful, when he hastened the people's return? For then we must necessarily convict Jeremiah of deception and falsehood, while Ezra treats the people's return as an answer to the prophecy. On the other hand, they cite a passage from the first chapter of Zechariah, (Zechariah 1:12,) Wilt thou not, O Lord, pity thy city Jerusalem, because the seventy years are now at an end? But here the Prophet does not point out the moment at which the seventy years were finished, but while some portion of the people had returned to their country by the permission of Cyrus, and the building of the Temple was still impeded, after a lapse of twenty or thirty years, he complains of God not having completely and fully liberated his people. Whether or not this is so, the Jews must explain the beginning of the seventy years from the former exile before the destruction of the Temple; otherwise the passages cited from Daniel and Ezra would not agree. We are thus compelled to close these seventy years before the reign of Cyrus, as God had said he should then put all end to the captivity of his people, and the period was completed at that point.
Again, almost all profane writers reckon 550 years from the reign of Cyrus to the advent of Christ.
I do not hesitate to suppose some error here, because no slight difficulty would remain to us on this calculation, but I shall afterwards state the correct method of calculating the number of years. Meanwhile, we perceive how the Jews in every way exceed the number of 600 years, by comprehending the .seventy years' captivity under these seventy weeks; and then they add the time which elapsed from the death of Christ to the reign of Vespasian. But the facts themselves are their best refutation. For the angel says,
We now understand why the angel does not use the reckoning' of years, or months, or days, but weeks of years, because this has a tacit reference to the penalty which the people had endured according to the prophecy of Jeremiah. On the other hand, this displays God's great loving kindness, since he manifests a regard for his people up to the period of his setting forth their promised salvation in his Christ.
He next adds,
Grant, Almighty God, as through our extreme blindness, we cannot gaze upon open daylight, that we may be enlightened by thy Spirit. May we profit by all thy prophecies by which thou wishest to direct us to thine only-begotten Son; embrace him with true and certain faith, and remain obedient to him as our ruler and guide; and after we have passed through this world, may we at length arrive at that heavenly rest which has been obtained for us by the blood of the same thy Son. -- Amen.
We began yesterday to shew how foolishly the Rabbis corrupt by their comments this prophecy of which we are now treating; for they suppose the angel to be treating of the continual wrath of God which the Jewish people had partially experienced, and which was still to be of longer duration and greater severity, according to their supposition. We have explained how openly this is opposed to the words of Daniel, who here promises the return of God's favor to his people, and then shews the object and intention of the Holy Spirit. By this consolation he wished to lighten the sorrow of the holy man whom we have already seen to be extremely anxious about the state of the Church which he then perceived to be so deplorable. The phrase on which we have already commented confirms the same point, for the angel promises, at the arrival of the predicted period,
1 Verbally, upon the city of thy holiness. -- Calvin.
2 The word
3 Or, holiness of holiness, alluding to the Temple. -- Calvin.