Freedom from the Darkness

Freedom from the Darkness

Daniel 9:20-27

Have you ever heard of the year of Jubilee?  The year of Jubilee is an important and sacred year that God commanded his people, Israel, to observe every seven cycles of seven, which was 49 years.  Every seven years there was to be a year’s rest for the land of Israel, but every 50th year was to be a year of rest and redemption.  The year of Jubilee required that all prisoners, all captives, all debts be released and forgiven, and any property that was lost was to be returned to its original owner(s).  Here is what God commanded Israel to do every 50th year:

You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field. (Leviticus 25:8–12)

Imagine the freedom you would experience if all your debts were immediately forgiven.  Imagine the freedom of those in prison or those held captive would experience when released from captivity with a clean slate to begin a life liberated from their past.  How often do you think Israel observed the year of Jubilee?  We have no evidence that Israel ever celebrated it.  

Last week we looked at Daniel’s prayer in verses 1-19.  Daniel prayed because of what he read in Jeremiah 25, which states: “This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.  Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land and everlasting waste” (vv. 11-12).  It was shortly after the death Belshazzar and the transfer of power to the Medo-Persian Empire that Daniel read these prophetic words, so he pleaded with God by appealing to his promises to restore what was lost after his people turn from their sins:

And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. (Deuteronomy 30:1–3)

Daniel concluded his prayer with these words: “O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name” (Daniel 9:18–19).  What Daniel failed to see, because he was incapable of seeing it is that God’s providence was infinitely greater than his perception of his current circumstances. 

Daniel Prayed for What He Could Perceive (vv. 20-23)

What put Daniel on his face before God was the righteousness of God in light of his sin and the sins of Israel.  Recognizing that God is Yahweh who is faithful, Daniel pleaded with him as Adonai (the Sovereign One) who is great and awesome.  What this means is that Daniel approached God with the understanding that he is, “good in infinite measure, he is just in infinite measure, he is love in infinite measure, he is holy in infinite measure, he is grace in infinite measure, and he is faithful in infinite measure.” 

While Daniel was speaking and praying, confessing his sin and the sins of his people, and presenting his plea before Yahweh his God… his prayer was answered.  However, the answer to his prayer was not what I believe he expected.  What Daniel expected was the restoration of what was promised to his ancestors by God.  What Daniel understood was for that to happen, the sins of he and his people had to be forgiven.  What Daniel understandably could not fathom was that God had something much, much greater in store for Israel that blew to ashes his expectation. 

God sent the angel Gabriel in response to his prayer: “At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved” (v. 23).  I find it interesting that Gabriel felt the need to affirm Daniel that faithful, sovereign, great, and awesome God loved him.  It would have been fine to just tell Daniel that God loved him, but Gabriel informs Daniel that the measure of love that God had for his prophet was great.  What these verses teach us is that God is personal, he is approachable, and that he pursues his people. 

What God’s answer reveals to us is that his love is great even when his answers to our prayer do not line up with what we hope for or thought we needed.  Listen, just because you prayed to God and did not get the answer or results that you were hoping for, does not mean that God has failed you, is uninterested in you, or loves you any less than his providence is great. 

God’s Answer was Greater than Daniel’s Perception (vv. 24-27)

I have a confession to make regarding these verses.  Daniel 9:24-27 has been and continues to be a highly debated passage as to its specific meaning more than most passages in the Bible.  I have spent a lot of time studying these four verses in an effort to make sure that what I say to you is faithful to the purpose for why they are in our Bibles.  I read of one pastor, who I greatly respect, who said to his congregation before getting into these same verses: “In what follows, I reserve the right to change my mind later this evening, and as often as necessary for the rest of my life, until I finally settle the matter.  What I’m about to now unfold for you will annoy some, disappoint others, confuse many, and perhaps encourage a few.”[1]  I concur. 

What I would like to do is to point you to, what I believe is the theological lynchpin for understanding these verses, share with you the four primary views of these verses, and then share where I land and why these four verses are for you.  So here we go!

The Theological Lynchpin for Understanding Daniel 9:25-27

I believe the key to understanding God’s answer to Daniel is found in verse 24.  Daniel was hoping for and expecting to return to Israel because the time of 70 years had come to end marked by the destruction of Babylon and the death of her king.  God’s answer was not about seventy years, but seventy weeks.  Daniel would have understood the seventy weeks to be seventy-sevens, which was 490 years… not 70 years.  Remember that when God created all things, he did it in six days and then rested on the seventh day.  As part of the Ten Commandments, God instructed his people to, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God…. For six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exod. 20:8-10a).  A day of rest for humans was written into God’s moral code for our good. 

After every six years, there was to be a Sabbath for the land.  Every 50th year, there was to be a special sabbath year, called The Year of Jubilee, when prisoners and captives were set free, slaves were released, debts were forgiven, and any lost property restored to the original owner.  Each week represents seven literal years; 70 weeks represents 490 years.  Daniel had his mind set on the end of 70 years, but God informed his prophet that in seventy weeks he would accomplish six things that were much bigger than a simple return from exile: “…finish the transgression, put an end to sin, atone for iniquity, bring everlasting righteousness, seal both vision and prophet, and anoint a most holy place.” 

We are told the way God would accomplish his promise of verse 24 in verses 25-27.  In the first seven weeks (49 years), the city of Jerusalem will be restored; the next sixty-two weeks (434 years), will be filled with some trouble; the final week (7 years), will be climatic and will involve a King who will be cut off.  Jesus is the Messianic King who was cut off because of our sins and for our sins.  We will dive into verses 25-27 more specifically next week.

The point I want you to see today is that the only way for Daniel and Israel to experience the mercy and redemption Daniel longed for and prayed about was through a future Messianic King who would not come for more than 400 years.  Sometime around 26 AD Jesus walked into the synagogue of his hometown and read a section from the Prophet Isaiah; here is what he read to launch his public ministry when he was about 30 years old:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18–19)

What is the “year of the Lord’s favor”?  It is the Year of Jubilee that comes after the Day of Atonement on the 49th year!  We are told that after reading Isaiah 61, “he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down…. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:20-21). Jesus launched his ministry by reading Isaiah 61:1-2 and the response of the people who heard him do it wanted to kill him because the rightly understood what he said but could not accept that Jesus was the Messianic King promised in Daniel 9:24-27. 

How would Jesus enable good news to be proclaimed to the poor?  How would liberty come to the captives and oppressed?  What would give sight to the blind?  What would usher in a true and lasting Jubilee?  Jesus told his disciples: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise” (Luke 18:31–33).  It was during Passover Week that Jesus was sentenced to death, and the reason was because he served as our perfect Passover Lamb.  Think about the significance of Jesus’ death and the Year of the Lord’s Favor he said that he came to bring.

The prophet Isaiah explains what it would mean for the Messiah to be cut off, which is what Jesus meant when he explained that he had to die:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.… He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:3–9)

Daniel longed for his homeland, but what God was doing was working to give Daniel something far greater, namely redemption that would give him much more than just freedom.  This is why the Bible promises: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). 

[1] Daniel L. Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition: Daniel (Nashville, TN: Holman; 2017), p. 117