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In our outline for the book of Daniel, the ninth chapter to the end of the book (A) correlates with the first chapter (A). Chapter one was about the captivity of Judah, and chapters nine through twelve are about the desolations of Jerusalem.
Daniel 9:1 begins with the date of the revelation:
1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans—
This Darius is the same king who took the city of Babylon in Daniel 5:31. We see that Darius “was made king,” because it was Cyrus who made him king.
Darius is said here to be the son of Ahasuerus, which is a title that means “the venerable king.” His actual name was Astyages, the king of Media who had given orders to kill Cyrus when he was a baby. Cyrus, of course, escaped, even as Jesus later escaped from King Herod.
Darius was the son of Astyages, “the venerable king.” He was related to Cyrus, because Cyrus’ mother, Mandane, was the daughter of Astyages.
We should also be careful not to confuse this Ahasuerus with a later king by that title in the book of Esther. He was a Persian king.
The Seventy Year Captivity
Daniel had read the prophecies of Jeremiah and understood from them that the time of Jerusalem’s desolation had come to an end. Jeremiah 25:11, 12 says,
11 “And this whole land shall be a desolation and a horror, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,” declares the Lord, “for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting [olam, “hidden, indefinite, unknown”] destruction.”
Daniel lived to see the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. The fall of Babylon was the first of several sets of seventy year cycles. The first cycle started when Babylon itself was organized into an empire in 607 B.C. This seventy-year cycle ended in 537 B.C. when Babylon fell.
Many historians have thought that Babylon fell in 539, but their two-year error is due to the co-regency between Cyrus and his son Cambyses in the last two years of Cyrus’ life (530-528). The chronology of that time was fixed by astronomy when a lunar eclipse occurred in the 20th year of the reign of Darius the Persian. This occurred on Nov. 19, 502 B.C., which means the first year of Darius was the year 521 B.C.
Historians then calculate backwards through the 8-year reign of Cambyses (529-522) and assume that Cyrus died in 530. But actually, he died in 528 after ruling Babylon for nine years. He installed Cambyses as his co-regent while he marched north to try to bring the Massagetae under his dominion. He was defeated by Queen Tomyris. According to Herodotus,
After the battle Tomyris ordered a search to be made amongst the Persian dead for the body of Cyrus; and when it was found she pushed his head into a skin which she had filled with human blood, and cried out as she committed this outrage: “Though I have conquered you and live, yet you have ruined me by treacherously taking my son. See now—I fulfil my threat; you have your fill of blood.” There are many accounts of Cyrus’ death; I have given the one which I think most likely to be true. [The Histories, 1.214]
Babylon lasted just seventy years (607-537 B.C.).
The captivity of Jerusalem lasted seventy years (604-534 B.C.).
The temple was desolate for 70½ years (August 586 to March 515 B.C.).
Daniel apparently lived to see the end of the captivity of Judah and the laying of the foundation for the temple in Jerusalem. But he did not live to see the completion of the temple on March 15, 515 B.C.
Just as “the desolations of Jerusalem” had more than one starting point, so also there was more than one endpoint.
When Daniel saw the first endpoint occur with the overthrow of Babylon and the punishment of the king of Babylon, he began to pray for the restoration of Jerusalem. No doubt he based his prayer on the promise in Jeremiah 29:10,
10 For thus says the Lord, “when seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.”
So Daniel 9:3 says,
3 So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.
Just because it was prophesied that God would restore Jerusalem, this did not mean that Daniel should just watch on the sidelines for God to do it. No, he understood the divine plan and so he resolved to be an active participant in it. If Daniel had not done this, God would have raised up someone else to pray, because prayer was a necessary part of the divine plan.
As we will see shortly, the promise of God was, “I will visit you.” This implies a divine “visitation,” whereby the divine court sends out an investigator to gather the facts in order to render a verdict. In this case Babylon had already fallen, but there was another divine visitation in regard to the restoration project. Because Daniel had prayed, Gabriel came to him with further revelation about this (Daniel 9:21).