One intriguing prophecy of Daniel 9 is the 70 years the Jewish people would be in captivity in Babylon. When did this occur? What can we learn from it?
Daniel 9 contains two important prophecies: the first lasted 70 years and the second covers 70 weeks. The second prophecy is addressed in another article titled “70 Weeks of Daniel.” This article will focus on the first prophecy.
Daniel’s focus on Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy
In reference to the first prophecy, Daniel wrote: “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus … I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:1-2).
Daniel’s mention of “the books” is a reference to the prophecies that God gave through Jeremiah. The specific prophecy Daniel was talking about was one given in Jerusalem just prior to the Babylonian invasion and then repeated via a letter from Jerusalem to the captives in Babylon (Jeremiah 25:1-11; 29:1-10).
This prophecy foretold that the “land shall be a desolation” and that the Jews would “serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jeremiah 25:11; compare 2 Chronicles 36:17-21). After the 70 years were completed in Babylon, God told them, He would cause them “to return to this place [Jerusalem]” (Jeremiah 29:10).
Two overlapping 70-year periods
There were two components to this prophecy: the “desolation” of the land and serving the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11). Each component seems to have been fulfilled over slightly different, yet overlapping, periods of 70 years.
The 70 years of desolation of the land can be calculated as the time between the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians—which was indeed a desolation for the city of Jerusalem—and the rebuilding of the temple.
The captivity of the Jewish people, which began prior to the destruction of the temple with the first deportation of Jews to Babylon and ended with a decree from Cyrus allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem, was also 70 years.
Babylonian exile timeline
The first deportation of Jews to Babylon (which included Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego) began the 70 years of captivity. Bible commentaries identify this as occurring between 607 and 605 B.C. Various sources say the date of the return of the Jews to Jerusalem occurred between 539 and 536 B.C.
As for the period between the destruction of the temple and its being rebuilt, commonly cited dates are 586 or 585 to 516 or 515 B.C. Although it is hard to identify exact years, the years commonly cited do fit the prophesied 70 years.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states the following: “Note that it is important to keep these stages of the Captivity in mind when computing the seventy years of exile announced by Jeremiah 29:10; the interval between the first deportation in 605 B.C., in which Daniel himself was involved, and 536 B.C., when the first returnees under Zerubbabel once more set up an altar in Jerusalem, amounted to seventy years. Likewise, the interval between the destruction of the first temple by Nebuzaradan in 586 and the completion of the second temple by Zerubbabel in 516 was about seventy years” (comments on Daniel 1:1-2).
Why 70 years of captivity?
This prophecy of punishment came upon the people of Judah because of their disobedience to God’s laws. As Jeremiah explained to the people of Judah, “I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, but you have not listened. And the LORD has sent to you all His servants the prophets, … but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear” (Jeremiah 25:3-4).
Judah’s sins included evil doings and idolatry (verses 5-7). As for the 70 years of punishment, God may have chosen this period of time since the number of years coincides with the apparent number of violations by the people of Judah of God’s command that the land should rest every seventh year (Leviticus 25:1-7, Lev 20-22; 26:33-35; 2 Chronicles 36:20-21).
This prophecy of punishment came upon the people of Judah because of their disobedience to God’s laws.According to the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary, the 70 years was “the exact number of years of Sabbaths in four hundred and ninety years, the period from Saul to the Babylonian captivity. …
“The seventy years probably begin from the fourth year of Jehoiakim, when Jerusalem was first captured, and many captives, as well as the treasures of the temple, were carried away; they end with the first year of Cyrus, who, on taking Babylon, issued an edict for the restoration of the Jews (Ezr 1:1)” (comments on Jeremiah 25:11).
Daniel lives through in the 70-year punishment
Daniel 1:21 explains that “Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus”—which was the year Cyrus made a proclamation allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The year of this proclamation marked the end of the 70-year captivity of the Jews predicted by God through Jeremiah.
This passage tells us that Daniel lived in Babylon throughout the entire 70 years of the Jewish captivity. He lived to see the fall of the Babylonian Empire and the sudden rise of the Medo-Persian Empire with its first ruler, Cyrus.
King Cyrus in the Bible
One of Cyrus’ first acts was to issue a decree allowing the Jews to leave Babylon. Ezra records this joyous event for the Jews as follows: “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,
“‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem’” (Ezra 1:1-3).
It is interesting to note that over 150 years in advance, God foretold the birth of Cyrus and what this king would do. Through the prophet Isaiah, God said, “Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut: ‘I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron.
“‘I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the LORD, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me’” (Isaiah 45:1-4).
In advance of the punishment He would bring on Jacob’s descendants—the people of Judah—God planned for the man who would eventually come to power and release the Jews from captivity.
Daniel 9 and lessons for us
Daniel’s recognition of how God was fulfilling the 70-year prophecy of Jeremiah had a profound effect on him. Daniel 9:3-19 records Daniel’s passionate prayer of confession of national sins and supplication for God’s forgiveness and help.
One of the first lessons to note from this prophecy against Judah is God’s expectation of obedience to His laws. He especially required obedience from the descendants of Abraham, who were later called Israelites and, later still, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (after the nation split into these two kingdoms). The blessings for obedience and penalties for disobedience found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 continue for these people.
Sadly, the descendants of the ancient Israelites have continued to disobey God’s laws. And, as happened to the kingdom of Judah during the 70-years prophecy, these people will again be punished by God for their refusal to follow God’s timeless commands. To learn more about the identity of these people and what is prophesied to occur to them, see the articles in the sections “12 Tribes of Israel” and “Where Is America in Prophecy?”
Another important lesson for us is found in Daniel’s response to the 70-years prophecy of Jeremiah. Just as Daniel, through study of God’s Word, recognized where he was in the timeline of biblical prophecy, Christ admonishes us to discern “the signs of the times” in which we live (Matthew 16:1-3).
Do you know where we are in prophecy? Do you know what must yet occur prior to the return of Jesus Christ to this earth? And most importantly, do you know what God expects of you? You can find answers to these questions in the articles in this section about prophecy and in our booklet How to Understand Prophecy.
“I know the thoughts I think toward you”
Finally, there is one more issue highlighted by this account that bears our attention. This is the wonderful future God had in store for His people after their 70-year captivity in Babylon had elapsed.
In one of the most often quoted passages of Bible, God told the people of Judah: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
This statement was given to the people of Judah while they were in captivity and was meant to provide them with hope and encouragement. But notice carefully the future God anticipated with these people.
“Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive” (verses 12-14).
God’s expectation was that these people would diligently seek Him and that He would then bless them. God’s desire is the same for all people, including each of us today. He desires to have a similar future with each of us, but we each have to respond to God by loving Him and fulfilling His purpose for our lives.
For additional study, be sure to read the accompanying articles covering subjects and events found in the book of Daniel.