A friend returned home from vacation, decided to do some Bible reading, opening the book at random in Daniel 9. Early today he sent me these words:
“Unlike Lepanto, we seem to be surrounded, however Mary turned that tide in spite of those numbers. Yet today, who carries her banner? Because I was out of town, it has been a couple of weeks or more since I opened the Bible at a “random” page. I was surprised last night to have my eye first fall on Daniel 9:20-27. [This] certainly seems to imply that
1. Sin is general at this time,
2. Some otherworldly action is imminent,
3. The “cycle” of Christ’s life, death and resurrection may be repeated in the present – foreshadowed by the murder of Onias III, then Christ, then the church perhaps,
4. Ruin is promised for the desolator(s).”
After reading my friend’s good insight, I decided to pay a visit to the 9th chapter of Daniel but then something really coincidental happened. I met three different friends at different times of the day today, all of them named Daniel! The last one I run into, showed me his newly acquired Kindle edition of An Experiment With Time, by J. W. Dunne (1875–1949) with a prologue of Jorge Luis Borges. Quite a coincidence indeed.
Daniel 9 the great arc of time from 588 B.C. to the distant future
“In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes the Mede, who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.”
Daniel was granted the grace of understanding that the ‘weeks’ of Jeremiah were 70 years, the period of desolation that God has decreed for Israel to suffer exile until “the land will rest its Sabbaths.” That was a sobering thought. There was going to be not Judah, nor Israel for 70 years; no return from exile for the ten tribes; the Temple destroyed, Jerusalem laid waste. Tough times: those who sin in haste, repent at leisure. The lesson here is plain: the man of God discerns the times while the wicked are to bear the same times without understanding their meaning.
Daniel “calls” grace to himself with fasting, prayer and studious application, reading the old prophecies humbly, allowing physical hunger to motivate his spirit to reach out for the Word and letting the Word fill the spirit of man after the flesh is properly subdued by his will.
“I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: “Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.”
Daniel’s experience is similar to ours: people refuse to believe they are facing a long hard chastisement until it is suddenly upon them. Daniel is not exempt from exile himself but he puts it to good use.The forced deportation has been rich in unexpected gifts: protection, time to pray, wise teachers to learn from … all of Daniel’s needs are now taken care of. He makes use of that grace to the fullest.
“Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
Daniel’s contrite heart is broken and ready to receive Divine Revelation with greater eagerness than when receiving Divine Providence… a good example for us. Daniel knows well that Israel is tasting the bitter fruits of many years of disobedience to God’s Law. Think of the wayward religious and lay people of our day that for so long have offended God disdaining His justice.
“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.
A man made wiser by suffering, Daniel observes that the curses promised in the Torah to those disobedient generations are as certain and true as the blessings promised to the obedient. He makes allowance for God’s mercy and patience knowing full well that the God of Israel is teaching His people a bitter lesson that will not last forever. In fact it will be shorter than the 400 years of slavery in Egypt.
“Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.
Responsibility for the calamities of life … God shows his people how the sins of fathers visit their children, and their land. The proud people of David and Solomon are now defeated and scorned. The greatness of their ancestors and the glorious memories of the past only add to their present injury. They have failed to live like the true people of God. They have failed to realize that each generation must seek the favor of the Lord because once it is lost, it won’t be easily recovered even for those who descend from noble and faithful servants of God.
“Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
Now Daniel goes to the root of Israel’s reason to live: the Name of God is the inheritance of Israel, the greatest insurance against the misfortunes of history, the Rock that will save them through the ages. Left to their own devices, they’re no more durable than any other nation but as “God’s people, upon whom God’s name has been called” there is a certainty of redemption and survival.
The Seventy Weeks
“While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill— while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:”
“At the time of the evening sacrifice.” Although the Temple and the liturgy have ceased, Daniel lives and worships God keeping careful track of the sacred obligations. We should do the same in our days with the Liturgy of the Hours. Because the divine appointments are part of a similar set of liturgical seasons known to God and the holy angels. Everything under the sun has its time. Those in constant conversation with God, those who follow intently and humbly the rhythm of the divine seasons are always given the grace of understanding.
“Seventy ‘weeks of years’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place. Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘weeks of years’ and sixty-two ‘weeks of years.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘weeks of years,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will not be any more. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the City and the Sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”
After the completion of the seventy weeks, the times of the Messiah begin. The early Christian Fathers understood this number as “weeks of years” (in Hebrew, the Archangel Gabriel calls them literally ”sevens”) in such manner that the prophetic time ends up being seven times longer: 490 years. Gabriel analyzes the seventy weeks excluding the last, that he will cover in verses 26-27, dividing the remaining weeks in seven and seventy two. The starting point will be an edict ordering the reconstruction of Jerusalem’s walls. The reconstruction will last 49 years after the exiled Jews return. The reconstruction has a subtle purpose… Jerusalem has to be ready for the arrival of the Messiah coming to inspect his people. Compare with the prophecy of Jesus against Jerusalem in Luke 19:43-44:
“Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
The Messiah will be put to death at the end of the 62 weeks of years; his own people will abandon him and then a cruel invader will come and destroy City and Temple again. It is remarkable that the Babylonians destroyed the first Temple in 588 B.C. on the 9th day of the month of Av after breaching the defensive walls on the 17th day of Tamuz. Six centuries later in 70 A.D. the Romans destroyed the Temple on the 9th day of the month of Av after breaching the defensive walls on the 17th day of Tamuz, an astonishing coincidence.
From antiquity there have been two differing opinions among Catholic scholars. One group sees in this chapter a Messianic prophecy fulfilled in the days of Christ. Others see it as a double-fulfillment type, a model of the end times. St Jerome mentions this prophecy on his commentary of Matthew 24:15. It is quite possible that both opinions are correct if Daniel 9:27 “war will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed” refers to a cyclical series of desolations that continue until the time of the end, renewed century after century as the “straits of the times” intensify. God reveals and conceals at the same time. He reveals enough for us to be prepared for times of anguish but not clearly enough for us to effectively prevent or avoid them. These are divine decrees that no one will be able to avoid fully.
An example of the intertwining of revelation and concealment is the arrival of the Messiah towards the end of the “weeks of years.” It was generally well known and understood at that time that the Messiah had to appear in that generation. The same Archangel Gabriel that spoke to Daniel confirmed to Mary of Nazareth that the Messiah was going to be born of her. Then St Simeon received a divine confirmation when Jesus was presented in the Temple. What fascinates me is how inscrutable must have been for ordinary people at that time to figure out that Jesus was the Messiah.
The stars where shouting the arrival of the promised Savior (“the Heavens declare the glory of God …”) and the Magi of Orient were easily able to discern the celestial signs, and then … nothing! Jesus grows up carefully concealed by the mystery surrounding his birth. Only a few suspected that the infant Jesus could be the awaited Messiah but the virginal birth threw them all off the scent. Surely the Messiah could not be born from a mother that was – in appearance to all human eyes – fooling around before getting married. Of course most people were not privy to the works of the Holy Spirit. For those people, the Messiah failed to appear – although he was right under their big noses – and so the prophecy of the weeks had all the appearance of a bad interpretation, or worse, an unfulfilled prophecy … while in reality it was an act of divine concealment. The “weeks” were fulfilled to a tee.
One day when we all sit to study the great mysteries of the faith, we will look at Daniel 9 and see how it plainly defines the path of salvation for mankind through the “straits of the times.” Until we can study it as fulfilled prophecy, we must live it as the history of our salvation: the mysterious chiaroscuro painted in time by the hand of God.