Word to Return

Understanding the “start date” of the “seventy weeks” is vital to its interpretation. WHEN the period commenced determines when it will end. Fortunately, the interpreting angel provided Daniel with that information - “From the going forth of the word to return and to build Jerusalem.” And the identification of this “word” is found in the context of the chapter.

Complicating the matter is the division of the period into three subdivisions of “seven weeks,” “sixty-two weeks,” and “one week,” presumably, three periods of 49, 434, and 7 years respectively for a total of 490 years.

As the angel declared: “Seventy weeks are divided upon your people and upon the holy city.” The intended outcome of the entire period is presented in verse 24 by the six redemptive goals.


  • (Daniel 9:25) - “Know, then, and understand; from the going forth of the word to return and to build Jerusalem until an anointed one, the Prince, will be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks the broad place and the ditch will again be built, even in troublesome times.”

In the preceding passage, the Hebrew noun rendered “commandment” or “decree” in some English versions is dabar, but it more accurately means “WORD” or “speech.” Happily, the identification of this “word” is provided in the first paragraph of the chapter.

Daniel “understood by the books (sepher) the number of the years whereof the WORD (dabar) of Yahweh came to Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem” - (Daniel 9:1-2).

The term “books” in verse 1 translates the noun sepher, and “word,” again, represents the Hebrew noun dabar. Thus, the “word” to return and build Jerusalem is the prophecy by Jeremiah that Daniel was contemplating at the start of the chapter.

And that prophetic “word” can be dated to 605 B.C. based on the dates in Jeremiah. Note the links between chapter 9 of Daniel and the two prophecies about the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity:

  • (Daniel 9:1-2) - “I understood by the books the number of the years whereof the WORD OF YAHWEH CAME TO JEREMIAH the prophet, for the ACCOMPLISHMENT (male) of the DESOLATIONS (horbah) of Jerusalem, SEVENTY YEARS” {538-539 B.C.}.
  • (Jeremiah 25:1-14) - “The WORD THAT CAME TO JEREMIAH concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, the same was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, which Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah, and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem… And Yahweh has sent to you all his servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, but you have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear, saying, RETURN (shub) now everyone from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land that Yahweh has given to you and to your fathers, from of old and even for evermore… And this whole land shall be a DESOLATION (horbah), and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon SEVENTY YEARS. And it shall come to pass, when the seventy years are ACCOMPLISHED (male) I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith Yahweh, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it desolate forever.” {606-605 B.C.}
  • (Jeremiah 29:1, 10-14) - “Now these are the WORDS (dabar) of the BOOK (sepher) that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem… For thus says Yahweh, that AFTER SEVENTY YEARS BE ACCOMPLISHED (male) at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you TO RETURN (shub) to this place.”

Thus, Daniel links the beginning of the “seventy-sevens” to the seventy-year captivity predicted by Jeremiah. And both the book of Daniel and Jeremiah’s prophecy are pegged to the “first year of Nebuchadnezzar,” approximately 605 B.C.


For Daniel, the captivity began that same year when the army of Babylon subjugated the city, removed the “vessels of the house of Yahweh,” and sent the first exiles to Mesopotamia - (Daniel 1:1-2).

The Hebrew verb rendered “return” or shub has the basic sense to “return, to bring back.” Elsewhere, it is applied to the “return” of the exiles to the Jewish homeland. In the present passage in Daniel, it does not refer to the rebuilding of the city, but to the “return” of the Jews to Jerusalem - (Jeremiah 12:15, 29:10-14, 30:3).

In the clause, “to build Jerusalem,” the term rendered “build” is the Hebrew verb banah. The clause is parallel to verse 24 where the angel pronounced that “seventy-sevens are divided concerning your people and your holy city.” That is, the verb “return” refers to the return of the “your people,” and “build” to the restoration of “your holy city.” The two terms refer to distinct events – The return of the Jews to Jerusalem, and to the restoration of the city.

UNTIL an anointed one, a leader.” The syntax of the Hebrew clause is clear. From the start of the “seventy-sevens,” an “anointed” figure will appear after the first “seven-sevens,” presumably, after the first 49 years. In the Hebrew sentence, the preposition translated “until” is prefixed to the noun rendered “anointed one” and cannot refer to anything or anyone else in the sentence.

And there is no “the” or definite article with the noun rendered “anointed one.” In Daniel’s time, “messiah” was not used in an absolute sense for the future king who would sit on the throne of David.  Both kings and high priests were labeled “anointed ones” - (Leviticus 4:3-5, 6:22, 1 Samuel 12:3, Psalm 18:50).

The word rendered “prince” or “leader” is nagid, a generic designation for one who leads - a “ruler” or “leader.” Derivative meanings include “prince, captain, commander.” Most often, it is applied to priests, military, or civil leaders - (1 Samuel 9:16, 1 Chronicles 9:20, Nehemiah 11:11, Jeremiah 20:1).


Three candidates from the period may fit the description of the “anointed one,” Cyrus the Great, Zerubbabel, and Joshua the high priest. In Isaiah, Cyrus is declared Yahweh’s “anointed,” the one appointed to defeat Babylon and free the Jewish exiles - (Isaiah 45:1, Haggai 1:1).

Zerubbabel and Joshua fit the general timeframe, but neither is mentioned in Daniel. In contrast, Cyrus is a key figure in the book. When the chronological range of Daniel is given, the prophet’s “career” extends from the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign to the “first year of king Cyrus” – (Daniel 1:21).

The “anointed” one in verse 25 cannot be identical to the “anointed” leader in verses 26-27. The latter appears during the final or “seventieth week,” presumably, after at least 483 years, while the former figure appears after the first “seven weeks.” That means the two men are separated by several centuries.

If the “anointed one” is Cyrus, it may be significant that he is labeled “leader” or “prince” (nagid) and not “king.”

Cyrus inherited his throne in 559 B.C., though, at the time, he was a minor ruler over the territory of Anshan and a vassal of the Median Empire. He rebelled against his overlord in 553 B.C. and defeated the Median Empire by 550 B.C., adding it to his own fledgling empire. It was at that time that he became the king of the “Medes and Persians.”

If Cyrus is the “anointed one,” subtracting “seven weeks” or 49 years from the date of Jeremiah’s prophecy yields a date around 556 B.C., a relatively close fit.

The rise of Cyrus to power in 559 B.C. set the whole series of events into motion that resulted in the overthrow of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the return of the Jewish exiles to Jerusalem, and the long process of rebuilding the city and its walls.



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