They say words matter. It’s true, especially deciphering the Bible in regard to translating Hebrew and Greek words into English. I usually agree with the King James Version translation, as I believe it is more consistently accurate compared to the others, but every once in a while, I prefer other translations. This is the case with Daniel 9:25. Here is how the KJV reads, “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.”
This is a good translation, except for one word, in my opinion – “commandment.” Other translations substitute the word “decree” for commandment. I still don’t think this is the most accurate word. I like the DARBY (and others) translation best. “Know therefore and understand: From the going forth of the word to return and to build Jerusalem unto Messiah, the Prince, are seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks. The street and the moat shall be built again, even in troublous times.” I prefer the word “word” in this Scripture over decree or commandment. The original Hebrew word for this Scripture is “dabar,” which means “word, words, speech, thing, or a matter.”
Dabar is a common word (Strong’s Hebrew 1697) used at least 1,441 times in the Old Testament. Sometimes it can refer to “the word of the Lord” as used in Daniel 9:2, “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.” But usually, it is referring to words spoken by human beings. It is a direct, clear, and forceful speech or words. The KJV translates Strong’s H1697 (dabar) in the following manner: word (807x), thing, (231x), matter (63x), acts (51x), chronicles (38x), saying (25x), commandment (20x), and miscellaneous (204x).
On the other hand, the Hebrew word “teem” is translated as “a decree or command.” It is Strong’s Concordance H2942 (teem). It only occurs 49 times in 48 verses in the KJV. It is used 9 times in the Book of Ezra regarding decrees made by Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. It is used 11 times in the Book of Esther regarding a decree made by King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) of Persia. It is used 15 times in the Book of Daniel regarding decrees made by Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. Teem is also used for decrees made by God in different books of the Bible.
With all these passages of Scripture regarding different Babylonian and Persian kings making decrees (teem), you would think our keyword (teem) would be found in Daniel 9:25, especially since he used it in Daniel 3:10, 29; 4:6; and 6:26. Instead, the more common word, dabar, is used. As a matter of fact, the word dabar is used seven more times in Daniel 9, once as the “word of the Lord,” five times for “spoke, speaking, and talking” and once again for “word.” The word teem is not used at all in Daniel 9.
The word decree means an official order issued by a legal authority. These decrees become the written law of the land, and they go out to the entire kingdom. Everyone must obey them under the penalty of death. Let’s briefly review a few royal decrees, with the Hebrew word teem used, issued by the kings of Persia in the sixth and fifth centuries BC.
DECREES (TEEM) ISSUED BY PERSIAN KINGS
- King Cyrus issued a decree around 538 BC, allowing the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. More than 40,000 Jews returned to Jerusalem in 537 BC and began work on the Temple in 536 BC under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, the newly appointed governor of Judah. “But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon, the same king Cyrus made a decree (teem) to build this house of God” (Ezra 5:13).
After defeating the Babylonians in 539 BC, Cyrus made Babylon his capital city. All the vessels of gold and silver taken from the first Temple by Nebuchadnezzar were returned to the Jews at this time. This rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem fulfilled the prophecy by Isaiah given approximately 150 years earlier, which actually named Cyrus as God’s shepherd. “That says of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, You shall be built; and to the temple, Your foundation shall be laid” (Isaiah 44:28).
- The construction of the 2nd Temple stopped in about 530 BC and remained dormant for about a decade until God used the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to convince the Israelites to resume construction in 520 BC. As they began rebuilding, they were confronted by Tattenai, the Persian provincial governor of Judah, who asked them where they received the authority to reconstruct the Temple. They told him of Cyrus’ decree, which evidently Tattenai had never heard of. The governor then made an inquiry to King Darius regarding the matter, so Darius searched the kingdom archives and found Cyrus’ decree.
Then Darius issued his own decree to speed up the building of the Temple, agreeing to cover all the Jews’ expenses they incurred from the royal treasury (Ezra 5-6; Haggai 1:1). “Moreover I make a decree [teem] what you shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they are not hindered” (Ezra 6:8).
- In Ahasuerus’ (Xerxes) third year as king of Persia, he made a decree concerning his queen. “If it pleases the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she. And when the king’s decree [teem] which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire, (for it is great,) all the wives shall give to their husband’s honor, both to great and small.”
Once a decree was written in the laws, it could not be altered. A new decree would have to be issued to counter the original decree. Of course, we all know the story of Esther becoming queen of Persia and her part in saving her people from annihilation. The first Purim was celebrated in 473 BC.
- In 458/457 BC, Ezra was commissioned by the Persian government to return to Jerusalem and oversee the Jews to ensure the observance of the Mosaic Law. The official decree was given in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes for some of the exiled Jews in Babylon (priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and the Nethinim) to return to Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra the priest (Ezra 7:7). The total number was probably between 5000 – 8000 people, including women and children.
This decree encouraged the return of more exiles with Ezra, the further enhancement of the Temple and its accompanying worship, and the appointment of civil leaders (Ezra 7:11-26). No mention of the rebuilding of Jerusalem is found in this decree, only issues regarding the newly built Temple and the teaching of the law of Moses.
Ezra was a Levite priest and a scribe of the Law, who was a descendant of the High Priest Aaron, Moses’ brother. King Artaxerxes of Persia gave Ezra a copy of the letter that included the decree described in Ezra 7:12-26. “I make a decree [teem], that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee. For as much as you are sent of the king, and of his seven counselors, to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in your hand” (Ezra 7:13-14). Much silver and gold was given to Ezra from the king and his counselors, and the silver and gold that was given to them by the citizens of Babylon and the priests.
THE WORD (DABAR) TO NEHEMIAH
The word teem (decree) is not found in the Book of Nehemiah (or in Daniel 9). There were, however, “words” spoken by King Artaxerxes, which gave Nehemiah permission to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and its gates and defensive walls. This occurred in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes in 445/444 BC in the month of Nisan (Nehemiah 2:1). The reason Nehemiah wanted to return to Jerusalem is found in Nehemiah 2:3-5. Nehemiah tells the king that “the city of Jerusalem lies waste and its gates are burned with fire.” He asks the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs [Jerusalem], that I may build it.”
After Nehemiah asked the king for permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and walls, the king replied, “How long will your journey be? And when will you return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time” (Nehemiah 2:6). These were the words of the king indicating his approval of Nehemiah’s request. Nehemiah also asked the king to “let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.”
“And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me. Then I went to the governors in the region beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me” (Nehemiah 2:7-9).
Ezra’s decree was for a large contingency of Jews living in Babylon (Iraq) to return to Jerusalem for Temple and religious purposes, carrying gold and silver with them. Such a major operation would require an official decree by the King of Persia, which would be written into the records of the kings of Persia, making it a law allowing the Jews to return and relocate to Jerusalem with the stated purpose as already outlined.
Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem was only for a small group of Jews living in Susa (Iran) to accompany him on his trip for the purpose of rebuilding the city and the walls. Nehemiah would use the manpower that was already living in the area of Judah and Jerusalem for the construction work. This was not a major return/relocation by a large amount of Jewish people to Judah and Jerusalem (and they were not carrying gold and silver with them), so an official “decree” was probably not necessary to be written into law. If it was, it is not mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah. Evidently, only the king’s “word” and letters (with the seal of the King of Persia) were required for authorization for Nehemiah’s mission.
Once Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he scouted out the conditions of the gates and walls at night in secret. He then told the officials and workers there in Jerusalem, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.’ And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ Then they set their hands to this good work” (Nehemiah 2:17-18).
In these verses, the translated English word, words, is “dabar” in Hebrew. This is the same Hebrew word (dabar) used in Daniel 9:25. Is this a coincidence? I think not. It would have been more reasonable, grammatically, for Daniel to have used the word teem if the terminus a quo (start) of Daniel’s 70th seven began in Artaxerxes’ seventh year (458/457) with Ezra’s decree. However, he didn’t; he used the word dabar, which is one reason I believe the terminus a quo for Daniel’s 70th seven was in 445/444 BC when King Artaxerxes gave the go-ahead word to Nehemiah to “return and build.”
Nehemiah and his workers completed the gates and walls construction in 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). However, there was still much work to be done. “Now the city was large and great: but the people were few therein, and the houses were not built. And the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts to dwell in other cities” (Nehemiah 7:4; 11:1). Houses had to be built in Jerusalem for one-tenth of the population that lived in the surrounding area of Judah.
THE 69 WEEKS/SEVENS – FROM EZRA’S DECREE TO CHRIST
Those who hold to Ezra’s decree in 458/457 as the terminus a quo (start) of Daniel’s prophecy believe the 69 weeks of Daniel 9:25 (“Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the decree to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times”) were fulfilled in 26/27 AD when Jesus began his ministry (late summer or early fall ) and was baptized by John the Baptist and the Holy Spirit.
One problem with this view is there is no terminus ad quem (endpoint) date for the 69 weeks that can be determined for the start of Jesus’ ministry. Most scholars believe the ministry of Jesus lasted for 3.5 years, but it can’t be proven by Scripture. There are only three definite Passovers recorded in the Book of John, which accounts for 2.5 years. So, what was the end date for the 69 sevens of Daniel 9:25? The answer would have to be a guess or an approximation.
The dispensationalist premillennialists of this dating method believe the first part of Daniel 9:26, the death of Jesus Christ, occurs after the 69 weeks are over (by approximately 2.5- 3.5 years) and is part of a gap period (along with the destruction of Jerusalem and the 2nd Temple in 70 AD, and beyond) before the 70th week begins in the future. The timeline mentioned in 9:26, “And after threescore and two weeks, Messiah shall be cut off,” would have occurred when Jesus was crucified in 30/31 AD.
The preterists of this dating method believe the 70th seven finished in 33 or 34 AD during the time of Stephen and Paul (for some reason). So, regarding this preterist view, to what does Daniel refer in vs. 9:27 when he states he is confirming a covenant for seven years? If it refers to Christ, then what covenant was it, and how did He break it?
THE 69 SEVENS – FROM NEHEMIAH’S WORD TO CHRIST
I don’t adhere to the 458/457 terminus a quo for Daniel’s 70th seven prophecy. I believe it started in 444 BC when the word/dabar was given to Nehemiah to go and build the city and walls of Jerusalem. In regard to the terminus ad quem of the 69 sevens, I don’t think “until Messiah the Prince” is referring to the start of Jesus’ ministry as a prophet, teacher/preacher, healer, and miracle worker, but is referring to the King, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem as king of the Jews (but wasn’t accepted by the people and religious rulers) on Nisan 10, 33 AD. This fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah approximately five and a half centuries earlier. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, your King comes unto you: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). Daniel calls Him the Prince of princes in Daniel 8:25.
The first part of Daniel 9:26 comes a few days later when Jesus was crucified or “cut off” on Nisan 14, 33 AD. With this timeline, there isn’t a 3.5-year gap between Daniel 9:25 and the first part of Daniel 9:26 (Jesus’ death). There is only a matter of a few days. Most of those who hold to this dating method believe the 69 weeks were for 483 years, but this is only possible by using the “prophetic” 360-day calendar made famous by Robert Anderson. Two such proponents of these dates and Anderson’s prophetic calendar are the Bible scholars Harold Hoehner and Thomas Ice. Hoehner spells it out nicely in Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ Part VI: Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology.
Of course, many of you who have read some of my previous articles know I no longer believe the dating method of Daniel’s prophecy is based on the “prophetic calendar.” I believe it is based on the Jewish calendar with the Shemitah/Sabbath years being used as the 69/70 sevens that Daniel mentions. See In The Midst of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks Prophecy (rev310.net) and Sevens :: By Randy Nettles – Rapture Ready for more information. Remember, the word “years” (as in 49, 434, 7, or 483, 490) is never used in Daniel 9:24-27, only the word “sevens” (as in 7, 62, 1, or 69, 70) is used for gauging time.
In Harold Hoehner’s work, he does say something I find very interesting, “If sabbatical years were used, one would expect the decree to have been given in a sabbatical year and Christ’s death to have occurred in a sabbatical year.” This is exactly what I demonstrated in my last article, “Sevens.”
The prophets and men of God who wrote the Bible were divinely inspired by God, the Holy Spirit. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 – KJV). The NIV translation says it a little differently, but the meaning is the same. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” When it comes to the word of God, dabar matters.
Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!