With fear and trembling, I am interacting with Jim Hamilton’s interpretation of Daniel’s 70 weeks found in his new book on Daniel, With the Clouds of Heaven. Fear and trembling, because Dr. Hamilton is just that—a doctor in biblical studies. And having gone to Southern, I know his grasp of the biblical languages!
Now as a pastor, I try to mix up my reading: some “heavy” stuff, some easier reads, some on the practical aspects of ministry, some deeper theology and biblical studies. So I wanted to interact with his work to stay sharp in my thinking about biblical theology. So here goes, and hopefully I accurately represented his views!
Hamilton argues that the 70 weeks in Daniel 9:25-27 are symbolic. His argument unfolds like this:
First, numbers can often be used symbolically in prophesy. For example, in Ezekiel 4, the 430 days that Ezekiel is told to lie on his side does not refer to a literal 430 days or even 430 literal years, but reflects the time period that Israel spent in slavery to Egypt. Thus, the point of the 430 days is this: just as Israel spent a certain amount of time slavery to Egypt so also they will spend a certain amount of time in exile in Babylon. In Ezekiel 4, the time period is definitely not literal, because Israel spent more than 430 days in exile!
Second, the 490 “years” of the 70 weeks probably refers to an ultimate Jubilee. The jubilee seems to have typological characteristics. In other words, Israel’s jubilee years seem to look forward to an ultimate Jubilee. Hamilton sees the 490 “years” as this ultimate jubilee which also coincides with the consummation of all things. Therefore, the ultimate Jubilee (the consummation) does not refer to a literal time period, but a symbolic one.
One implication of his argument is that it is futile to “date hunt” for a starting point of the 70 weeks. Another implication is that its best to see the breakdown of the 70 weeks as a schema of “time periods” (see page 131). He breaks down the prophecy into four major periods.
- “Seven weeks”—The time from Daniel 9 to Malachi (9:25a)
- “62 weeks”—The 400 “silent years” (9:25b)
- The cross and destruction of the temple in 70AD (9:26)
- “70th week”
- First half—”The church age”—the church is protected and spreads the gospel
- Second half—The beast persecutes the church and overcomes it.
Although I couldn’t find a place where Hamilton explicitly stated it, he seems to believe the 70th week begins at some point after Jesus’ resurrection. He seems to locate the beginning of the 70th week at Jesus’ ascension: “The first half [i.e. the beginning] of Daniel’s seventieth week comprises most of church history between the ascension and return of Christ” (216). He also seems to believe that the 70th week begins when “the nations join together against the Lord and his Messiah after the cutting off the Messiah” (132). Either way, he sees the 70th comprising church history, culminating in a terrible persecution by the beast (i.e. Antichrist) in the second half of the 70th week (215).
I am sympathetic with the symbolic view of the 70 weeks. Having gone to Liberty University, which is a traditional/revised dispensational school, I know the dispensational system well and also its weaknesses. I usually don’t hold dispensational readings of certain biblical texts, but in the case of the 70 weeks, I must reluctantly concede that a modified dispensational reading makes slightly better sense than Hamilton’s. Here’s why.
According to Daniel 9:27, the 70th week has a definite starting point when “he [i.e. “the prince who is to come” i.e. the Antichrist] will make a firm covenant with the many for one week.” Unless I misread Hamilton, he seems to think that the 70th week begins right after the cross and the destruction of the temple in 70AD by the “nations” (see the above quote from page 132).
But it is not the nations who make a covenant for one week, but an individual—“he.” The text says that the “prince who is to come” (the Antichrist according to many interpreters) will both inaugurate the 70th week and attempt to stamp out worship in the middle of it. Therefore, it is hard for me to see how the first half of Daniel 70th week comprises most of church history. It seems that the beginning of 70th week occurs when the final, personal Antichrist is on the scene.
Now, it’s still possible to salvage a completely symbolic understanding of each “week.” For example, the “70th week” still need not be a literal 7 years. The 70th week could be symbolic and yet still pushed off into the future. Yet, a “gap” must still be inserted between the 69th and the 70th week, because the personal Antichrist inaugurates the 70th week. So the 70th week—even though its symbolic—must still be pushed off into the future.
Although Hamilton criticizes the need for a gap between the 69th and the 70th (126, n. 13), he himself must still insert a gap in his “chronology.” In his reckoning, Hamilton sees two time periods—the “seven weeks” and the “62 weeks”—happening, and then the cutting off of the Messiah and the destruction of the temple. Essentially, what Hamilton advocates for is that the “clock” of the 70 weeks is paused during the period of the cutting off of the Messiah and the destruction of the temple. Then the “countdown” resumes with the 70th week. In other words, Hamilton puts a gap between the 69th and the 70th week! He just locates it differently than most dispensational interpreters.
Modifying His Proposal
It does seem that each of these “time periods” is symbolic. Hamilton’s evidence for the symbolic use of numbers in prophesy as well as the thorny problem of needing to pick a “start date” if a literal view is taken seem to suggest that the weeks are symbolic. Furthermore, if God intended the 70 weeks to be a literal timeline, then why not say it plainly: 490 years? Giving the “timeline” in such a round about way might suggest its to be read symbolically, not literally.
It seems better, however, to have the 70th beginning when the final Antichrist comes and makes a strong covenant with many for one week (9:27). During the first half of this symbolic week, there may be an extraordinary empowerment of God’s people and the gospel goes forth in an unusually strong way. A few texts may suggest this idea. First, all the references to the 3.5 years in Daniel refer to times of intense persecution. This matches the only 3.5-year period spoken of in Daniel 9, the last half of the 70th week, which is also a time of intense persecution. Second, the church is protected in Revelation 12 for 3.5 years (the first half of the 70th week), possibly signifying a time of evangelistic success, even though the Antichrist has made a covenant with the many.
But then the church will be given into the hands of the Antichrist for the last half of the 70th week. Thankfully, however, that last half of the week will be shortened. Hamilton suggests such a reading based upon the beast of Revelation having authority for a “little while” or “one hour” and the witnesses of Revelation 11 (which symbolize the church) lay dead for “three and a half days” (216). Thus, the apostle John prophetically “foreshortens” the time of the beast’s conquest. The “success” of the church under the beast’s reigns will be 3.5 years, while the persecution under the beast will only be “one hour,” i.e. a much shorter time.
Daniel’s prophecy of “70 weeks” is majorly disputed text for Christian pastors and theologians alike. Just peruse the various interviews on Daniel 9 over at the blog My Digital Seminary, and you’ll see quite a diversity of opinion on the meaning of the 70 weeks. So my intent here is not to provide the final word on the subject. No blog post (or even scholarly article) could ever do that! Really, this is my attempt to join the discussion and to “dialogue” with a fellow-brother in Christ (Dr. Hamilton) who upholds God’s inerrant word as normative for faith and practice. May scholars like him keep producing God-honoring works which benefit the church!
Also, if you’ve made it this far, jump over to Dr. Hamilton’s blog, For His Renown, and you will find many different posts, articles, and book reviews which can help your understanding of the Bible.