In 605 B.C., the prophet Jeremiah predicted the nation of Judah would fall to the newly established Babylonian Empire. He predicted the city of Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed, and he warned that the Jews would be force-marched into exile. He also issued this remarkable prediction – that after 70 years the Jews would return to Judah, repopulate Jerusalem, and rebuild their temple (see Jeremiah 25:11 and 29:10).
Approximately 70 years later – long after Jeremiah’s death – the prophet Daniel studied Jeremiah 25:11 and 29:10. He realized the time had come for the fulfillment of these promises, and he claimed them in prayer in Daniel 9.
Remarkably, the Persian Empire rose to power and the new emperor, Cyrus, issued a decree for the Jews to return to the land and rebuild their temple — exactly as Jeremiah had predicted.
But how do we calculate the 70 years of Jeremiah? Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 587 B.C., and Cyrus issued his decree for the Jews to return in 538 B.C., which is a period of only 49 years.
How, then, do we arrive at 70 years for a precise fulfillment? There are four plausible explanations:
- Some people believe the phrase “70 years” is a generalized term referring to a human lifespan, because Psalm 90 says that the days of our lives are approximately 70 years. According to this view, Jeremiah said, in effect, that Jerusalem would be deserted for about 70 years, about the length of a person’s life. Between the first invasion of Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C. (which effectively subjugated the nation) and the decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C., you have 67 years, which is rounded up to 70 years in approximate language.
- Here’s another way of looking at it. The Assyrian Empire fell to Babylon in 609, and the Babylonian Empire fell to Persia in 539. That is exactly 70 years. The Babylonian Empire had a lifespan of exactly seventy years between the fall of Assyria and the rise of Persia, during which time Judah was threatened or in subjection.
- I like this theory even better. The temple of Solomon was destroyed by Babylon in 587 BC. The Second temple was completed and dedicated in 517 B.C., which is exactly 70 years. Notice that Daniel prayed in Daniel 9: Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary.
- Perhaps the best view of all is to calculate the date from the first invasion of Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C. to the laying of the foundation of the Second Temple in 536 B.C. That was exactly 70 years.
However you calculate it, we can build a strong case for the supernatural prophetic utterance of Jeremiah, and we can learn a valuable lesson in Daniel 9 about how we should study the Scriptures, find the promises of God, and claim them in prayer and faith.