The original setting for this prophecy takes place hundreds of years before Daniel is even born. God had commanded Israel to set aside the seventh year of each agricultural cycle in order for the land to receive a Sabbath rest (Leviticus 25:1-7). The same way man was to receive the seventh day as a day off, known as the Sabbath, the land was to receive the seventh year off, known as a Sabbath Year or a Sabbath to the Lord. God warns Israel in general about the punishments that will follow if this commandment is not obeyed (Leviticus 26: 27-46).
Israel's lack of the proper spiritual response was disobedient to God's commandment and as a result for 490 consecutive years Israel never let the land have a Sabbath Year's rest. This came to a total of 70 missed Sabbath Year's of rest for the land. As a punishment to Israel for this specific disobedience, God allowed Israel to be taken captive for a period of 70 years (2 Chronicles 36:21). This was in direct correlation equaling one year of captivity for each of the Sabbath Year's rest the land missed out on.
The Babylonian captivity occurred in more (probably 3 separate) than one wave of Jews being taken back to Babylon (usually believed to be three separate waves of captivity), probably occurring with the first wave of deportation around 605 B.C.(1) The 70 years for the fulfillment of this punishment/captivity prophecy is generally believed to have occurred from 586 B.C. - 516 B.C. Daniel was more than 80 years old when God sent the angel Gabriel to him with this prophecy.
Jeremiah has prophesied to Israel about this event before the captivity took place in Jeremiah 24:8-11. This is sometimes referred to as Jeremiah's prophecy of captivity also mentioned in Jeremiah 25:11-12 and Jeremiah 29:10.
Toward the end of the 70 years of captivity (somewhere in between year 65 and year 69) Daniel realizes that the 70 years Jeremiah prophesied about was coming to and end so he begins to pray in a very special way. Daniel's Prayer is a confession of Israel's sin and failure to be obedient to God's commands and follow the messages that God's prophets' spoke. The prayer also recognizes Israel's captivity as being a direct result of God's righteousness (justification). It was the spiritual response God was looking for to bring an end to the 70 years of captivity. The Angel Gabriel visits him and delivers for the world this "70 prophetic weeks" prophecy as a message from God. These 70 weeks would be needed to accomplish God's objectives found in Dan. 9:24.
Interestingly, the "70 weeks" prophecy represents specific events that are to occur over 3 different blocks of time totaling 490 years. These 490 years are represented here by weeks of years (1 week = 7 years and 70 weeks = 490 years). In between week 69 and week 70 there is an unspecified length of time which is like a time out or intermission in the prophecy. 68 of the 69 weeks have been fulfilled. The last week, week 70, has not come to pass yet and will begin sometime in the future and will consist of 1 consecutive 7 year period that will include what's known as The Time Of Jacob's Trouble. The 70th week ends with the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom.
It is ironic that Israel took 490 years to rob the land of 70 Sabbath Year rests and God, in answering Daniel's prayer, revealed a different 490 year prophecy that is represented through 70 weeks. Both Jeremiah's prophecy of 490 years and Daniel's prophecy of 490 years deal with time measured the same way (70 weeks of years = 490 total years). While Israel had influence on how long they would be held captive (their 70 years of captivity was in direct coloration with the 490 years of Sabbath Land Rest that were missed) the 490 years in this prophecy was cut out or decreed by God. (Daniel 9:24)
The prophecy of Daniel's 70 weeks is a much deeper study than presented here on JewishRoots.Net and viewers are encouraged to do their own independent study.
Note: There is an alternative view that the 70 years run from the fourth year of Jehoikim (440 B.C.) to the assassinations of Belshazzar (371 B.C.)(2)
The goals of Daniel 9:24-27 focus primarily on the spiritual restoration of Israel, though their physical restoration would be included as well. (3)
No other book in the Old Testament speaks more about the End Times.
Other links of interest include:
1). John MacArthur Study Bible (NASB) p.1074; 1088.
2). Jewish Commentator Kimchi from Soncino Books of the Bible series, Jeremiah p.167.
3). Understanding a End Times Comprehensive Prophecy Approach by Paul N. Benware p.247.
Randall Price: Writing for Israel My Glory Feb/March 2000 p.19-21.