Continued from Part 1 ...
THE PASSAGE: VERSE BY VERSE
Verse 24: Seventy weeks are decreed upon your people and upon your holy city, to terminate the transgression, and to make an end of sin, and to forgive iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint the Holy of Holies.
Verse 24 contains six phrases directed solely for “your people and upon your holy city” (that is, the Jewish nation and Jerusalem) whose respective content is to find fulfillment in the seventy weeks period if another period of exilic punishment is to be avoided: (1) to terminate the transgression (2) to make an end of sin (3) to forgive iniquity2 (4) to bring in everlasting righteousness (5) to seal vision and prophet (6) to anoint the Holy of Holies.
As we shall see, much was accomplished toward fulfilling these goals, but total compliance was not realized. The results of falling short were already expected and foretold in the passage (verses 26-27).
Special attention is given to the most grievous of sins from which so many other sins and their inevitable punishments originate. In this period the centrality of the Jerusalem Temple is to be recognized by the people in both word and deed as the cessation of rampant idolatry of previous centuries takes place. While individuals and even groups of Israelites may be led astray, there will no longer be that pervasive idolatry which ate away at the national fabric of both the southern kingdom of Judah as well as the northern kingdom of Israel.
The angel declares the great changes that need to be accomplished during this period. Thus is terminated ha-pesh‘a “the transgression,” the rebelliousness against God manifested in the corrosive idolatry of the First Temple period, the root cause of Israel’s punishment (see Daniel 8:13 where ha-pesh‘a is used of heathen objects of worship). Ha-pesh‘a is written with the definite article to indicate the specific transgression of idolatry that distinct from all other sins is given specific attention. Historically, it finally ceased as a major internal threat to national existence. It was terminated not in the sense of ceasing to exist altogether, but in the sense that it is reduced in form and size and confined to a minority of apostates. External attempts at imposing idolatry will be met with contempt, defiance, and actual physical resistance by the masses of the nation. Internal attempts to impose alien teaching will lead to eventual expulsion and/or disappearance from the national body.
Sin and iniquity
Chatat, “sin” (that is, inadvertent sin), and ‘avon, “iniquity” (that is, intentional sin), are not written with the definite article as they refer to sins for which there was ongoing ability to obtain forgiveness throughout this period by recourse to the divinely ordained system of atonement. Under this system sincere repentance represented by remorse and confession in prayer was coupled with a sacrificial offering in the Temple. Most sins then and now could be atoned for anytime through sincere prayer alone. Despite the vicissitudes and dangers to the future existence of the Jewish people during these “troubled times” (verse 25), an intensification of adherence to Judaism takes place. As a result, there is nothing that can destroy the remnant’s loyalty to the God of Israel in future periods of persecution and exile, which were to follow.
Everlasting righteousness of the Torah
It is a time “to bring in everlasting righteousness” through the promulgation of the Torah, both Written and Oral. Torah law is the spiritual system of the commandments by which God judges His people. The Torah, God’s righteous law, is of unchanging character, undiminishing vitality, and never-ending validity. It is therefore everlasting, outlasting even the Temple. By its vitality the Torah shows the way for forgiveness from sin even when the Temple may lie in ruin and provides the means by which the Jewish people could remain strong and rise again. In this sense, the Second Temple era was a preparation for the bitter exile to follow the Temple’s destruction.
The end of vision and prophet
The phrase “to seal [lachtom] vision and prophet [i.e., prophecy]” refers to the fact that the prophetic era during which time God made His will known to and through the prophets by means of visions and oracles (see Numbers 12:1-8, Deuteronomy 16:18) came to an end during this period. The cessation of prophecy is not to be taken in a negative sense but is to be viewed simply as the culmination of one mode of God’s relationship with His people. “To seal” is not in the sense of “shutting up” or “sealing away,” but of confirmation of something “finished,” “completed.” The prophetic task was not simply to foretell future events. Its main feature was decrying idolatry and social and moral failings and bringing the nation close to God. All that needed to be said was to be found in the recorded prophets. While much was accomplished toward this end the accompanying failures would eventually lead to exile once more.
2 The technical term employed, viz. kapper, means “atone for” when used of the priest, and “absolve” or “forgive,” when used, as here, of God.