Heathen Astrologer or Hebrew Prophet?

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Which King Issued the Commandment to Rebuild Jerusalem in Daniel 9:25?

 

"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." Daniel 9:25

Introduction: The 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 is one of the great prophecies of the Old Testament. This prophecy, which was given to Daniel by the angel Gabriel, specified that 70 weeks of years (70 years times 7 = 490 years) were coming for the Jewish people. This period of 490 years would end with the manifestation of the Messiah (Christ) after the 69th week (483 years) and the crucifixion of the Christ in the middle of the 70th week. From this important prophecy we understand that the period of time between the commandment to rebuild the city of Jerusalem after the 70 year Babylonian captivity and the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth would be 483 years. The key questions that must be answered are: What king gave the decree to rebuild the city of Jerusalem? And, when did this take place? The Bible has the answers for us!

In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, we find four royal commands issued by Median and Persian kings that could possibly qualify as the "commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem." The first command was by Cyrus in Ezra 1:1-11. The second was by Darius in Ezra 4:24 and 6:1-12. The third was by Artaxerxes in his 7th year in Ezra 7:7-26. The fourth was also by Artaxerxes in his 20th year in Nehemiah 2:1-8.

While this prophecy was entirely fulfilled long ago for those who know the truth, there remains much confusion today as to which biblical king gave the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem. Almost all Bible chronologers and teachers believe that Artaxerxes gave the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem in fulfillment of Daniel 9:25 during his 20th year. But does this really line up with what the scriptures teach concerning the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem?

A careful examination of these four royal commands and what the Bible says about the kings that gave them reveal that the decree by Cyrus in his first year was clearly the command that fulfilled the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27. The purpose of this article is to examine the biblical evidence that points to Cyrus as the king who issued "the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem."

First, the decree of Cyrus must be the "commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem" because the LORD God of heaven by the prophet Isaiah had called Cyrus by name more than 150 years before his birth and had prophesied that Cyrus would rebuild Jerusalem and let the Jews return to their homeland at the end of the 70 year Babylonian captivity. These prophecies in Isaiah regarding Cyrus are exceedingly important for they prove from the Bible how special Cyrus was in the eyes of the LORD for what he would accomplish for the people of God. No other king was called of God long before his birth and appointed to such lofty responsibilities by the God of heaven as was Cyrus. The Bible has much more to say about Cyrus than about either of the other two kings who also gave later commands.

The following passages from Isaiah 44 & 45 point out how the LORD had providentially blessed Cyrus to conquer Babylon and ascend to the throne of Persia. The LORD tells us that the purpose of his blessing on Cyrus was for the sake of Israel. The LORD calls Cyrus his shepherd and emphasizes that Cyrus would perform all His will in the matter of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple. Furthermore, the LORD, by the prophet, tells us that Cyrus would let the Jewish captives freely return to their homeland.

Isaiah 44: 26-28, "That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof: That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up the rivers: That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid."

The LORD tells us plainly in this passage that Cyrus would accomplish everything that He wanted done regarding the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple. The important point to note in this passage is that while the LORD is saying of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure, the LORD then tells us what Cyrus himself would say to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. Some have argued from this passage that the LORD is saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. But this is not the case at all. The LORD is telling us what Cyrus himself would say to Jerusalem. The "even" in this passage proves this important point. Cyrus would perform all of the LORD’s pleasure regarding Jerusalem, to the extent that he (Cyrus) would say to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. Note that the word "even" clearly ties Cyrus and his performance of the LORD’s will to what Cyrus would say to Jerusalem. Cyrus would perform the LORD’s will regarding the city of Jerusalem to the extent that Cyrus himself would say to Jerusalem, "Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid." This passage is not just stating that the LORD would say that Jerusalem and the temple would be rebuilt. No, this passage is teaching us that Cyrus himself would tell Jerusalem and the temple that they were to be rebuilt.

Isaiah 45:1-4, "Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him: and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates: and the gates shall not be shut: I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee though thou hast not known me."

This passage gives us important details of how Cyrus and his army conquered Babylon in one night. The whole purpose of the LORD’s blessing upon Cyrus was so that he could decree the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and its temple and the return of the Jewish captives to their Judean homeland.

Isaiah 45:13, "I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the LORD of hosts."

This verse is clearly the LORD God speaking about Cyrus. After all, the larger context of Isaiah 44 & 45 is about Cyrus and the Babylonian empire. Furthermore, Cyrus is the only one who could and did perform what this verse requires. Additionally, Cyrus, as we already know, was the king who let the Jewish captives return to Jerusalem. We know this from the book of Ezra. This verse then, Isaiah 45:13, tells us that the king who let the Jews return to their homeland would also build the city of Jerusalem. Both of these incredible accomplishments would be performed by the same man, the same king. And we know that that king was Cyrus. The LORD gave Isaiah his name long before he was born and had Isaiah write down the details of what he would accomplish for the Jewish people. There can be no mistaking the prophet Isaiah, Cyrus would let the Jews return to their homeland, and Cyrus would also rebuild the city of Jerusalem. And we believe that Cyrus did exactly what the LORD said he would do. As reckoned by the LORD God of heaven, no king other than Cyrus could possibly rebuild Jerusalem because whoever rebuilt Jerusalem would also be the king who let the Jews freely return to Judah. Only Cyrus accomplished both of these requirements.

Second, the decree of Cyrus must be the "commandment" of Daniel 9:25 because the Bible tells us that Cyrus fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah by ending the 70 years of desolations on the city of Jerusalem.

Notice that Daniel in the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede understood from reading the book of Jeremiah that the 70 years of desolations on Jerusalem were coming to an end (Daniel 9:1-2). Daniel knew that the prophecies of Jeremiah called for only 70 years of captivity for the Jews and only 70 years of desolations for the city of Jerusalem. Cyrus was the king who brought the 70 years to an end. The Bible tells us plainly that Cyrus fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah. This unquestionably means that Cyrus ended the Babylonian captivity by allowing the Jews to return to their homeland and that he ended the 70 year period of desolations for Jerusalem by decreeing for Jerusalem to be rebuilt. In order for Cyrus to fulfill the prophecy of Jeremiah, he must have been the king that both freed the Jews to return to Judea and that issued the commandment to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. No other Persian king fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah like Cyrus did.

Here are four key passages that point out that the Babylonian captivity of the Jews would be exactly 70 years and that at the same time the desolations of the city of Jerusalem would also last 70 years.

Daniel 9:1-2, "In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem."

Jeremiah 25:12, "And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, saith the LORD…"

Jeremiah 29:10, "For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place."

II Chronicles 36:21, "To fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbaths, to fulfill threescore and ten years."

The Bible plainly teaches that Cyrus, in his first year, fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah by bringing to an end the 70 years of captivity and desolations when he decreed for the Jews to return to their homeland and for the city of Jerusalem and the temple to be rebuilt. Here are the key passages.

II Chronicles 36:22-23, "Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying: Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the LORD God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The LORD his God is with him, and let him go up."

Ezra 1:1-3, "Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem."

If Cyrus fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah by ending the 70 years of desolations on the city of Jerusalem, then Cyrus must have been the king that decreed for the rebuilding of Jerusalem at the end of the 70 years. Therefore, Cyrus was the king that gave the "commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem" in Daniel 9:25.

Third, the context of Daniel’s prayer in Daniel chapter 9 clearly points to the decree of Cyrus as the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem. The chapter begins with Daniel in the first year of Darius the Mede reading the book of Jeremiah and realizing that the 70 year desolation of Jerusalem was soon coming to an end. This realization prompted this righteous saint to confess the sins of his people and to supplicate the LORD to turn away His anger from Jerusalem and to cause His face to shine upon His sanctuary again. Daniel understood that the desolations of Jerusalem were coming to an end; therefore, he besought the LORD to have mercy upon his people, his homeland, and the city of Jerusalem.

The focus and timeframe of Daniel’s prayer must be clearly understood. Daniel prayed that as soon as the 70 years of desolations upon the city of Jerusalem were accomplished, that the LORD would immediately cause His face to again shine upon the city and the people called by His name. Notice that Daniel is beseeching the LORD to immediately "hearken and do" what he was asking the LORD for. Daniel’s plea is that the LORD would not defer, that is, that the LORD would not wait but would quickly and immediately visit His people, His city, and His sanctuary with His restored blessing after the 70 years of desolations were fulfilled. In seeking to explain when the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem went forth, we must never lose sight of the fact that Daniel’s entire focus in his prayer is at the end of the 70 years of the Babylonian captivity.

While Daniel is praying, the angel Gabriel is sent by God to give Daniel an immediate answer to his prayer. Gabriel tells Daniel that the LORD greatly loves him and that he was sent to give Daniel understanding as to what was going to happen when the 70 years of desolations were accomplished upon the city of Jerusalem. Gabriel explains that a commandment was going to be proclaimed for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem. This proclamation for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem would end the 70 years of that city’s desolations. This same decree for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem would also begin a prophetic period of 490 years that God had determined upon the Jewish people and upon the city of Jerusalem. The decree of Cyrus was clearly the only decree that answered Daniel’s prayer and ended the desolations of the Jewish people, the city of Jerusalem, and the temple. The decree of Cyrus was the only decree that could and did end the 70 years of desolations that the LORD had pronounced in judgment upon the Jewish people and upon the city of Jerusalem.

Gabriel came to give Daniel knowledge and understanding with respect to the ending of the desolations of Jerusalem. This is exactly what Daniel had prayed for. Daniel had prayed that the LORD would immediately turn back the desolations of Jerusalem and the people of God. Only Cyrus’ decree was the immediate answer that Daniel was praying for. Only Cyrus’ decree allowed Daniel to "know and understand" how the 70 week prophecy followed immediately upon the 70 year Babylonian captivity. Only Cyrus’ decree returned the Jewish people to their homeland and issued the immediate commandment to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple after the 70 years of desolations were accomplished.

Any other decree or commandment pertaining to the city of Jerusalem and the temple that came at a later time would not have fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah or answered Daniel’s prayer. Daniel could not have known or understood anything about the timing of the 70 weeks prophecy if it began some 80 years in the future, long after Daniel’s death. Jeremiah’s prophecy and Daniel’s prayer required an immediate answer in keeping with the ending of the 70 years of desolations upon the city of Jerusalem, the temple, and the Jewish people. There could not be an additional period of years after the 70 years of desolations before the command would go forth for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem. The desolations of Jerusalem would only last 70 years. Therefore, we are left with the unavoidable conclusion: The decree of Cyrus in his first year was "the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem" found in Daniel 9:25.

Fourth, the Old Testament Chronology is only completed if the decree of Cyrus is the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem which began the 490 years of Daniel 9:24. So, from the creation of Adam to the public presentation of the Messiah, the Old Testament lays out a complete record of years – a complete chronology down to the exact number of years. If, however, the 70 week prophecy did not commence until the reign of Artaxerxes, we have an indeterminable period of time missing between the end of the 70 year captivity and the beginning of the 70 week prophecy of 490 years to Messiah. Only the decree of Cyrus for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem completes the chronology of the Old Testament, leaving an unbroken timeline from the creation to the Messiah.

Fifth, the decree of Cyrus was clearly the first and preeminent commandment for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the temple. The decree of Cyrus, as the Bible tells us, was a proclamation throughout all his kingdom which was also put in writing to add weight and permanence to the decree. The other later decrees by Darius and Artaxerxes were based on the decree of Cyrus and were clearly secondary and supplemental to that first decree. The decree of Cyrus initiated the process of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and the temple. The decrees of Darius and Artaxerxes simply continued the process that had already been put in place by Cyrus. Certainly the "going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem" began with Cyrus. He was the king that made that initial decree. The others simply continued what he began. The key issue of Daniel 9:25 is not the actual rebuilding of the city as much as it is the initial commandment to do so, which was clearly issued by Cyrus (Is 44:26-28), though in fact the God of heaven does give him credit as well for rebuilding Jerusalem (Is 45:13).

The Problem: So we can easily see that the weight of the biblical evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of Cyrus being the king who fulfilled Daniel 9:25 by giving the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem in his first year. But if the biblical evidence is so strongly in favor of Cyrus, why do almost all modern Bible teachers and chronologers choose Artaxerxes as the king who gave the command to rebuild Jerusalem in the 20th year of his reign?

The answer to this very important question lies with the fact that the only secular chronology for this time period is the chronology of Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek astronomer, astrologer, and geographer who lived in Alexandra, Egypt between 70 A.D. and 161 A.D. While Ptolemy was not contemporary with the period under investigation, and while he did not have any special information with which to determine the dates of the kings of this period, Ptolemy’s chronology of the Persian period and the kings who reigned during this period is widely accepted as accurate because it is the only chronology of this period available. Ptolemy’s chronology of the Persian kings is simply a list of the kings and the number of years that each reigned; there is no explanation or documentation to support the list.

The critical problem with Ptolemy’s chronology in light of the biblical record can be quickly summarized. Ptolemy’s date for the first year of Cyrus is 536 B.C. Therefore, it is easy to see why Cyrus, based on Ptolemy’s chronology, could not have been the king who gave the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem. If Cyrus gave the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem in 536 B.C., the 483 years from the 70 weeks prophecy would only take us to 53 B.C., some 80 years short of the manifestation of Jesus the Christ at the beginning of his public ministry.

It is for this reason that Artaxerxes, in his 20th year, is the king that must have given the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem according to the chronology of Ptolemy, for Ptolemy determined the 20th year of Artaxerxes to be approximately 456 B.C. And, if we start at 456 B.C. for the "going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem", the 483 years of the 70 weeks prophecy brings us to about 27 A.D., which is, by most estimates, very near the time when Jesus began his public ministry.

And so we can see the serious dilemma that arises for Bible teachers and chronologers. Will they believe the Biblical record that obviously points to Cyrus as the king who gave the command to rebuild Jerusalem in approximately 456 B.C., or will they side with the vast majority of Bible chronologers over the past 400 years who have rejected the biblical account in favor of Ptolemy’s chronology that places Cyrus’ first year in 536 B.C.? Will they believe the Hebrew prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, or will they believe the heathen astrologer, Claudius Ptolemy? Will they believe the biblical record that clearly points to the decree of Cyrus as the commandment to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, or will they insist on the command of Artaxerxes in his 20th year in order to force the Bible to somehow agree with the chronology of Ptolemy?

This dilemma for Bible chronologers can be seen in "The Chronology of the Old Testament" by Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones. In the section of his book devoted to the decree of Cyrus (pp. 300-308), Dr. Jones acknowledges that the Bible appears to strongly support Cyrus as the king who gave the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem. But Dr. Jones does not believe that that is actually the case. He rather believes that Ptolemy is correct and that Cyrus’ first year was 536 B.C. Dr. Jones believes that the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem in Daniel 9:25 was given by Artaxerxes in his 20th year, because that is the royal decree spoken of in the Bible that lines up the best with the chronology of Ptolemy. Having made his decision to believe Ptolemy, Dr. Jones then makes several attempts to demonstrate why Cyrus was not the king who gave the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem. Dr. Jones wants you to believe that he has sided with Ptolemy and the Bible at the same time; however, Dr. Jones has not done this at all. Dr. Jones has really sided with Ptolemy against the Bible, because it is not possible to hold to Ptolemy’s canon and also hold to the Bible’s clear teaching that Cyrus gave the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. Dr. Jones tries to have it both ways, but what he has in fact done is reject the Bible’s position on Cyrus in favor of Ptolemy’s chronology from the 2nd Century A.D.

But we have shown conclusively that the Bible clearly points to Cyrus as the king who issued the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem in Daniel 9:25. Therefore, we know that the first year of Cyrus’ reign must have been around 456 B.C. and not the 536 B.C. according to the chronology of Ptolemy. If we accept the biblical record, we must reject the chronology of Ptolemy, for the chronology of Ptolemy places the first year of Cyrus some eighty years earlier than the biblical record requires.

While Ptolemy’s chronology is the primary reason why most Bible chronologers reject the decree of Cyrus and embrace the command of Artaxerxes in his 20th year for the starting point of the 70 week prophecy, they also argue that Cyrus’ decree in Ezra chapter 1 says nothing about the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem. They argue that only Artaxerxes’ command in his 20th year in Nehemiah 2:1-8 specifically addressed the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem. And since the starting point of the 70 week prophecy of Daniel 9:25 is based on the command to restore and to build the city of Jerusalem, Artaxerxes must have been the king that made that decree, for only Artaxerxes specifically mentioned the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem in his royal decree.

To this argument we respond that the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem was unquestionably included in the decree of Cyrus, though it is not specifically thus stated in Ezra 1. That Cyrus’ decree included the commandment for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem can be demonstrated from Isaiah’s prophecy in chapters 44 & 45 referred to earlier in this document as well as from the fact that Cyrus’ decree fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah and thus ended the 70 years of desolations upon the city of Jerusalem. The Bible tells us that Cyrus ended the desolations of Jerusalem; therefore, we know that Cyrus’ decree included the command to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. While modern Bible teachers and chronologers may try to argue that Cyrus did not specifically give the command to rebuild Jerusalem, we know from the biblical record that the God of the Bible considered Cyrus to have given the commandment of Daniel 9:25.

Conclusion: Who will we believe? Will we believe the Hebrew prophets directed by the God of heaven or will we believe the heathen astrologer from Alexandria, Egypt? Will we accept what the Bible clearly states regarding Cyrus, or will we reject the biblical account in favor of the unsubstantiated chronology of Ptolemy that differs materially from the biblical record? We must stand on the biblical record with the same faith Abraham had to discount any consideration or evidence to the contrary to believe God’s ability to perform His declarations (Rom 4:17-21). The Scriptures are correct and accurate in every detail, and we will not be coerced into reconciling the biblical record with the unsupported speculations of the astrologer from Alexandria. Let God be true, but every man a liar!

Other chronologers who believed Cyrus gave the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem in Daniel 9:25.

Martin Anstey, The Romance of Bible Chronology, 1913; Chronology of the Old Testament, 1973.

Philip Mauro, The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation, 1921.

J. A. Moorman, Bible Chronology: The Two Great Divides, A Defense of the Unbroken Biblical Chronology from Adam to Christ.

Other resources disproving the validity of Ptolemy’s chronology and other ancient chronologers.

Ernest L. Martin, Chronological Falsehoods, 1998.

Robert R. Newton, The Crimes of Claudius Ptolemy, 1977.

Conservative commentators on Daniel assigning the decree of Cyrus as the prophecy’s starting point.

John Calvin (1509-1564)

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

 

Paul S. Crosby
Greenville, SC
May, 2013