Daniel’s famous prophecy in Daniel 9:24–27 is structured according to seven “weeks.” But as is often the case in biblical prophecy, symbolism is at work here in this chronological indicator. But what does these “weeks” symbolize?
The seventy weeks represent a period of seventy times seven years, or 490 years. We may justify the notion of a “weeks of years” on the following evidence.
First, in the context preceding Daniel 9:24–27, the original seventy years of Jeremiah’s prophecy is in Daniel’s mind: “in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years” (Dan 9:2). Years are contextually suggested, then, by this prior reference which is crucial to the historical context. Seventy years was on Daniel’s mind.
Second, Scripture frequently refers to the sabbath year (the seventh year of the sabbath period) simply as “the sabbath.” We see this in Lev 25:2–5; 26:34, 35, 43; 2 Chron 36:21; etc. For instance, Lev 25:2–5 reads: “The LORD then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying, Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. Your harvest’s aftergrowth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall not gather; the land shall have a sabbatical year.” Thus, we see that it expands a “sabbath day” (Gen 2:2; Exo 20:11) to cover a period of one year.
Third, Scripture allows for measuring days in terms of years in several passages (Gen 29:27–30; Num 14:34; Deut 14:28; 1 Sam 2:19; Eze 4:6; Amos 4:4). Consider just one of these passages — from the historical narrative of Jacob’s serving Laban to secure a wife:
“Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years. Jacob did so and completed her week, and he gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife. Laban also gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid. So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years.” (Gen 29:27–30)
Fourth, Daniel seems to shift gears and even notify the reader of the change in Daniel 10:2. This is translated into English as: “In those days, I, Daniel, had been mourning for three entire weeks,” but we see the Hebrew that he qualifies his situation by saying he mourned “three weeks of days” (Heb.).