Question: I can’t reconcile Jeremiah’s statement that Jerusalem would be desolate for 70 years with history or the Bible. When did this 70-year period begin and end? Nor can I get it straight concerning Darius, Cyrus, the rebuilding of the temple in Ezra’s time, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem under Nehemiah.
Response: The entire subject of the 70-year desolation of Jerusalem seems to contain several apparently hopeless contradictions. I have learned that God sometimes allows seeming contradictions to force us to dig deeper, often to have our faith strengthened in the end.
First of all, we encounter the apparent contradiction about the duration of Daniel’s time in Babylon. Daniel:1:21 says, “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a thing was revealed unto Daniel ....” If Daniel continued only unto the first year of Cyrus, how could he still be alive and receiving revelations in Cyrus’s third year? Obviously 1:21 can’t mean that Daniel died in the first year of Cyrus. The statement is made because it was in his first year that Cyrus allowed the Jews to return. Thus we are told that Daniel lived to see the return of the captives under Cyrus. That the first wave of captives returned in the first year of Cyrus is stated clearly in 2 Chronicles:36:22-23, and in Ezra:1:1-4, 5:13, and 6:3.
This brings us to what appears to be a hopeless contradiction, due to the fact that Cyrus II (Cyrus the Great) ruled from about 550-529 BC. The first year of his reign, in 550 BC, would be much too early for a return of the captives to Jerusalem if that indeed marked the end of the 70-year desolation thereof. Even if we count from the first carrying away of captives in Babylon in 605 BC, that gives only 55 years instead of the 70-year desolation of Jerusalem prophesied by Jeremiah (Jeremiah:25:3-11; Daniel:9:2). We could legitimately extend the period to the first year of his reign in Babylon, which he captured in 539 BC. This is undoubtedly when the decree was given and what is meant by “the first year” of his reign (he had no jurisdiction over the Jewish captives until then), but that would still leave us four years short of the necessary 70-year desolation.
It seems clear that the first wave of returnees to Jerusalem by Cyrus’s decree, resulting in the commencement of temple reconstruction, did not end the 70-year desolation. Eight years after the death of Cyrus, Daniel is still praying for the restoration of Jerusalem (Daniel:9:1-19) in the first year of Darius. Cyrus died in 529 BC and was succeeded by his son Cambyses, who in turn was surrounded by Darius in 521 BC (after an eight-month interlude of a usurper in 522 BC). So at least 18 years after the first wave of captives returned to Jerusalem and began to rebuild the temple, Daniel is still fervently praying for an end to the desolation of Jerusalem (Daniel 9).