The Seventy Years of Desolation

"And all this land must become a devastated place, an object of astonishment, and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years."Jeremiah 25:11

The main argument presented as evidence for establishing 607 B.C.E. as the year for the destruction of Jerusalem, are the "seventy years" as prophesied by Jeremiah regarding God's judgment upon his people Israel. Jeremiah foretold: “For this is what Jehovah has said, ‘In accord with the fulfilling of seventy years at Babylon I shall turn my attention to you people, and I will establish toward you my good word in bringing you back to this place.’" (Jeremiah 29:10) After spending seventy years in Babylon, the prophet Daniel came to discern that the exile was about to come to its end. He tells us: "In the first year of [Darius'] reigning I myself, Daniel, discerned by the books the number of the years concerning which the word of Jehovah had occurred to Jeremiah the prophet, for fulfilling the devastations of Jerusalem, [namely,] seventy years. And I proceeded to set my face to Jehovah the [true] God, in order to seek [him] with prayer and with entreaties, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes." (Daniel 9:1,2; NWT)

That Jehovah foretold the passing of "seventy years" at Babylon there can be no doubt, and neither is it disputed. For that reason, is it not simply a matter of counting back seventy years from the time of their release, after Babylon had fallen to the Medes and Persians, to establish the year of Jerusalem's destruction?

There are two important points to consider. First, Jehovah did not indicate at what point the foretold seventy years would begin. Simply counting back seventy years from the fall of Babylon does not in itself establish the year of Jerusalem's destruction. Otherwise, it would have been a simple matter to mark the years off on the calendar, and the exiles would have known years in advance when to start packing their suitcases for the return home. Consider this: the prophet Ezekiel was already in exile in Babylon for eleven full years when the report reached him that Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians. And the prophet Daniel did not discern the expiry date of the seventy years until after Babylon had fallen to the Medes and Persians. (
Ezekiel 33:21; Daniel 9:1,2) Rather than counting seventy years from the destruction of Jerusalem, Daniel only came to understand that the foretold restoration to their homeland was imminent after Babylon had fallen.

The Bible tells us that Jews were taken to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar eleven years before the destruction of Jerusalem. It happened this way: Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he succeeded his father Jehoiakim as king in Jerusalem, but he reigned for only three months. During that short time he continued to do what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes, just as his father had done. Consequently, after repeated warnings, Jehovah brought king Nebuchadnezzar up against Jerusalem, and he laid siege to the city. Among the several thousand captives who were taken into exile at this time included king Jehoiachin; also "the king’s mother and the king’s wives and his court officials and the foremost men of the land"; also the prophet Ezekiel; and Daniel and the three faithful Hebrew companions. At this time, the Babylonians proceeded to loot much of the treasures of the house of Jehovah and of the king's house; even cutting "to pieces all the gold utensils that king Solomon had made in the temple of Jehovah." (2 Kings 24:1-20; Dan. 1:1-7; Ezek. 1:1-3)

Also noteworthy, on this occasion, Nebuchadnezzar replaced Jehoiachin as king with his uncle Mattaniah, whose name Nebuchadnezzar then changed to Zedekiah. Zedekiah ruled for eleven years, during which time the prophet Jeremiah was preaching God's message: "Here I am putting before you people the way of life and the way of death. The one sitting still in this city will die by the sword and by the famine and by the pestilence; but
the one who is going out and who actually falls away to the Chaldeans who are laying siege against you will keep living, and his soul will certainly come to be his as a spoil." (Jeremiah 21:8,9; 27:12-16) Jeremiah's warning was not popular, for the people put their trust in the promises of the false prophets who were speaking of victory and peace in Jehovah's name. Then, in the ninth year of his kingship, King Zedekiah rebelled against the King of Babylon. Enraged, King Nebuchadnezzar returned against Jerusalem for the second time with all his military force and laid siege to it. The siege lasted until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah, when finally the city was broken through. (Jeremiah 52:1-14)

Listen to what the prophet Ezekiel says regarding this: "At length it occurred
in the twelfth year, in the tenth [month], on the fifth day of the month of our exile, that there came to me the escaped one from Jerusalem, saying: 'The city has been struck down!'” (Ezekiel 33:21) The day that Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, Ezekiel and his fellow exiles had already been in Babylon a full eleven years (the city was struck down in the twelfth year of their exile). Now, please take a moment and reason on this: If the seventy years of Jeremiah's prophecy began with the destruction of Jerusalem, eleven years after the first exiles arrived in Babylon, then those early exiles would have been in Babylon for a full eighty-one years, and not the seventy years as determined upon them by Jehovah. Yet, as already noted above, Daniel discerned that it was "seventy years" that were about to end.

Ezekiel provides additional evidence that the seventy year exile did not begin with the destruction of Jerusalem, when he writes: ""In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, in the start of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city had been struck down, on this very same day the hand of Jehovah proved to be upon me." (Ezekiel 40:1)

After considering the evidence, we should be able to clearly understand in what year Jerusalem was destroyed. Since the exile was to continue for seventy years, then logically we count back seventy years from the date when the Jews were released, which was shortly after the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians in 539 BCE. The priest and copyist, Ezra, writes: "And in the first year of Cyrus the king of Persia, that Jehovah’s word from the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Jehovah roused the spirit of Cyrus the king of Persia so that he caused a cry to pass through all his realm, and also in writing, saying: 'This is what Cyrus the king of Persia has said, "All the kingdoms of the earth Jehovah the God of the heavens has given me, and he himself has commissioned me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God prove to be with him. So let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of Jehovah the God of Israel—he is the [true] God—which was in Jerusalem. As for anyone that is left from all the places where he is residing as an alien, let the men of his place assist him with silver and with gold and with goods and with domestic animals along with the voluntary offering for the house of the [true] God, which was in Jerusalem."’” (Ezra 1:1-4)

The prophet Daniel adds that it was
in the first year of Darius' reign, shortly after 539 BCE, that he discerned that the seventy years of fulfilling "the devastations of Jerusalem" were about to be completed. The devastations [plural] began when Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem the first time, and put Zedekiah on the throne. He took thousands of captives to Babylon and looted the gold from the temple. The foretold seventy year period began at that time. Jerusalem was destroyed eleven years later.

Although the Scriptures are precise about dating events surrounding the final siege and fall of Jerusalem ― such as the siege beginning "in
the ninth year of [Zedekiah] being king, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah"; to the fall of the city "in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month" ― yet there is no indication anywhere in the Scriptures that these dates have any prophetic significance. But that is not the case with the timing of the return of the Jews to rebuilt Jerusalem. While Daniel was praying, confessing the sins of the nation to God which had resulted in their seventy year exile in Babylon, the angel Gabriel appeared to him with a prophetic message concerning the future appearance of the Messiah, that made the date of their release noteworthy. The angel said to Daniel:
     “O Daniel, now I have come forth to make you have insight with understanding. 23 At the start of your entreaties a word went forth, and I myself have come to make report, because you are someone very desirable. So give consideration to the matter, and have understanding in the thing seen.
24 “There are seventy weeks that have been determined upon your people and upon your holy city, in order to terminate the transgression, and to finish off sin, and to make atonement for error, and to bring in righteousness for times indefinite, and to imprint a seal upon vision and prophet, and to anoint the Holy of Holies. 25 And you should know and have the insight [that] from the going forth of [the] word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah [the] Leader, there will be seven weeks, also sixty-two weeks. She will return and be actually rebuilt, with a public square and moat, but in the straits of the times.
26 “And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah will be cut off, with nothing for himself.
“And the city and the holy place the people of a leader that is coming will bring to their ruin. And the end of it will be by the flood. And until [the] end there will be war; what is decided upon is desolations.
27 “And he must keep [the] covenant in force for the many for one week; and at the half of the week he will cause sacrifice and gift offering to cease.
     “And upon the wing of disgusting things there will be the one causing desolation; and until an extermination, the very thing decided upon will go pouring out also upon the one lying desolate.”
―Daniel 9:22-27.

Seeing that the exile in Babylon was to continue for seventy years, according to Jehovah's word to Jeremiah, and as discerned by the prophet Daniel, then those seventy years ended with the release of the Jews by the Persian king Cyrus,  and began with the deportation of the earlier exiles; while the destruction of Jerusalem followed eleven years later, in about 596 B.C.E.

The Watchtower 1955, February 1 p. 94―Questions From Readers:

    The outstanding Absolute date for the B.C. period of the Hebrew Scriptures is that for the fall of Babylon as the capital city of the third world power at the hands of Cyrus, king of the Persians, October 13, 539 B.C., Julian calendar (or October 7 by our present Gregorian calendar), which event is referred to at Isaiah 45:1. This date is made Absolute by reason of the archaeological discovery and deciphering of the famous Nabunaid Chronicle, which itself gives a date for the fall of Babylon and which figure specialists have determined equals October 13, 539 B.C., according to the Julian calendar of the Romans.
    From this known date we are then able quickly to understand Ezra 1:1, that the year 537 B.C. was the time when the decree was issued by King Cyrus for the return of the Jews to Palestine and that the temple was begun to be rebuilt in the fall of this same year 537 B.C.
     Jehovah’s witnesses from 1877 up to and including the publishing of “The Truth Shall Make You Free” of 1943 considered 536 B.C. as the year for the return of the Jews to Palestine, basing their calculations for the fall of Babylon on secular histories that were inaccurate, not up to date on archaeological evidences. This meant that Jeremiah’s seventy years of desolation for Jerusalem ran back from 536 B.C. to 606 B.C., instead of more correctly as now known from 537 B.C. to 607 B.C. (2 Chron. 36:21; Jer. 25:12; Zec. 1:12)
With the above Absolute date for the fall of Babylon, the date 607 B.C. is on solid ground for the fall of Jerusalem, when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon terminated the reigning Davidic dynasty by taking Jerusalem’s last ruler, King Zedekiah, captive. This leads to the important modern date of 1914, which marks the end of the “seven times” of 2,520 years of Gentile domination since the first fall of Jerusalem 607 B.C. (Dan. 4:9-16; Luke 21:24) This adjustment of one year for Jerusalem’s fall to 607 B.C. was acknowledged in the book “The Kingdom Is at Hand” of 1944, footnote of page 171, and also in The Watchtower of 1952, page 271.
     It is well to understand that all Bible chronology dates for events prior to 539 B.C. must be figured backward from the Absolute date of 539 B.C. In the sure date of 607 B.C. for the fall of Jerusalem we have an anchor for the chronology establishment of the important year of 1914. By an overwhelming number of physical facts occurring since 1914, this great turning-point year in man’s history, 1914, has been abundantly confirmed. (Bold added)