Babylon took Israel captive “until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths… seventy years,” a promise made “by the mouth of Jeremiah” (2 Chronicles 36:21; cf. Ezra 1:1).
What was Jeremiah’s prophecy, and what were these Sabbaths that were equivalent to seventy years?
Jeremiah 25:11–12 states, “This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.” Jeremiah 29:10 repeated, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” Zechariah spoke of these seventy years as well (Zechariah 1:12; 7:5).
Each of these “Sabbaths” (2 Chronicles 36:21) was “a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land” that was to have taken place every “seventh year” after “six years” of farming (Leviticus 25:3–4; cf. 25:1–7). If seventy years were necessary to recover these Sabbaths, Israel failed to observe the Sabbath year seventy times, indicating disobedience for 490 years.
Daniel confirms this understanding with a prophecy of his own. Daniel referred to Jeremiah’s “seventy years” as the “the number of years that…must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:2). Interestingly, in response to Daniel’s prayer of repentance for the nation’s 490 years of disobedience (cf. Daniel 9:3–19), God told Daniel of seventy “sevens” of years to come, another 490 years. Sixty-nine of the seventy “sevens” (483 years) took place (cf. Daniel 9:20–27) and ended when the Messiah was “cut off” on the cross (Daniel 9:25–26a). The final “seven” of years will come when the Antichrist makes a covenant with Israel, breaks it, and persecutes the nation. Thankfully, Christ wins the day in the end (Daniel 9:26b–27; 2 Thessalonians 2:8).
So when exactly were these seventy years?
King Nebuchadnezzar sieged Jerusalem and took many people captive in 605 BC (2 Kings 24:10–17; cf. Daniel 1:1). He the destroyed Jerusalem and took more people in 586 BC (2 Chronicles 36:11–23). Using 605 BC as the first of Jeremiah’s seventy years, when Cyrus commanded Judah to return to her land in 539 BC (2 Chronicles 36:22–23; cf. Ezra 1:1–4), and they did so in 538 BC, we could identify two years later in 536 BC as the end of these seventy years when Israel “made a beginning” of rebuilding the temple (Ezra 3:8–9). If reentry into the land is the end of exile and thus cuts the seventy years short by two, then perhaps God in His sovereignty cut those days short for the sake of His nation, similar to how He will cut short future judgment for the sake of His elect in Matthew 24:22.