Your heart may well sink having read through this chapter, with its strange talk of sixty-two “sevens” and abominations and so on, but it has great things to teach us about prayer and about God’s purposes for the world. Calculators and a detailed knowledge of the dates of the Jews’ post-exilic history are not necessary. The numbers are rather symbolic and schematic (in that they give the general shape and schema of what is to come).
The historical context is significant. Darius (= Cyrus) was the king who overthrew the Babylonian empire (remember Belshazzar’s feast in ch.5). Isaiah had long before prophesied that his reign would mark a change in Israel’s fortunes (Is.45), and Daniel clearly knew how Jeremiah had spoken of the exile’s limited extent (do check out Jer.25:11,12 and 29:10ff.) These promises of God, far from precluding prayer, drive Daniel to pray.
There is much we can learn from the way Daniel prays ( the basis for his prayer, the manner, the concern etc.). God is not slow in answering but wants Daniel to know that the fulness of what Daniel seeks still lies some way in the future.
Seventy “sevens” means 70×7 or 490 years, but the numbers aren’t to be taken as exact measures (cf. Matt.18:22). v.24 unpacks the full end to which God is working; and vv.25-27 unpack the stages in which that end will be reached. In the shorter term (seven “sevens”) Jerusalem will be rebuilt, as happened under Nehemiah “in times of trouble”. But that partial fulfilment will not be the end to which God is working. The Messiah will come, and be cut off, Jerusalem will be destroyed (so in AD70), then after a further short time (in which we live) the end will come.