Pray with Daniel
CONTEXT: When King Solomon died, the ten northern tribes refused to submit to the demands of his son, Rehoboam, and revolted against him. They formed the Kingdom of Israel in the north while the Southern Kingdom – Judah – remained under Rehoboam's rule. Evil kings who failed to submit to God's sovereignty ruled throughout the Northern Kingdom's history. A mix of both evil and good kings ruled the Southern Kingdom. Nonetheless, God sent prophets to Israel and Judah to encourage them to turn from their rebellion and back to Him. They refused to listen.
In 722, the Assyrians defeated the northern Kingdom of Israel. Judah held off the Assyrians for many years (thanks to a few good kings who obeyed God); however, in 605 BC, Judah became a tribute state to Babylon. There were several more battles between Judah and Babylon before King Nebuchadnezzar would ultimately conquer Judah in 586 BC. Rather than scattering the Jewish people throughout the middle east, as had the Assyrians done the residents of the Northern Kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar exiled the wealthiest, brightest, and most useful Hebrew people to Babylon; Nebuchadnezzar left those deemed weak or unnecessary in Judah, a land laid waste by the many battles they had faced. Daniel was one of those considered useful to King Nebuchadnezzar and exiled to Babylon. Almost 70 years from the time Babylon first made Israel a tribute (539 BC), Daniel "observed in the books" that the years of bondage might finally be coming to an end (9:2). Reading that the prophet Jeremiah delivered a word many years earlier promising captivity would last 70 years (Jer. 25:11), Daniel knew that the time for deliverance was quickly approaching. So, "he gave his attention" to the matter (9: 3).
PRIMARY MESSAGE: When Daniel studied the prophecies of Jeremiah, he noted God's promise of deliverance after 70 years of captivity. The culmination of those 70 years was quickly drawing near; therefore, Daniel approached God in prayer to remind Him of His promise. But he was not so careless as to only take note of God's promised blessing. He also took note of why he and his people found themselves in captivity in the first place. As Jeremiah wrote -
"Though the Lord has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention. They said, "Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the Lord gave to you and your ancestors for ever and ever. Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not arouse my anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you."
"But you did not listen to me," declares the Lord, "and you have aroused my anger with what your hands have made, and you have brought harm to yourselves."
Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: "Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon," declares the Lord, "and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp."
When he read the books, if not before, Daniel understood that captivity was the result of sin. Daniel reached a high position in Babylon while in captivity, but Daniel held a higher view of Yahweh. And a high view of God always results in honesty and humility before Him. Therefore, Daniel first approached the throne of God not making demands, not claiming his right to God's blessing. Daniel approached God in repentance for what he and the entire nation had done.
"We have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets ... Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You ... nor have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. Indeed, all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so, the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him ... all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. Therefore, the Lord has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the Lord our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice."
Daniel knew that "calamity" had fallen on the nation because God is righteousness; God promised that if the people did not "turn from [their] iniquity and give attention to the truth" (9:13), then He would bring calamity on them. The people did not turn from idolatry, and God kept His word (9:14). Daniel knew God is faithful to His word even when it's not a pleasant word. This realization only caused to increase Daniel's trust in God's faithfulness because He understood that if God were faithful to punish Israel for her sins, He would be faithful to deliver Israel from captivity. Just as He had been faithful to deliver their fathers from captivity in Egypt, God remained faithful (9:15).
Therefore, Daniel knew he could approach God in honesty and humility; he trusted God's faithfulness, not his own. With this mindset, Daniel approached God with a heart of repentance and confession for what the people had done. He then worshiped God for both His righteousness and His compassion before he brought his petition.
"O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us. So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary. O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name"
When we are aware of God's righteousness and His loathing of sin, it should prepare our hearts to approach Him as sinners and acknowledge the justice of our punishment. When we submit to God's righteousness, we never attempt to approach Him on our own merits. Our sin and His righteousness are only brought near by His great mercy. God keeps His covenant with us never because we have earned it, but because of grace. Our righteousness, being that of filthy rags, grants us no access before Him. But to the one who trusts God for His mercy, we can boldly approach the throne of grace and appeal to His compassion to "let [His] face shine" on our desolate sanctuaries (9:17).
God keeps His promise to bless His people, but not because of who we are or what we might do or have done for Him. God will keep His promises to us "for [His} own sake," and because we are His people called by His name (9:19). We are God's children and, therefore, He remembers His covenant with us. We should approach the throne of God always under the presumption of His grace and mercy alone.
APPLICATION: If we should study any man's prayers, wouldn't it be Daniel? God called him out, along with Job and Noah, as men of righteousness (Ezek. 14:20). Daniel, familiar with the Word of God, approached God on behalf of the people of God. What better calling could we possess? It's not the place to delve deeply into the prophecy of the 70 weeks that follows this prayer (9:24-27).
Nonetheless, suffice it to say that Daniel's intercession on behalf of the Hebrew people appears to be a foretelling of the same work that Christ will do for humankind. He will "make an end of sin, make atonement for iniquity, [and] bring in everlasting righteousness" (9:24) for all humanity. And as Daniel prayed, not because we are righteous, but only because God is righteous, compassionate, and forgiving. Christ, the Son of God, will do what we could not do for ourselves – make us children of God, called by His name.
Maybe that is how we can best apply this prayer to our lives. Who is not yet willing to pray a prayer of repentance and confession that you might be able to lift before God's throne? Who has not "observed" in the Word of God a great and mighty promise that you might be able to intercede for today? Who do you love who needs to better understand their rebellion and God's covenant of lovingkindness? What part of your life – your marriage, career, children, neighbor, country, future, health – needs intercession before God's throne? Can you bring that to Him today with a humble heart of repentance because you have confidence, not in yourself, but His faithfulness and compassion?
Remember, Daniel did not pray merely for them, but for himself as well. Shall we pray with Daniel?
Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness
for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity,
acted wickedly, rebelled, even turning aside from your commandments. We did not listen to
or heed your Word, which speaks your name. You are righteous, God, but we are ashamed.
We had your Word, we were given your revelation, but we were unfaithful. Open shame belongs
to us alone. God, you are compassionate and forgiving; we are rebellious and disobedient to your word – your voice. But your Word is faithful – even when you have promised that we would suffer for disobedience. And we have suffered. Our [family, marriage, children, health, careers, nation, neighbors] have suffered for our disobedience. We have not sought your favor; we have sought our own way. We have given attention not to your truth but to our own desires. But Lord, you delivered us from the Kingdom of darkness so long ago and entered into covenant with us. Commitment to your covenant is still our heart's cry. Lord, I ask, because we are your children, that you would listen to the prayers of your servants, your sons and daughters, and to our supplications and for your sake. O Lord, let your face shine on us. Incline your ear and hear! Open your eyes and see our desperate needs! We are your children but we aren't asking you for anything based on any merit of our own, but on account of your great compassion. Oh Lord, hear! Oh Lord, forgive! Oh Lord, listen and take action. For your sake. Oh my God, do not delay because we are your children and called by your name. Amen.
And we can be assured that the same encouragement that Daniel received is ours as well - "Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words" (10:12). As soon as a humble heart bows before a Holy God in repentance and confession, God sends forth His word again. Like Daniel, we may not understand it all, but He will be faithful to give us precisely what He knows fulfills His plan. Trust it. Trust Him with your unfaithfulness because of His faithfulness.