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TEXT: Daniel 9:1-27
SUBJECT: Daniel # 10: The Prayer of the Righteous
Good prayers are always answered. Our Father in Heaven promises to hear our prayers, and He keeps His promise, though not always when and how we want Him to. Last year I prayed very hard about a medical issue, and the Lord did not give me what I asked for. At the time, I was deeply disappointed in His non-answer, but now I see it was an answer, and a very good one at that. Had He given me what I asked for, I'd still have cancer. Now, because He didn't, I don't. We can never praise God enough for what the Puritans called, 'the return of prayers'--
Praise waits for Thee in Zion;
all men shall worship there
And pay their vows before Thee,
O God who hearest prayers.
...says the hymn; and the Psalmist adds--
I love the Lord, because He has heard
My voice and my supplications.
Daniel was a man very much given to prayer. How could he not be living in the cesspool of Pagan politics, where the basest men demanded obedience, and sometime worship? As a bright boy, he had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar into Babylonia, educated in their idolatrous schools and put into the royal service, to do the bidding of a man who sometimes mistook himself for God. It's hard to imagine the filth he had to wade through over the years, but, by God's grace, he came through it all unstained.
Now, he's near the end of his life. He had been in exile for almost seventy years, and he would never see his homeland again. This grieved him terribly, of course, but there was a pinch of encouragement as well.
You see, seventy years, was the time the Jews would be in captivity. Daniel knew this because he had read his Bible, and he knew that Jeremiah the prophet had specified the allotment of years. Jeremiah 29:10 is likely the verse he had in mind--
For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.
This is the Word of the Lord. And whatever circumstances told him to the contrary, it is a good word, and can no more go wrong than the Lord Himself can. The Exile is over, and the people of God are about to go home.
You'd think this would be the happiest day in Daniel's life. Free at last! But when you read Chapter 9, you'll see his mood is somewhat less than chipper.
He's brokenhearted because while Israel had been severely chastened--disciplined by its loving but firm Father--it had not changed. Seventy years of suffering had done them no good at all.
This is what Daniel is praying about. He is confessing the old--and current--sins of his people, and praying for revival. You see, until they are 'born again', the people of God will always be in exile--whether in Babylon or back home in Judah.
TIME AND PLACE
The events of this chapter take place--
In the first year of Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans.
The writer goes into some detail here, perhaps to assure us that the prophecy that ends the chapter is that, and not history written after the fact and presented as prophecy. Working on the assumption that foreseeing the future is impossible--even to God!--Higher Critics have read Daniel as a late addition to the Old Testament, written centuries after Daniel died and having no prophetic value, apart from a few largely made up hero stories to inspire young men to stand up to the forces of evil.
Nonsense! What JB Phillips said of the Gospels applies equally to Daniel. It has--
The ring of truth.
Mythology does not contain fine detail; only two sorts of writing do: fact and fraud. Daniel is no fraud, and we know he isn't, because Jesus Christ cited his prophecy, like the rest of the Old Testament, as Scripture, and--He went on to say--
Scripture cannot be broken.
Where is Daniel at the moment? He doesn't say, but being the high official he was, I'd guess either cleaning out his office in Babylonia or settling into his new digs in Susa where the Imperial capital has just moved.
SACKCLOTH, ASHES, FASTING
With the change of Empire, Daniel remains the same man of prayer he had always been. Following the customs of Israel, he had humbled himself publicly--a rich and powerful man sitting in--
Sackcloth and ashes, fasting.
These are visible signs of guilt and shame before the Lord. The scribes and Pharisees wore the costume of godly sorrow, but, to them, that's all it was: a costume. They were proud men playing the part of penitents. Daniel was the Real Thing.
This is somewhat surprising because while most Israelites were scoundrels, Daniel was a saint. But that's not how he saw himself! No godly man sees himself as a godly man. Because he's keenly aware of what Solomon called--
The plague of his own heart.
The holiest man is shot full of known sins, and only God knows how many secret faults beset him, vices he takes for virtues, weaknesses he thinks of as strengths. Jeremiah diagnosed our condition well, saying--
The heart is deceitful about all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?
Daniel knows how sick he and his people are, and whatever others do, he's taking his medicine.
The prayer itself takes up most of the chapter--vv.4-19--and its choked with deep emotion. Daniel is not saying 'our Father' in a routine way, as we so often do, but pouring out his heart to the Lord. As I read it, the prayer consists of four parts:
In the first place, it justifies God. The People of God were not in exile 'accidentally' or because the gods of Babylon were mightier than the God of Israel, or because Nebuchadnezzar was a better strategist than the kings of Judah. It was Judah's sin that scattered them to the four winds. The Lord had told them what He would do if they turned against Him, and, after much patience and pleading, He had done it--
O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His Covenant...[You] have confirmed [your] words which you spoke...as it is written in the Law of Moses...bringing upon us a great disaster.
The Exile was just; God had doled out to Israel what it had coming, and so--
O Lord, righteousness belongs to you.
Justifying God is the first part of his prayer; confessing past sins is the second--
We have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from your precepts and your judgments.
Israel had 'missed the mark' of God's Law, and not accidentally or in a trifling way. For centuries that had been rebels flouting the Law, worshiping idols, setting up images in the Temple, murdering and raping and swindling each other, oppressing the poor, forgetting the widow and orphan, and, of course, ignoring the Sabbath, the sign of the Covenant, way of reminding themselves and telling the world, 'The Lord can be trusted'.
Israel was filthy with past sins, and not only past sins.
The third part of Daniel's prayer is their current sins, v.13b--
Yet we have not made our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities and understand to your truth.
For seventy years they had been in Exile, but they had not confessed the sins that put them there; they felt no sense of personal responsibility; they had learned nothing.
This--I think--is what disturbed Daniel the most. Sin itself is never sweet, but sins confessed, forgiven, and repented of fill us with comfort, even joy. But Judah hadn't confessed their sins, been absolved by God, or given any sign of change.
But for all his discouragement, Daniel puts his hope in God's character, and dares to pray for mercy! This is the fourth part of his prayer--
O Lord, let your anger be turned away from your city...cause your face to shine on your sanctuary which is desolate...O Lord hear! O Lord forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for your own sake, my God, for your city and your people are called by your name.!
WHAT HE'S ASKING FOR
What is Daniel asking for? Of course, he's asking for the end of the Exile, but, as I said earlier, not merely to go home and be the same people they were before (which can only lead to another Exile), but to go home a New People, people forgiven and changed and now glorifying God and shining as lights in a dark world.
This is what Daniel is asking for.
While he's doing it, God sends a messenger to assure him that he's been heard in Heaven and that his petition has been answered. The messenger is Gabriel, God's must trusted courier. The angel assures the old man that he is--
And because God loves him so, He's going to give him a vision of the future, a vision that will answer his every request--and more.
THE SEVENTY WEEKS
This brings us to one of the Bible's most disputed passages, vv.24-27, and 'The Seventy Weeks of Daniel'. Most Evangelical Christians today see this as an 'End Time Prophecy' and use it to prove, among other things: (1) the Temple will be rebuilt, (2) a seven year Tribulation, (3) a three-and-a-half year 'Great Tribulation', and (4) the Antichrist's betrayal of Israel some time still future to us.
I don't have the time or the heart to critique these items, but can only content myself by saying, Not one of them arises naturally from the text or would have make any sense to Daniel. Yes, this is a message to us, but before it's that, it is a message to Daniel, whom God wanted to--
Understand the vision.
So, what the big idea? The Lord wants Daniel to know when the spiritual captivity of Israel will end. Not only when they'll be back in Judah (Jeremiah had already said that), but when they'll be back in God's favor.
The short answer is in--
Most scholars take this to mean 'seventy weeks of years', and I agree with them, as long as you remember that the Jews often rounded off numbers, especially when it served a symbolic purpose. Israel had been in trouble for seventy years, and now God would get them out of trouble in seventy weeks of years. Not necessarily 490 years to the day (or year), but in that time frame.
Why say seventy weeks instead of 490 or 465 or 502 years? Because seventy struck a chord in every devout Jew's heart. It stood for perfection, for completeness.
The work God was going to do for His people would be a complete work, not a partial restoration or a short-lived revival, but it would effect a full and irreversible change in fortunes of God's People.
The seventy weeks are then divided into three unequal parts: (1) seven weeks, (2) sixty-two weeks, and (3) one last week.
Starting from a date not far from Daniel's vision, within the first seven weeks (roughly fifty years)--
The street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times.
You can read about the returned exiles rebuilding Jerusalem and the troubles they had doing it in the books of Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah. This takes us to the Fifth Century BC.
From that time, another sixty-two weeks follow, during which time nothing much happens that matter to this vision or to Daniel's prayer. This brings us to the early years of the First Century AD, the most important week of years in the history of Israel--and the world.
During that week--
Messiah will be cut off, but not for Himself.
Who is the Messiah? It is Jesus Christ. How will He be cut off? By crucifixion, which by killing Him cut Him off from the land of the living, and by hanging Him on a tree under the curse of the Old Covenant, cut Him off from God and His people.
On the cross, Jesus died alone, forsaken by His people and by His God.
Why did this happen to Him? The Jews who sent Him to the cross had their answer: He had it coming--
Stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But God knows better. Yes, He was cut off, but not for Himself, not for any fault on His part. It was for us He was cut off. He was--
Wounded for our transgressions,
bruised for our iniquities;
the chastisement of our peace was upon Him,
and by His stripes we are healed.
All we, like sheep we have gone astray,
we have turned, every man to his own way,
and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
What did His cutting off do? Two things:
Firstly, it brought an end of sacrifice and offering. Why? Because they were no longer needed! The sacrificial system was not meant to save anyone, but to introduce the Savior. Once He came, it became obsolete. Because Jesus, by His death on the Cross ended the spiritual exile of His People. He--
Finished the transgression, made an end of sin, made reconciliation for iniquity, brought in an everlasting righteousness, seal up vision and prophecy, and anointed the Most Holy.
Most of these speak for themselves, but a couple are less clear. To seal up vision and prophecy is to confirm and fulfill everything the Old Testament said of Him and His work. To anoint the most holy is to make the Church God's New and Permanent Temple.
In a word, the cutting off of Messiah saved us from our sin and misery! And for this we can never be too thankful or too assured of our standing with God.
But there's a second thing it did: It put an end to the Old Covenant system epitomized by the Temple. The death of Christ guaranteed the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. He said so Himself in Matthew 24, Mark 14, Luke 21 and other places too, and He subsequent events proved Him right. In 70 AD, the prince referred to in v.26 would--
Come to destroy the city and the sanctuary.
Why? Historically, Christians have said it's because God is against the Jews for their part in the death of His Son. Nothing could be further from the truth! The Temple was destroyed, to clear the ground for a New Temple, what Paul calls--
The House of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
We are not prophets and God is not likely to send an angel to answer our prayers. But don't ever think your prayers are unheard in Heaven. Our Father loves His children, and that means He is never too busy for us and He never ignores our prayers, even with they're silly and trifling, and none too sanctified.
I don't know exactly what Daniel had in mind when he prayed for the restoration of Israel, but whatever it was, one thing is sure: it was far less than what God gave. We need to remember that; that God is infinite and His good thoughts are bigger and better than ours!
You will not be shortchanged by your Father in Heaven! He won't give you less than you ask for, or even what you ask for. He'll give you something better than you ask for. He is able to do--
Exceedingly, abundantly above all we ask or think.
And so, let's strike the Te Deum--
Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus,
throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
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