Daniel & Scripture
Chapter 9 begins with Daniel’s reading of scripture. Scripture reading led to prayer. Prayer led to God’s answer.
While the vision given to Daniel in chapter 8 occurred during the reign of Belshazzar, who followed Nebuchadnezzar, the vision of chapter 9 occurs during the reign of Darius. Daniel 5:30 tells us Darius the Mede received the kingdom after Belshazzar was killed. Daniel 6:28 tells us Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus. There is some confusion about names here. The name of Darius does not show up in historical records as the first Persian king. That is Cyrus. Some believe the are the same guy and that Darius is a title. But Daniel 6:28 seems to separate them. So, it may be that Darius was governor over the Babylonian area and Cyrus was king over all Persia. Ezra 1:1 speaks of Cyrus as king of Persia and says he decree fulfills the prophecy of Jeremiah for the return of the Jews.
In the first year of the reign of Darius, Daniel is still around. He read Jeremiah’s prophecies and perceived that the end of the desolations of Jerusalem were to occur after 70 years. Daniel had lived his whole adult life in exile, knowing his homeland of Israel lay in ruins.
Daniel would have read:
This whole land (Israel) 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… (Jeremiah 25:11-12)
For thus says the LORD: 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. (Jeremiah 29:10)
The reason the exile was 70 years is tied to Israel’s neglect of the Sabbath year. They were required to let the land lay fallow every 7th year. (Leviticus 25) There is no mention in the Old Testament of their observing the Sabbath year. 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 says:
“He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.”
It is debated as to when the 70 years began and when it was to end. If you start with the year Daniel was taken into captivity, which was 605 B.C., then 66 of the 70 years have passed at the time of Daniel’s prayer. If so, then Daniel at this point realized the 70 years was soon to end.
Daniel had seen the king of Babylon punished, as the Medes and Persians conquered him and took away his throne. That part of Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled. So, it must be close to the time for the return of the Jews to Israel. Since this had not happened, Daniel sought the Lord for an answer.
Daniel’s reading of scripture led him to prayer. He fasted in sack cloth and ashes. He pled for mercy. He made confession.
The purpose of sack cloth and ashes in this instance is to show repentance. The person would take off his or her robe and put on one made of coarse, uncomfortable cloth. They would put ashes on their head as a sign of ruin. When Jonah preached the ruin of Nineveh, the people fasted and put on sack cloth. (Jonah 3:5) The king put on sackcloth and sat in ashes. (Jonah 3:6)
Let’s look at his prayer. It is a great prayer.
First, look at how Daniel addresses God, how he describes him.
Great and awesome God. (4)
who keeps covenant (4)
who keeps steadfast love with all who love him and keep his commandments.
to whom belongs righteousness (7, 14)
to whom belong mercy and forgiveness (9)
God is indeed great and awesome. He created all things. He sustains life. He works to accomplish his purpose and no one can stop him. Sometimes all the talk of God’s love gets too casual. Many think of God as a cosmic Santa Claus, or a big brother. Some think he has good intentions, but does not get too involved in life on this planet. These ideas lower our view of God, and that is wrong. He is great. He is awesome. We worship him as such. He is the one who made and owns all things and does as he will, yet made it possible for those who violated his commands to have fellowship with him for eternity. He is worthy of praise.
God keeps covenant. He made a covenant with Israel and he kept it. He poured out blessings when they obeyed. The Old Testament shows us that. He also poured out the curses of the covenant when Israel continued in sin. He does what he says he will do. He is faithful to his word. He keeps his covenant. And we, as New Testament believers, rejoice to know that he will perform the New Covenant also, delivering us to eternal life.
God loves those who love him and show that love by keeping his commandments. That was true in Old Testament times and is true in this time also. Jesus said “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
God is righteous. He always acts according to the principles he has set out. He is the standard of what is right. He always acts in accordance with what is right. Righteous and just in the Old Testament come from the same word group. Moses said “all his ways are justice…just and right is he”. (Deuteronomy 32:4)
God gives mercy and forgiveness. We are here today in the church because of that mercy and forgiveness. We know that all have sinned. (Romans 3:23) And we know that the wages of that sin is death. (Romans 6:23) Yet, God has forgiven us because we received Christ and his payment of sin’s penalty.
And God likewise forgave the Jews many times. Although they repeatedly broke covenant with him, he forgave when they repented. The book of Judges shows this cycle over and over. And, in Daniel’s case, God will forgive at the end of their period of punishment, and allow them back into his land to be his people.
Daniel’s recounting of God’s attributes was praise. We praise God when we extol his attributes.
But, Daniel’s prayer also contained confession. He confessed the sins of Israel. He confessed on behalf of Israel. He said “we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly, and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments. (5) He confessed that Israel had not listened to the prophets, God’s servants. (6)
Daniel asked God to deliver Israel for his own sake, rather than theirs. (17, 19) In other words, God could show his greatness by delivering Israel and restoring their nation because that nation was tied to his name.
Finally, Daniel asked for mercy. He knew Israel was not entitled to relief. (18) He made no claim to anything, but asked God to have mercy. It is a great prayer. It is a prayer we can imitate. We have come into fellowship with Christ through the mercy and grace of God alone, not by works or merit. We live each day by his grace, experiencing his blessings, not because we are entitled to them, but because he loves those who keep his commandment to love and obey his son.
All of these things Daniel prayed are good models for us. His praise of God, his confession of sin and his plea for mercy. We should incorporate all of these into our prayers.
All of the attributes of God that Daniel praises are worthy of consideration. This prayer is a summary of the doctrine of God, revealing who God is and what he is like. Meditate on these attributes so that you may know him better.