Daniel goes to Prayer
Reading Daniel ch.9:1-19
I wonder: Do you consider yourself to be a praying person?
Of course many of the world’s religions encourage prayer and millions of their followers will go through the religious ritual of prayer on a regular basis: the muslim will pray five times a day kneeling and prostrating himself before his god as he repeats the set words. The Buddhist will pray too though the spinning of his prayer wheels will look very different indeed. And of course the self-proclaimed atheist may well turn to prayer when faced with an insurmountable problem or danger.
Prayer is such a widespread phenomenon that many seem to think that they can pray in any way that suits their fancy and whatever they choose to do must be acceptable to their god. Well it may be acceptable to the gods of their imagination but that doesn’t mean that it will be acceptable to the One True Living God.
Perhaps I ought to ask my opening question again but with the addition of a little more detail: Do you consider yourself to be a praying person like Daniel?
Daniel was a man of prayer. Back in ch.6 (which describes events that took place at just about the same time as these events described in ch.9) we find that Daniel had a regular prayer habit – there he was found praying three times a day and this was a long-established practice of his. Prayer got him into trouble then – it landed him in the lion’s den – but he didn’t give up but kept on going. Now here in ch.9 we find out some of the content that filled his prayers. It is unlike much of what passes for prayer in our day and we would do well to listen to him and to follow his example.
When our prayers are not particularly well-informed by the Word of God they will flow instead from our own feelings and impressions. In this condition our prayers will be worldly because we are too worldly-minded. We will pray for the small and the mundane while giving precious little thought to the spiritual. I don’t want to suggest that it is wrong to pray for temporal blessings of good health, sufficient food and clothing, and safe travel but genuine prayer is far more than that. If our prayers are conditioned and dominated by seeking physical or emotional comforts for ourselves and our friends then we need to broaden our horizons. A close look at Daniel’s prayer is one of the ways of doing just that.
I wonder whether my prayers have much in common with this prayer of Daniel. I wonder what could be said of your prayers too.
Daniel Reads his Bible
At this time Daniel was probably in his early 80s and he had spent the vast majority of his life in exile in Babylon but he was still reading his Bible and still learning from it.
Is that true of me? Is that true of you?
I can’t overestimate the importance of regular Bible reading – not the kind that reads in order to tick a box and say I’ve done my bit for today – but the kind that wants to learn more from God, to understand more about God what he expects of me, what he has done for me and what he will do in the future. The kind of Bible reading that I want to encourage you in is the type of Bible reading that will lead you apply what you read and allow God to change you along the way.
All of you are capable of reading the Bible with profit because it is not something that depends upon being an intellectual: John Bunyan was a tinker by trade and he hadn’t received a great education but he read and understood his Bible and was able to convey its truths to others through that famous book Pilgrim’s Progress.
If you’d like to try to read your Bible better but are not sure how to go about it do come and speak to me – I’d love to help you.
As Daniel read his Bible he understood from the prophet Jeremiah that Jerusalem’s troubles were to last for some 70 years. Well so what? You might say. Well Daniel had been in exile for more than sixty years – according to God’s Word there weren’t many years of suffering left for Jerusalem to endure!
Daniel could have sat back I suppose and said to himself "That’s nice to know" and simply carried on as before but that’s not how he reacted. With God’s promise staring him in the face Daniel set himself to pray that what God had promised would be brought about even though the people didn’t deserve the kind of restoration that was in view.
Most of the rest of the chapter is taken up with Daniel at prayer and we’re going to take a close look at it to see what we can learn from Daniel’s example as we consider just how he prayed.
Method and Content
The first thing that ought to strike us in the way Daniel prayed was his humility. He had been a high government officer for decades and he had also been mightily used by God during that time as he lived a holy and upright life but he didn’t plead his own "qualities" instead he recognised that before a great and a Holy God the only proper position for a man to adopt is a humble one. His humility was accompanied by a tremendous seriousness:
v.3 "Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes."
We would do well to adopt a similar attitude if not adopting at the same time the outward trappings of his behaviour.
This verse serves both as an introduction to and summary of his prayer.
Let us note the following elements that will dominate his prayer:
He confesses the worthiness of God and gives praise. He addresses "the Lord God" – Adonai Elohim – these two names together emphasise the exalted majesty of God – he is the "supreme deity who has all authority and occupies the most exalted position". He follows this up in his prayer by using the covenant name of God, Yahweh (v.4).
During his prayer Daniel will justify God by declaring that God has done all things well and by not criticising or calling into question how God had behaved towards his people.
He confesses the sin of his people – this is already indicated by the reference to fasting, sackcloth and ashes in v.3 and immediately followed up in v.4 where Daniel states that he made confession.
Through his prayer Daniel would intermingle these two aspects of confession showing us that prayer does not have to follow rigid patterns but can be readily adapted to the ebbs and flows of biblically informed thought.
Pleas for mercy – with his emphasis upon the Lord’s righteousness and the people’s sinfulness mercy is all that Daniel can ask for but he certainly was to do that with a series of requests with which he brought his prayer to a conclusion. Daniel would also be unafraid to argue with the Lord that showing mercy would also be in the Lord’s best interests as he prays with great boldness and confidence. There is surely something that we can learn from this.
Daniel referred to his prayer as a confession and begins with his confession of the greatness of the God he serves:
v. 4 "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments,"
v.7 "To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness..."
v.9 "To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness..."
And Daniel continued this note of praise as he justified God:
God was worthy of praise because he was faithful to his word. It is one thing perhaps to praise God when he faithfully keeps his promise to bless here Daniel evidences greater faith for he praises the God who faithfully carries out his warnings when they go unheeded!
v.12 "He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem."
v.14 "Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice."
In his praise Daniel is careful not to suggest in any way that the Lord God was somehow at fault or responsible for the sorry situation into which his people had fallen. How easily we try to justify ourselves or to excuse our misbehaviour by pleading mitigating circumstances but even such circumstances do not exonerate us from our responsibilities.
Confession of sin
Daniel is open and clear – he calls a spade a spade and doesn’t mince words or try to say sorry without accepting responsibility for responsible actions. Just listen to how he prays and begins his confession:
vv.5-6 "we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land."
There are a couple of things to take note of here:
He expands upon the sin of which the people are guilty describing their sin in terms of rebellion, turning aside from God’s law and refusing to listen to God’s revealed word. He will subsequently return to such descriptions as he continues praying
Daniel, although a godly man with high moral principles, does not dissociate himself from the sins of God’s people. His spirit and attitude was a million miles away from that of the Pharisee that Jesus spoke of who stood praying saying:
Lk.18:11 "‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector."
As Daniel progresses in his prayer we should not miss the way in which he contrasts the righteous upright God with the faithless sinful people who knew better and should have acted better:
vv.7-11 "to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you... for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him."
In this act of confession Daniel laments the failure of God’s people to do three significant things:
They had failed to entreat God’s favour
They had failed to turn from their iniquities
They had failed to gain insight concerning the truths of God’s Word
Am I guilty of this too? Are you? What should we do about it? What are we going to do about it?
Finally he declares with a mixture of praise and confession:
v.15 "And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly."
Pleas for Mercy or Requests for Help
Up to this point Daniel has not made explicit just what it was that he was seeking God for. This does not mean that we know nothing at all about what he wanted until the closing lines of his prayer for his declarations have already implied what he desired. When Daniel declared for example that mercy and forgiveness belong to the LORD (v.9) we instantly know that he doesn’t possess a mere academic interest, he wants his people to experience God’s mercy and to enjoy in real living experience the forgiveness of their sins.
And yet his requests becoming greatly clearer in the closing lines:
vv.16-19 "O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name."
With what enthusiasm and urgency Daniel presses home his requests:
Not only does he plead with God to turn away from his righteous anger he pleads for the LORD to listen to his pleas for mercy, to make his face shine upon his people, to open his eyes and see the parlous state into which his people have fallen. He longs for God to act and urges him to delay no further before he intervenes to rescue his people and to restore their fortunes.
As he lays out his petitions he founds his requests upon two major though distinct facts:
God’s great mercy
God’s great renown
And what a great way to pray! How much do our prayers demonstrate an overriding concern for the honour and reputation of God? I fear that if we do not take ourselves in hand and allow the Word of God to inform and direct our prayers then instead of praying this type of God honouring prayer we will find ourselves praying the type of prayers that James speaks of so negatively:
Jas.4:3 "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."
May we all dare to be more like Daniel in our praying and may God indeed be honoured and glorified!