Monday, September 30, 2013

Daniel, a Man of Prayer

What does it mean to abide in Christ (John 15:17)? God created man for fellowship. It is His desire that we worship and fellowship with Him. For the man of God, it is essential to be in communion with God by being in His word and in prayer. The Bible is full of examples of great men of God who seek Him first before acting. Abraham learned to be a great man of prayer. Moses learned to seek God in prayer before taking action. And Joshua seems to have learned to seek prayer before going into battle from Moses (Ex. 17:9).  

This series of articles will look at an Old Testament example of a great man of God who seeks after God – the prophet Daniel. There is no better example of a man that seeks after God with his whole being as Daniel does. One of the longest prayers in the Bible is found in Daniel chapter 9.      

Daniel 9:1-23  Daniel’s Prayer

 We find Daniel in chapter nine reading from the books of the law as well as Jeremiah.  Studying these books leads to his understanding of the plan of prophecy. This section of Scripture reveals to us not only the historicity of how Daniel comes by this understanding of the 70 weeks of Jerusalem’s desolation, but it also reveals to us in our day the character of Daniel. As he reads the Scriptures, he comes to a deep conviction as he understands why they are in captivity, how long they would be held captive, and what was required for mercy. He is found coming before the Lord confessing the sins of the people and pleading for mercy.  Daniel’s prayer seems to be a true model of the prayer of national repentance requested by God in Joel chapter 2. Except here there is no temple, only an old faithful man on his knees.

Daniel’s Understanding of Scripture

 Daniel 9:1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans

In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent.  Daniel specifies the date which this great prophecy occurs.  So great and precise are the dates and times presented in this book that there is no mistaking the prophecy contained herein. The times presented by Daniel are referenced to reigning kings. These are political events. They are international in scope. This is how the ancients dated events. The book of Daniel presents four great political dates, but this date is 539-537 B.C. placing Daniel in his seventies.

The ruler of chapter 9 is identified as Darius(“lord”). The name is of Persian descent and he is identified as being of Median descent (lit. “from [the] seed of [the] Medes”); the same as mentioned in chapters 5 and 6. He is identified as the son of Ahasuerus (“I will be silent and poor”), the title of the king of Persia, probably Xerxes. Darius was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans. It seems Darius “had been made” king, as the passive voice is used. Unger writes, “after the capture of Babylon by the armies of Cyrus, [Darius] exercised interim kingship until Cyrus returned from further conquests.” It is Gill, however, who says,

[he was made king] by Cyrus his nephew; who having taken Babylon, and settled his affairs, undertook a journey to Persia, and made Media in his way; where he met with his uncle Cyaxares, the same with this Darius, and delivered the kingdom of Babylon to him, and married his daughter, with whom he had for her dowry the kingdom of Media, as Xenophon relates.

The date varies here as most scholars place the date between 539-537 B.C., with most using 539 B.C., making Daniel about 70 years old. Daniel had steadily progressed up the ladder of leadership all the way to the position ruler over rulers (6:1-3).
This kingdom of the Chaldeans (“clod-breakers”) is the territory in lower Mesopotamia bordered by the Persian Gulf. It is also a reference to the inhabitants of Chaldea, the area of the lower Euphrates and Tigris. Notice Daniel’s change back to the term ‘Chaldeans’. We first find a reference to the Chaldeans in chapter 1 as Daniel is taught the learning and language of the Chaldeans (1:4).  Then in chapter 2 as some of the Chaldeans speak to the King about the dream (2:4). It is believed that the term is often used synonymously with Babylon. In fact, the region is observed to be referred to as upper, middle and lower Euphrates.
Daniel 9:2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. 

Daniel gives another emphatic  I, Daniel. This phrase is used 7 times, starting in chapter 7 and used in every chapter after, except chapter 11 (chapter 11 continues the angel’s testimony of chapter 10). This emphatic wording speaks of the testimony he gives. This testimony is important because it indicates he had a collection of Scripture which he possessed that he read and understood himself.  

Daniel had observed in the books the reason why they were in captivity. Notice that there is more than one book with which Daniel claims he came to this understanding. The Hebrew word ‘biyn’ means “to discern, understand or consider.” He came to an understanding from these books, that is, from the “writings,” the holy scriptures. The Hebrew word is ‘cepher,’ meaning a “writing, document or scroll.” The verb means “to count or recount.” We get our English word  ‘cipher’ from this word meaning to compute arithmetically, or a technique of writing in secret which is “deciphered” with a key. There is, however, nothing hidden here; it is plainly written by the prophet. In the Old Testament, the word census and secretary come from this word and so Daniel uses the word twice, as he understands the number of the years from the accounts (books).    

The number of the years that he understood is that which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet.  There are two sections in Jeremiah which reveal the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. These two sections that prophesy this are, Jer. 25:11-12; and 29:10. It is not clear whether Daniel had all of Jeremiah, but chapter 29 is a special letter written “to the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive – to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon (29:1).” 

This letter to the captives, instructs them to:
(1)   build houses (29:5)
(2)   take wives (29:6)
(3)   have children (29:6)
(4)   and increase there (29:6)
(5)   seek peace (29:7)
(6)   pray for the city where they are captive (29:7)
(7)   beware of false prophets and dreamers (29:8-9)

Then this is what Jeremiah wrote:

For thus says the LORD, When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD,  plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile (Jer. 29:10-14).

One of the most incredible things about the word of God is the number of times He uses exact numbers. God gives His people a requirement, and He keeps an accounting. Their disobedience in not observing His precept, results in their punishment by a just amount. In this case, because they did not observe the Sabbath rest of the field (Lev. 25:3-5; 26:33-35; 2 Chron. 36:20-21) their punishment is desolation of the land.

Notice, the focal point of the judgment. It is not their captivity, but rather the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. The focus is on Jerusalem! The great Babylonian kingdom is God’s instrument which He uses to enact His judgment. Jerusalem, the place where the Temple lies in desolation is the place that God holds important. It is His holy city. It is where they are to worship their God. It is where they are to bring their offerings. All this has been cut off.

This is the unique thing that sets God apart from the Babylonian gods. Their gods are impersonal, created beings, resembling animals, and nature. Their offspring are other gods, all having limited sovereignty, and communication with them is not through direct revelation as it is with the God of the Bible, but by seeking “wise men” (divination), who interpret signs.

Daniel’s God is unique, personal, all powerful, and merciful, revealing His will through Himself and later through His spokesmen the prophets.  At first He walked with Adam in the garden, but the sin of disobedience separated them. Then a holy God was in their presence, though veiled, in His tabernacle and Temple. Because of their sins, this relationship too ended. But His mercy is great, and His word true. Their punishment is one of separation from Him and His holy Temple. It is of utmost importance to recognize that if one is not saved, eternal punishment is separation from God forever (Dan. 12:2; 2 Thes. 1:9). What makes this separation unbearable for the unbeliever? Whether they acknowledge it or not, God’s mercy and goodness is enjoyed by them today, but they do not acknowledge it. In the future, His goodness will not be present for them. They will be separated from His goodness, only torment will remain.   
The time of completion (lit., “to fulfill the desolations of Jerusalem”) is almost over.  The great Old Testament scholar Unger writes:

The phrase “desolations of Jerusalem” probably refers to the destruction of the city and the Temple in 586 B.C., and so the period of seventy years would end approximately with the dedication of the Temple in 515 B.C. If the period is reckoned from the beginning of servitude to Babylon in 605 B.C., then Daniel realized in the recent fall of the Babylonian Empire that the time was approaching when the Israelite captives could return and that the restoration of the city and Temple was at least not a too distant prospect. If the period of captivity is reckoned from the date of the first major deportation in 597 B.C., then the date 527 B.C. would mark extensive rebuilding on the part of the returned exiles. (Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament)

The number of the years is seventy. This punishment is not more nor less than what is prescribed. It is exactly what is prescribed. God is totally sovereign and just. The book of Daniel is a testimony to this fact. He will work with the Babylonians, the Medes, the Greeks, and the Romans. He will do in His creation what He wills. And Daniel will acknowledge that in the prayer that follows. One must also notice that while Daniel and his people are still held captive in Babylon, his prayer is for mercy upon Jerusalem, God’s holy mountain, the Temple, then and only then, does he pray for God’s people (9:9). 
Concerning the number seventy and Daniel’s understanding of it from the books. This implies that Daniel came to an understanding of “why they were in captivity.” His reference to the Law of Moses (9:11,13) would suggest he understood the years, that is, he counted (Hebrew – ‘cepher’) the years, and he was deeply moved.  He must have read Leviticus 25-26 which describes the Sabbath rest of the land, and understood why they were out of the land. 

Daniel 9:3 So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes.
After Daniel reads the Scriptures he gives his attention to the Lord God (lit., “I set my face to the Lord God”).  Daniel is a praying man. He would have his prayer time three times a day (6:10). It seems his routine was to read the Scriptures then turn to the Lord God. Daniel turns to ‘Adonay’ (literally, “my Lord”). This is the term Daniel uses for the Lord. He does not address him here as ‘Yahweh’, but rather, “My Lord, the God”. In verse two, the ‘word of Yahweh’ is read, but throughout this prayer, Daniel will use, “my Lord”, or “my Master”.   This is notable because of the Israelites captivity. Their masters are the Babylonians, but Daniel acknowledges God as his Master and all his actions reflect this. His diet and his prayer life reflect who his Master is.

Daniel turns his attention to the Lord to seek Him by prayer and supplications (lit., “to intensely seek prayer and supplication”). All his attention is now given to the Lord as the intensive infinitive “to seek, desire or request” is used. This intensive form is further realized by Daniel’s fasting, wearing sackcloth and ashes.  This type of prayer reveals that this prayer is something that is emotionally driven. Fasting implies an extended time of attention paid to this subject.  To pray and fast at the same time is to pay special attention and all focus is upon the subject at hand. For example, fasting was used to prepare Moses to receive the law from God (Ex. 34:28; Deu.9:9,18), fasting and sackcloth was used to show sorrow for sin (1 Kg. 21:27); and though the prophets of the Old Testament were criticized for abusing it as an outward show, it is used at times of national need (2 Ch. 20:3; Ezr. 8:21). It is possible Daniel had read the prophet Joel, who had written some 200 years earlier. God had told the nation through Joel to repent from their evil ways and deeds as they worshiped foreign gods, even thanking them for their prosperity (Joel 1:13-16). The call to repentance is so sobering one must not pass through Daniel’s prayer without listening to the Lord first:

Yet even now, declares the LORD, Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning; And rend your heart and not your garments. Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil. Who knows whether He will notturn and relent And leave a blessing behind Him, Even a grain offering and a drink offering For the LORD your God? Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room And the bride out of her bridal chamber. Let the priests, the LORD’S ministers, Weep between the porch and the altar, And let them say, Spare Your people, O LORD, And do not make Your inheritance a reproach, A byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, ‘Where is their God?’ Then the LORD will be zealous for His land And will have pity on His people. The LORD will answer and say to His people, Behold, I am going to send you grain, new wine and oil, And you will be satisfied in full with them; And I will never again make you a reproach among the nations (Joel 2:12-17).  

Daniel then starts his heartfelt prayer in verse 4.

Daniel 9:4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and loving kindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,
In the next article Daniel, asking as the spokesman for the people will show us how a leader prays for their nation. A national leader that prays in sincerity, truth and in the will of God will find favor.