Their Finest Hour - Daniel
Malcolm C. Davis, Leeds, England
Praying for the Restoration of Israel
Daniel, whose name means ‘God is my Judge’, had many fine hours, despite being a captive servant of the Babylonian and Medo-Persian kings for most of his life. Consider his firm resolve, even in teenage years, not to be defiled by the unclean royal diet, a resolve for which God honoured him greatly with the king’s favour, Dan. 1. Then, when faced with Nebuchadnezzar’s unreasonable demand for the disclosure and interpretation of his disturbing image dream, Daniel, supported by his three loyal friends, had convened a special prayer meeting, the first recorded in scripture, to seek the Lord’s urgent help, and had received a swift and abundant answer, ch. 2. Thirdly, when called upon in chapters 4 and 5 to assist, first, Nebuchadnezzar again, then his wayward grandson, Belshazzar, Daniel had risen to both occasions magnificently, and seen his master Nebuchadnezzar soundly converted, but his blasphemous grandson overthrown by the Medo-Persians and eternally lost. Next, in chapter 6 he had shown remarkable courage in the face of his colleagues’ plot against his life and Darius’ blasphemous edict forbidding him to pray to the Lord. He had not flinched from the consequences of disobeying it, and had been completely vindicated by his miraculous deliverance from the den of lions.
Daniel’s finest hours were those he spent on his knees in prayer. But his very finest single hour of prayer was probably that recorded in chapter 9 of his book, in which he prayed for the restoration of his sinful exiled people Israel. His whole prayer then, together with God’s answer to it, the panoramic prophecy of Israel’s Seventy Weeks’ further discipline prior to their final restoration, is quite outstanding and unforgettable in its deep spirituality, a model for all of us today to follow. Let us, therefore, study its occasion and chief characteristics.
His realization of the significance of Jeremiah’s prophecies
During the first year of Darius the Mede’s rule over Babylon, 538 BC, Daniel, who was then over eighty, but still at the height of his mental powers and spiritual character, suddenly realized, from his reading of the scriptures, the practical significance of Jeremiah’s prophecies, in chapters 25 and 29 of his book, concerning the length of the then current Babylonian Captivity. God had predicted that it would last just seventy years. Since Daniel had been exiled in 605 BC, the end of the Captivity could be only a few years away. This realization spurred Daniel on to engage in earnest prayer for the speedy restoration of his exiled nation. Does our study of the scriptures have a similar practical effect on our lives today, as we see the events of the end times rapidly approaching with all that they will mean, both for us as New Testament Christians and also for our unsaved neighbours, who face not imminent rapture, but the imminent judgement of God?
His reverent attitude in intercession
Daniel’s prayer here is a model of reverence, utter sincerity, and transparent honesty with God. Before he approached God’s presence, he first humbled himself by putting on sackcloth and ashes, and exercised the self-discipline of fasting. When he did begin to pray, he first of all worshipped the Lord, Israel’s covenant-keeping God, for His eternal greatness and faithfulness in true godly fear. We, too, need to remember that the eternal God already knows perfectly what we intend to say to Him, and will not be hurried into listening to puny and sinful mortals like us. He is always much more concerned that we become like Him in holy character than in our detailed prayer requests; for true prayer springs from, and results in, full conformity with His mind and will. Only then can He answer us. It is not surprising, therefore, that Daniel’s prayer was heard and answered immediately in such a wonderful way; for his soul and spirit were in perfect harmony with his God as enlightened by the Old Testament scriptures. Are we, likewise, in tune with the mind and will of heaven? We certainly can be!
His heartfelt confession of Israel’s sins
In his prayer Daniel was acting consciously on the Lord’s promise through Moses, in Deuteronomy chapter 30, that when and if Israel repented of their disobedience to Him, confessed their sins, and returned to Him, he would deliver them from captivity in their enemies’ lands. The Lord’s prophecy of Israel’s history of backsliding and rebellion against Him had all been fulfilled in the captivities in Assyria and Babylon. But now repentance would bring freedom from Babylon at least. Daniel humbly confessed his people’s sins as his very own, fully identifying himself with them. Are we prepared to do this when things go wrong in our local assemblies, or in our various nations? Or do we take a ‘holier than thou’ attitude towards the offenders? Remember, we are no better by nature than any of them. Let us have the mind of Christ, who made Himself answerable for all our sins. Daniel fully accepted that his people had deserved their punishment, because they had seriously offended against the Lord’s holy character, and spurned all His grace and longsuffering with them. He was mortified that Israel had brought the Lord’s name into such disgrace, and fully justified Him in having judged them so severely.
His powerful plea for Israel’s restoration
When Daniel did finally begin to intercede for Israel, he made no plea for Israel’s sake, but rather was concerned that the Lord’s own name and glory be protected and upheld; for these were both inseparably bound up with Israel’s fate as the Lord’s chosen earthly people. Like Moses before him, Daniel argued that, if Israel were finally lost, then the Lord’s name and glory would suffer dishonour and reproach from His enemies, because He had made Israel and the Patriarchs many unconditional covenant promises of blessing. On that basis alone he pleaded that the Lord would forgive Israel’s sins now and restore them to their Promised Land. Daniel is a good example of how we should intercede for one another when things go wrong. Always consider what will most advance the Lord’s glory, rather than our own, or others’, blessing.
God’s swift response to his prayer
Sometimes God allows there to be a considerable delay before we receive answers to even our most earnest prayers. Daniel discovered this later in chapter 10. There he prayed for three whole weeks before God’s answer reached him. Then God revealed to him that his prayer had been heard from the very beginning, but the answer to it had been held up all that time by evil angelic princes of the nations, who opposed God and His people Israel. This is a glimpse into the celestial conflict between God’s angels and Satan’s demons in which all believers are constantly involved, Eph. 6. But, here in chapter 9, God sent Gabriel at once to assure Daniel that his prayer had been heard, and to give him a wonderful answer. Gabriel told him that, as ‘a man greatly beloved’ by God, he was to receive a special revelation of His purposes for his beloved people Israel. Truly, ‘the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him’, Ps. 25. 14. We today are also highly privileged, and therefore most responsible, because we possess God’s whole prophetic plan in the now completed scriptures. We should use our prior knowledge to encourage fellow-believers and to warn unbelievers around us concerning ‘things to come’.
God’s revelation of Israel’s future path to restoration
In verses 24 to 27 Gabriel revealed to God’s beloved servant that another much longer period of seventy times seven years must elapse before Israel’s spiritual restoration would be complete, so serious was their sin. These 490 years would run from Artaxerxes II’s edict in 445 BC to rebuild Jerusalem’s city walls until the Second Coming of Christ, with an indefinitely long interval between the end of the 69th and the beginning of the 70th week. The 69th week would see the first coming of Christ and end just prior to His wrongful, but foreordained, crucifixion. The undefined interval would see the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 and continual warfare until the end times. All this is now history. The 70th week would constitute the end times, the seven-year tribulation described in Revelation chapters 6 to 19, started by Israel signing a covenant with the coming evil Roman prince, the first Beast of Revelation chapter 13, for their national protection. After three-and-a-half years he would break this covenant, set up an image of himself in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, and demand universal worship. Consequent worldwide persecution would be halted by Christ’s intervention at His second coming to reign. Only then would Israel’s full restoration be completed and their sin finally purged on the basis of Christ’s vicarious sacrifice.
Daniel was the favoured recipient of a panoramic prophecy which forms the backbone of prophetic chronology, especially that of the Book of Revelation. The aged prophet, as a result of his deeply spiritual intercessory prayer, was privileged to understand much more of God’s purposes of grace and judgement than most other Old Testament believers. But Christians today who live as close to the Lord as Daniel did may also enjoy a similar privileged understanding of Divine truth and purpose from the inspired scriptures. Yes, Daniel is definitely a role model for us to follow! So, who will ‘Dare to be a Daniel’?