By Sam E. Stone
“The events of Daniel 9 were triggered by the reading of Scripture,” explains James E. Smith. “Daniel had access to a collection of prophetic literature which included the scroll of Jeremiah. He noted in Jeremiah 25:11 that the desolations of Jerusalem were to end after the termination of the seventy years of Babylonian world rule.”
This is the background for Daniel’s prayer that we study today. It is surely one of the most heartfelt pleas to God found anywhere in the Bible. Daniel knew well that the captivity came because of the disobedience of his people. He admits this freely. They needed to repent and receive God’s mercy.
When God brought the Israelites back into the promised land from their Egyptian bondage, he told them that their well-being depended upon their obedience to his law. If they proved unfaithful, they would be given into the hands of their enemies (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). That happened. But God had also assured them that if they would repent and return to him again, he would restore them (Deuteronomy 30:1-10). It is this assurance that prompted Daniel to pray for his people.
When Daniel came before the Lord, he was well aware of what God had already done for his people. He had prompted Cyrus to issue a decree in favor of the Jews (Ezra 1). Although the Jews themselves were responsible for the exile, even so God’s mercy had not changed. None could say that God had not kept his covenant of love with those who . . . keep his commandments. The Jews had brought the punishment of captivity on themselves. We have been wicked and have rebelled, Daniel admitted.
God had permitted the godless Babylonians to conquer the Jews as punishment for their turning away from his commands. He had warned them about this long before (Deuteronomy 28:1-14; 64-68). Daniel lived centuries after those words were written, when Israel was suffering for having broken the covenant. They experienced the curses connected with disobedience. Even though this happened, God used (his) servants the prophets to warn the people.
Over and over Daniel reminded the people of their wrongdoing—using words like shame, unfaithfulness, rebellion, and sin. Moreover, he is careful to include everyone in his confession of the nation’s sin. It involved Jerusalem, as well as both Judah and Israel. It included all of the groups within the land—we and our kings, our princes, and our ancestors. No one could claim that he or she was innocent.
Over the years God had sent his prophets faithfully and frequently in his continuing effort to get the nation to repent and return to him. Daniel prayed that the captivity not be prolonged, but that God grant mercy now to the Jews. Paul Butler wrote, “That Daniel was in earnest is indicated by the fact that he fasted and humbled himself in sackcloth and ashes—the customary attire for a Jew who wished to subdue the flesh in order to concentrate on the spiritual.”
It is as if Daniel told God, “You are right and we are wrong!” Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. Even when God executes judgment on his disobedient children, he is completely in the right. The Lord our God is righteous in everything he does. The prophets spoke truth when they faithfully delivered their messages of warning and called for repentance. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and many others were sent by God, but still the people would not listen.
The printed text does not include vv. 15 and 16. There Daniel asked God, “In keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem.” He added, Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. His prayer continues through v. 19, but v. 17 summarizes his final appeal. The nations have profaned the Lord’s name, his city of Jerusalem, his temple, and his people (see Ezekiel 36:21-23). Daniel prayed in effect, “Don’t let them tarnish your name, God! Not for the sake of the people, but for your sake, God, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.