Daniel 9 contains one of the most stunning prayers in all of the Bible. It is filled with praise for God’s character and with contrition for God’s people. Daniel was moved by the righteousness of God and emotionally owned the shame of Israel’s sins.
What brought about such a moving prayer? Perhaps a change in secular power gave Daniel pause (Daniel 9:1). But most likely it was borne out of reading the Scriptures. Daniel had been reading Jeremiah 29:10 and started doing the math (Daniel 9:2). He realized that it was approaching the time for God’s promise of restoration to be fulfilled. It was time for Israel to be released from captivity and go home. This reality moved Daniel to seek God in prayer and fasting (v. 3).
Agreeing with God Against Ourselves
Often one of the weakest elements in our prayers is the discipline of confession. We do okay with praise and thanksgiving and are quite apt at presenting our “shopping lists” of requests, but confessing sins usually takes last place. Confession forces our hands at being humble and contrite before God. The New Testament word for confess means “to speak the same thing.” Essentially when we confess our sins we are agreeing with God against ourselves. That is what Daniel did in this magnificent prayer.
The Hebrew word for confessed (yadah) can mean “to give praise or thanks.” But it can also mean, “to cast down.” One way of giving praise to God is to agree with him about ourselves. Probably in this context it means “to be humble” and cast down our pride. Daniel certainly did that in this part of our printed text. He leaned into his confession by acknowledging no less than four great qualities of God. He mentioned another great attribute of God in the next section, that being God’s mercy. He used the Hebrew word racham, meaning “compassion” or “tender love” (Daniel 9:18). Daniel acknowledged that God was great (high or mighty), awesome (terrible or dreadful), and keeps his covenant of love (preserves his mercy).
Relying on God’s gracious character, Daniel owned his sins and the sins of his people through confession. He acknowledged eight nuances of sins. The first of the eight is the generic sinned. This is the normal word in the sin vocabulary of the Old Testament and means “to miss the goal or path.” It bookends this sin list, occurring again in verse eight. Daniel also mentions doing wrong (doing perversely or committing iniquity), being wicked (condemned as guilty), having rebelled, turned away (removed or left undone), not listened (not heard), covered with shame (mentioned twice), and being unfaithful (being treacherous). While Daniel owned his own part in this vice list, he also included others who needed to agree with God against themselves—namely kings, princes, ancestors, people of the land (a special class of “commoners”), people of Judah, inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel. This was a gut-wrenching confession. No nuance of sin was left unspoken.
Requesting of God for His Sake
In verses 9-14 Daniel continued to admit that Israel got only what they deserved. In the next two paragraphs he made his requests to God. But there was no selfishness in his requests. He was most concerned for the veracity of God’s name. One remarkable feature of this prayer was Daniel’s small concern for himself and his great concern for God’s name.
Daniel acknowledged two primary righteous acts of God. He brought Israel out of Egypt and he made a name for himself. Daniel did not want anything to tarnish God’s good name. He knew that the people’s sins had made Jerusalem an object of scorn to all those around Israel. He was concerned most about the city that bore the Name of God that Daniel called the holy hill.
Daniel framed up his request in multiple ways. He pled with God to turn away his anger, to hear the prayers, to look with favor (make your face to shine) on the temple, to give ear and hear, to open your eyes and see the desolation of the city, to listen, to forgive (pardon), to hear, act, and not delay. How many more ways could he say it? This was indeed a prayer for an obedient faith.
Ask yourself, “When was the last time I prayed like that?” No wonder when Daniel’s prayer concluded the angel Gabriel was dispatched from Heaven to tell him, “You are highly esteemed” (Daniel 9:23).
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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