Relevant Verse: Daniel 9
Leading Question: How does prayer change perspective of perplexing events?
In 539/538 B.C.E., the first year of Darius the Mede (probably the same year that Daniel was thrown to the lions), Daniel studied the writings of Jeremiah and came to an important conclusion: within a few years the 70-year captivity, or the ten sabbatical years during which the land was at rest, was coming to an end. The text from Jeremiah 29:10–11 said: “This is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Questions: Why is “God’s timetable” significant? Why should we study such matters? Is it a question of knowing that God has everything operating according to plan? If so, what is the plan?! What does it really mean, “in the fullness of time, Christ came”? What of unfulfilled prophecy? What are the dangers of overstressing these issues?
Daniel had just lived through the recent fall of Babylon and the ascendancy of the Medes and Persians to world dominion. From the tone of his prayer, one can imagine Daniel’s thoughts: “You said 70 years, Lord. When will we be free to go home to Jerusalem, rebuild the temple, and offer the daily sacrifice again?” Thoughts about returning to Jerusalem did not lead Daniel to make demands on God, instead, it led him to confession and repentance, to “prayer and petition in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).
Daniel’s prayer is often called a model prayer. However, it must be read with the understanding of God’s enduring covenant relationship with Israel in mind. The Lord God is the One who surely keeps His covenant and lovingkindness toward His people. Righteousness, compassion, and forgiveness belong to Him alone. It is on this ground that Daniel turns to God with desperate petition, fasting, and confession (Daniel 9:3). “To us belongs open shame” (Daniel 9:7, 8).
It is almost impossible to remove shame once you have been publicly disgraced. It is like an indelible stain on your skin. Daniel and his people were shamed when they went into exile to Babylon. Psalm 89 describes the foreign conquest as God “spurning,” “defiling,” “scorning,” “humiliating,” and “shaming” David’s royal dynasty and nation of Israel. The shame of exile deeply troubled Israel’s prophets. The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple caused Jeremiah to lament,
Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us;
Look and see our disgrace! (Lamentations 5:1)
He bemoaned the shame of God’s judgement.
How the Lord in His anger has humiliated daughter Zion!
He has thrown down from heaven to earth the splendor of Israel…
He has brought down to the ground in dishonor the kingdom and its rulers.
(Lamentations 2:1, 2; cf. 1:1, 6, 8; 3:30, 45; 5:14–16)
For Daniel and his people was the defining element of captivity, not just physical hardship. And so, Daniel confesses that Israel sinful unfaithfulness left them covered in shame.
Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day — to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. Open shame belongs to us, O LORD, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. (Daniel 9:7–8)
In the Hebrew Bible shame was not removed by granting forgiveness only. When a name had been defiled, a reputation harmed, a standing damaged, one felt the stigma, the dishonor, the degradation. That is why an immensely powerful and dramatic ceremony had to take place in the sanctuary during which people could feel and symbolically see their sins carried away. The Day of Atonement especially conveyed this act when at the end of all the sacrifice ceremonies the scapegoat would be sent into the desert, to no-man’s-land. When an entire people confessed, the individual sinner would be redeemed from shame. A similar ceremony took place when a leper was cleansed. The priest took two birds, killed one, and released the other to fly away across the open fields (Leviticus 14: 4-7). The act was one of cleansing, and had to do with shame being removed.
Does Daniel see any glimmer of hope in the present situation? Yes, but he places his hope in God’s mercy and petitions Him to take action for the desolate sanctuary in Jerusalem.
Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name. (Daniel 9:17-19)
While Daniel was still praying, he felt a touch, again, as it had happened years earlier (Daniel 8:18). And just as it happened then, Gabriel arrived, for the second time, now calling Daniel to pay close attention and gain understanding of the vision, the mareh, which was the appearance he had seen in Daniel 8:15, but was left astounded and sick, literally “horrified and with no one to explain” (Daniel 8:27).
It is in Daniel 9:24–27 that the appearance of the heroic man from Daniel 8:15 is finally revealed. He is called the “Messiah the Prince” who is “to finish the transgression, put an end to sin, atone for wickedness, bring everlasting righteousness, seal up vision and prophecy, and anoint the holy of holies.” In acting on behalf of His people, His Temple, and His city, another horrific paradox happens: He will be cut off, have nothing, the city and sanctuary are destroyed, and war and desolations take place. However, at the same time, He will make a firm covenant by stopping sacrifice and offering. Sacrifice animals will no more be oppressors of people. For “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Note: Gabriel, the messenger, is given only four moments in the overarching narrative of biblical history. Gabriel comes twice to Daniel, first, to announce and accompany the appearance of the mighty divine hero (Daniel 8:16), and, then, to explain the work of Messiah the Prince to the troubled but prayerful captive (Daniel 9:21). Gabriel arrives on only two more occasions, once to announce the birth of the Messiah’s forerunner to the old priest Zacharias in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 1:19), and, for the last time, to bring the news to Mary, the mother of the holy child, the Son of God (Luke 1:26-37).