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The Prayer of Daniel

An Exposition of Daniel's Prayer in Daniel 9 with Applications

by Bob DeWaay

 

Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, "Oh that Thou wouldst bless me indeed, and enlarge my border, and that Thy hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldst keep me from harm, that it may not pain me!Ē And God granted him what he requested. (1Chronicles 4:10)

And I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, "Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly, and rebelled, even turning aside from Thy commandments and ordinances. Moreover, we have not listened to Thy servants the prophets, who spoke in Thy name to our kings, our princes, our fathers, and all the people of the land. Righteousness belongs to Thee, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this dayó 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 Thou hast driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against Thee.Ē (Daniel 9:4-7)

It is the nature of fallen man to gravitate to works righteousness and self help. Religious solutions that offer promises of success for those who know the secrets will always be popular. Quick, easy, and rote answers sell. The book by Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez, is one of these.1 A little book about a one sentence prayer has sold millions of copies and spawned a hugely successful market for "Prayer of JabezĒ merchandise.2 We know little about the person Jabez in the Bible and have no indication in Scripture that the content of his prayer was meant to be repeated by others hoping to cash in on his success. How ironic that this little prayer has become a virtual "Our FatherĒ for evangelicals.

The Bible warns against repetitious prayer: "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many wordsĒ (Matthew 6:7). True prayer is personal, relational, meaningful, and Biblically informed. Prayer is to bring our sins, concerns, needs, and the needs of others before Godís throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). Humble, God honoring prayer recognizes Godís sovereign purposes as revealed in Scripture. Therefore, if we are to learn more about prayer we need to look much further than the prayer of Jabez. In this article, we shall study the prayer of Daniel found in Daniel 9 to enrich our understanding of God honoring prayer.


Danielís Prayer and Scripture

Daniel was an old man when he prayed in Daniel 9. As a young man he had been taken captive by the Babylonians. Jeremiah the prophet had prophesied that the captivity would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11,12). Daniel had been reading the book of Jeremiah, which motivated him to pray:

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. So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. (Daniel 9:2,3)

Since Daniel was at least a teenager at the time of the captivity (see Daniel 1), this means he was nearly 90 years old when he prayed as recorded in Daniel 9. God used him in many special ways as he lived out a life of prayer and faithfulness in Babylonian captivity. The theme of the message God revealed to Daniel as recorded in the book bearing his name is Godís sovereignty over history.

Scripture that revealed Godís sovereign purposes prompted Daniel to pray. This is the passage about the end of the captivity: "ĎThen it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,í declares the Lord, Ďfor their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolationíĒ (Jeremiah 25:12). Therefore it was certain that the captivity would soon end. Those who like to criticize we who believe in Godís sovereignty over all things, including human history, often suggest that such doctrines will lead to fatalistic attitudes and a lack of prayer. The example of Daniel should lay to rest such false conclusions. Daniel prophesied about the future history of the major empires of the world, including the exact number of years until the "cutting offĒ of Messiah. Yet Daniel prayed fervently.

Daniel prayed because the 70 years were nearly completed. He read the Scripture, knew what God was going to do, and "soĒ he gave himself to seeking God in prayer (Daniel 9:2). Bible study and prayer, Godís sovereignty and human responsibility, and Godís purposes and a faith response in the hearts of His people all go hand in hand. Many are fond of setting up false dilemmas where the Bible sees none. The certainty of a thing is a motivation to pray, not an obstacle. For example, since the days of the apostles, Christians have prayed for the return of Christ. The Lordís Prayer is such a prayer. The Bible ends with a prayer for the return of Christ, "He who testifies to these things says, Yes, I am coming quickly.í Amen. Come, Lord JesusĒ (Revelation 22:20). Yet there is nothing more certain than the return of Christ. Those who refuse to pray unless they conceive of an "openĒ future determined by the acts of man rather than the purposes of God have a deficient understanding of prayer and Scripture. Daniel 9 will help correct that deficiency.

Biblical prophecy about Godís purposes for Israel under girds Danielís prayer. At the end of Danielís prayer even more specific details about the future history of Israel were revealed to him (Daniel 9:24-27), part of which is still future in our day. Many today are thinking that the expanding of their "territoryĒ (i.e. business opportunities3) is expanding the kingdom of God. Godís kingdom will not come until after the 70th week of Daniel 9:27, when "all Israel will be savedĒ (Romans 11:26) and Christ will establish His millennial reign on earth. Our prayers, like Danielís, should be based on a sound understanding of Biblical prophecy. Such Biblically informed prayers would include: praying for the Lord to send forth laborers into the harvest (Luke 10:2), praying for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), praying for the salvation of all Godís elect, including the chosen remnant from among the Jews (Romans 10:1 & 9:27), and praying for our God-given civil leaders (1Timothy 2:1,2). This is not a comprehensive list, but shows that Godís sovereign purposes in history and for history are important in our prayers. These prayers are directly about the expansion of the gospel.

If we do not study the Scriptures diligently we will be lacking an understanding of Godís person and purposes and thereby be lacking God-honoring content in our prayers. When the early church prayed, they cited Scriptures and the purposes of God:

Who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, ĎWhy did the Gentiles rage, And the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord, and against His Christ.í For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur. (Acts 4:28)

The prayer of the apostles in Acts referenced Godís certain, unchangeable purposes in history and the fulfillment of Scripture. Obviously the Biblical writers saw Godís purposes and sovereignty as a reason to pray, not an excuse not to. The prayer in Acts 4 concludes, "And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence.Ē (Acts 4:29). They were all the more motivated to preach the gospel now that persecution had broken out as predicted in Scripture.

Another way Scripture influenced Danielís prayer concerned the nature of God. Daniel repeats a phrase about Godís nature that comes from Godís self-revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai: "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandmentĒ (Daniel 9:4b see Exodus 34:6,7). It is thematic in Biblical prayers to plead to God based on His self-revealed nature. Daniel references truths about Godís nature several places in his prayer: Godís covenant faithfulness (verse 4), Godís righteousness (verse 7), Godís compassion and forgiveness (verse 9), and the justice and righteousness of Godís deeds (verses 14, 16). When the Lordís Prayer includes "Hallowed be thy name,Ē the reference is to Godís person and the self-revelation of His holy nature. The prayer is for God to act in redemptive history to demonstrate His holy nature. Danielís prayer includes this idea about God acting redemptively to vindicate the holiness of His name (person): "O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Thine own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy nameĒ (Daniel 9:19). The more we know the Scriptures the better we understand Godís nature and pray accordingly.


Danielís Prayer and Repentance

The Scripture says that because God had promised to restore Israel from captivity after 70 years, Daniel sought the Lord, "[B]y prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.Ē These signified remorse, sorrow and grief. Daniel was contemplating the reason for the 70 year Babylonian captivity: Israelís sin and rebellion against God. Daniel realized that though God promised to restore them after 70 years, He would not do so outside of the original purpose of the captivity being fulfilled. The captivity was to cleanse Israel from idols and from obstinately refusing to listen to the Word of God. Therefore the aged prophet, feeling solidarity with his people Israel, "ownedĒ the sins of the people and earnestly sought Godís mercy and forgiveness. Restoration could only mean forgiveness and cleansing. God would not send Jews back to Israel to worship other gods!

Although Daniel was a sinner as are all humans, as far as the written record goes, Daniel lived an exemplary life. Yet Daniel was more grieved about sinfulness than most and owned the sins of the people as his own. He confesses, "[We] have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly, and rebelled, even turning aside from Thy commandments and ordinancesĒ (Daniel 9:5).

This sense of sinfulness is part and parcel of the idea of Godís holiness discussed earlier. Any person approaching the Holy God of the Bible does so with a sense of great sinfulness and need for cleansing. We can only come to God if He mercifully provides a way. When Peter got a glimpse of the nature and person of Christ, he responded like Isaiah did when Isaiah saw the Lord: "But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesusí feet, saying, ĎDepart from me, for I am a sinful man, O LordíĒ (Luke 5:8). Danielís prayer contained no false piety; Daniel knew God well enough to be fully aware of his sinfulness and that of the people. His expressions of remorse are from the heart.

Daniel had no inclination to blame God for what had happened. He saw Godís righteousness even in allowing His own people and their place of worship to be plundered, ravished, and hauled away by sinful, pagan, idolaters. Daniel prayed: "Righteousness belongs to Thee, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this dayó to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, . . . Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against TheeĒ (Daniel 9:7a,8). Repentance is not the giving of excuses, but the owning of oneís own sinfulness and confessing Godís righteousness. What Daniel prays is the opposite of Adamís response to his own sin: "And the man said, ĎThe woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ateíĒ (Genesis 3:12). Adam as the prototypical sinner blames God and others.


Danielís Prayer and Godís Justice

Daniel suffered greatly because of the sins of others. It was not his idolatry that caused the captivity, but the idolatry of his parentsí and grandparentsí generation. Daniel could have seen his situation as a "generational curseĒ passed down by his ancestors. Yet Daniel owned the sin as his own, spent no time contemplating the injustice of his situation, and pleaded for Godís mercy as if he himself had been the most blasphemous of idolaters. Danielís understanding of Godís righteousness was deep. He realized: "If Thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?Ē (Psalm 130:3).

When the Lordís Prayer asks for forgiveness and expresses forgiveness to others it shows this same idea that is in Danielís prayer. Forgiving others shows that we are giving up the sinful desire to blame others for our situation. Asking Godís forgiveness shows that we realize this (as Adam did not and David did): "Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, And done what is evil in Thy sight, So that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, And blameless when Thou dost judgeĒ (Psalm 51:4). Daniel was very forthright about this: "To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; nor have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophetsĒ (Daniel 9:9,10). There was no injustice in the captivity, not even for Daniel who had served God honorably. God was being merciful even in His judgment.

The captivity, rather than causing Daniel to question Godís justice, served for Daniel as proof of Godís justice. Daniel prayed, "Indeed all Israel has transgressed Thy law and turned aside, not obeying Thy voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to JerusalemĒ (Daniel 9:11,12). It was only right and just that God would do exactly as He promised them through Moses. The captivity "confirmed His words.Ē Deuteronomy 28 contains a list of the curses that would come upon the nation for breaking covenant. Deuteronomy 31:29 predicted future apostasy and Godís judgment. Daniel saw Godís justice in fulfilling His own Word, even if it meant turning His elect nation over to pagan conquerors.


Danielsís Prayer and Godís Mercy

God is a just God and merciful. Danielís prayer now turns to that revealed aspect of Godís nature. Godís mercy informed Danielís prayer throughout, but now Daniel specifically asks that God would show favor to Israel. Daniel prays, "O Lord, in accordance with all Thy righteous acts, let now Thine anger and Thy wrath turn away from Thy city Jerusalem, Thy holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Thy people have become a reproach to all those around usĒ (Daniel 9:16). Wrath is what sinners deserve. Godís wrath is real. Paul says that it is "revealed from heavenĒ (Romans 1:18). Wrath is not a popular topic today. Many just assume that since God is good (the pagans will agree with that) that therefore He will make things better for any who ask. However, that God is good means that He is also the righteous and good judge who must punish those who break His law. Thus Danielís deep concern: the manifest presence of Godís righteous wrath toward covenant breakers. Wrath must somehow be "turned away.Ē

Those who do not believe that they have broken Godís law and deserve eternal punishment cannot see the need for atonement. The dealings of God in the Old Testament were very concrete and revealed in history. Daniel knew that Godís wrath was justly being manifested in what happened to Israel. Even that is only an object lesson for the greater manifestation of wrath that awaits those who go into eternity with unforgiven sin. They face eternal damnation. Many people who pray daily for Godís blessing have no idea that they need atonement for sin, lest they end up in Hell. That should concern us and inform our prayers. Oh that the gospel message of averted wrath through the shed blood of Jesus Christ would be preached to every person in every nation.

Daniel pleaded for Godís mercy. He did so on an interesting, important basis. He pleaded for God to show mercy for His own sake! There is no human merit in Danielís theology and consequently he prays as he does. Daniel continues, "So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Thy servant and to his supplications, and for Thy sake, O Lord, let Thy face shine on Thy desolate sanctuaryĒ (Daniel 9:17). Why would God show mercy for His own sake? It is the people who need it. As Moses reminded God on Mount Sinai, God had chosen this people and promised them a land (see Exodus 32:11-13). The people of promise bear Godís name. If God destroys them completely, then His promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:3) would fail. This promise included the promise of a Messiah to bless all the families of the earth. Daniel 9 is ultimately about Messiah. Mercy is shown not because the people deserve it, but because God has promised to reveal His merciful, saving nature and purposes through these people. All the families of the earth will learn of Godís nature through His dealings with Israel. Thus mercy is shown for Godís sake.

In the next verse, Daniel makes explicit what is implied throughout: there is no human merit. Daniel prays, "O my God, incline Thine ear and hear! Open Thine eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Thy name; for we are not presenting our supplications before Thee on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Thy great compassionĒ (Daniel 9:18). They bear the name of God. They have sinned horribly and brought reproach to His holy name. Their condition was a direct result of their own rebellion, and Godís righteous wrath. But God, being compassionate and merciful, would take action to vindicate His holy name and fulfill His promises. Paul echoes this thought in the New Testament:

Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (Ephesians 2:3-5).

The merciful God of the Bible gives life to dead sinners who merit only wrath and judgment. Daniel was praying about the return of the Jews to Jerusalem. This was the immediate concern and the occasion of his prayer. He knew that they had no reason to expect God to do this other than Godís compassion, mercy, and willingness to demonstrate the holiness of His name. The answer that came on the occasion of Danielís prayer goes way beyond the restoration of Jerusalem to the coming of Messiah, to Messiahís rejection, and to the very end of the age and the great tribulation.

The plan of Messianic salvation exists because God is a merciful God. God could have wiped out the nation entirely as He threatened to do in Mosesí day (Exodus 32:10), and remained perfectly just. God could wipe out the entire rebellious human race and be perfectly just. Godís mercy is revealed in that rather than doing so, He chose to reveal His mercy in saving some. He promised to raise up Messiah from the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), the seed of Abraham (Genesis 12:3), and the seed of David (2Samuel 7:12-16) who would bring salvation to a remnant of the Jews (Romans 9:27; 11:5). Through this promised Jewish Messiah a remnant of Gentiles would also be brought to faith (Psalm 22:27; Isaiah 49:6). If Danielís prayer went unanswered and the Jews were left in Babylon to be assimilated into the Babylonian nation and religion, then the promises of God would have failed. There would have been no Messiah and no salvation. The stakes could not have been higher.


The Answer to Danielís Prayer

As Daniel was still praying, the angel Gabriel came to him (Daniel 9:21). Gabriel was commanded to go to Daniel when Daniel began praying, "At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the visionĒ (Daniel 9:23). The answer given by Gabriel is one of the most specific, clear prophecies in the Bible. There would be seventy "weeksĒ (literally "sevensĒ; a collection of seven things4) to finish Godís redemptive dealings with Israel. The Old Testament at times refers to sabbatical weeks of years, i.e. a seven year period (Leviticus 25:3-13). The prophecy of the 70 weeks in Daniel 9:24 refers to a period of 490 years.5 As the seventy years of captivity were about to come to an end, Gabriel told Daniel of another period of seventy, this time seventy weeks of years.

Gabriel told Daniel, "So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determinedĒ (Daniel 9:25,26). The decree to which Gabriel refers is the one issued by Artaxerxes in 445 B.C. (Nehemiah 2).6 The first seven weeks of years, beginning at 445 B.C. brings us to the close of Malachiís prophecy and the closing of the Old Testament canon.7 The next 434 years from that time (totaling 483 years) brings us to the time of Christ. The amazing prophecy in Daniel 9 includes a prediction of Messiahís rejection, the exact time of this rejection, and the future destruction of Jerusalem.  The final week, the seventieth week, is the Great Tribulation. In the middle of this seven year period the "prince to comeĒ (Antichrist) will set up the abomination of desolation spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24. It says in Daniel 9:27: "And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.Ē This seventieth week is yet future. The answer to Danielís prayer was a revelation of the future history of his people the Jews. There is a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks, which is the period from the Day of Pentecost until the beginning of the Great Tribulation. The rejection of Messiah and the destruction of Jerusalem was not the end of Godís dealing with Israel. During the indeterminate period between Messiahís rejection by Israel and the future covenant with a false messiah who will make desolate, God is bringing Messianic salvation to Gentiles and Jews who believe the gospel.


Conclusion

Danielís prayer did not cause the return of the Jews to Jerusalem; but God did. God cannot lie, and will not break His promises. Everything decreed and promised shall certainly come to pass. Daniel 9:24 says that the seventy weeks, "have been decreed.Ē If the future history of Israel and her dealings with the Gentile world is certain, then what purpose is there to prayer? The answer is that prayer is part of the means by which God has chosen to work. God raised up Daniel and placed him where he was at that crucial time of history. Godís grace kept Daniel from caving in to the delicacies and temptations of pagan Babylon. God used Danielís prayers because God delights to use ordinary people in extraordinary situations to His glory.

Likewise, we live in extraordinary times. As we see evidence of the nearness of the coming seventieth week we should all the more be motivated to pray according to Godís revealed purposes. We do not need modern end time prophets to tell us how to pray, the Scriptures already tell us what will happen. Just as Daniel studied prophetic Scripture and prayed accordingly, so should we. We cannot pray what Daniel prayed; but we can pray as Daniel prayed. To do so forces us to contemplate our situation and how the Bible applies to it.9

Prayers modeled after Jabez are inadequate. There are so many more important matters before us. The beauty of Danielís prayer is that it cannot be recited over and over because it is too long and mostly has already been answered. Therefore its serves a much better purpose: to teach us the principles of godly intercession. It also serves the purpose of reminding us of the key to all of history: Israel and her Messiah. It also reminds us about Godís nature, His justice, His mercy, and our need. How much better to learn from the prayer of one of the more godly and exemplary characters in the Bible than from an obscure man who uttered a one sentence prayer.



Issue 72 - September/October 2002




End Notes

  1. See the article by Dick Kuffel in this issue of CIC for a more thorough critique of the book.
  2. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez, (Multnomah: Sisters OR, 2000)
  3. Wilkinson, Jabez, says "Your business is the territory God has entrusted you. He wants you to accept it as a significant opportunity to touch individual lives, the business community, and the larger world for His glory. Asking Him to enlarge that opportunity brings Him only delight.Ē 31. This simple minded logic is not really Biblical. It assumes too much. It is as if to say, "since I am Christian, what I do is helping God have more influence in the world. Therefore if my domain was much larger, Godís influence would be also. Therefore nothing is more important than for me to get bigger.Ē This thinking has caused many churches to lay aside the preaching of the cross so the church can be bigger and so more can be influenced.
  4. Lehman Strauss, Daniel, (Loizeaux: Neptune, NJ, 1969) 268.
  5. Ibid. 270.
  6. Ibid. 272.
  7. Ibid.
  8. See Sir Robert Anderson, The Coming Prince, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998 reprint of 1957 edition) 67 -129 for a detailed explanation of the 69 weeks and their fulfillment.
  9. This study of Danielís prayer is not meant to be a comprehensive teaching on prayer. Much more is taught on this subject elsewhere in Scripture.




Critical Issues Commentary
bob@cicministry.org

Critical Issues Commentary
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P.O. Box 390334
Edina, MN 55439-0334



Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1995 The Lockman Foundation.
 
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