Today we jump back into the book of Daniel, and today we’re in chapter 9. And to get us back into the structure of the book, so we know where we’re at, let me remind you that the first 6 chapters of the book of Daniel were a biography of sorts on Daniel’s life. It was narrative, telling us what went on during the life of Daniel. Then, the second six chapters, 7-12, really step into Daniel’s spiritual life. We see what was going on in his prayer life in the midst of everything we saw in the first six chapters.
We’re no longer going chronologically. Today, we’ll be looking at Daniel’s prayer during the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede. So, as far as where we’re at in the story line, if you remember back to chapter 5, that’s when King Belshazzar of Babylon saw the floating hand write on the wall and it wrote telling Belshazzar that his reign was coming to an end. Then, sure enough, at the end of that very chapter, it says that Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom.
Then, in Daniel 6 we saw Darius place Daniel as one of his top three satraps over the entire kingdom, before he was thrown into the Lion’s den for refusing to halt his praying to the God of Israel. So, this first year of Darius’ reign is where we’re at. And I’d like to walk through chapter 9 together, explaining a little bit after the first two verses, then reading the majority of Daniel’s prayer and going from there. Then we’ll step back and see a few things we can really learn from Daniel’s prayer and God’s response here in chapter 9. So, starting in verse 1 of chapter 9:
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.
It’s important we understand this as we move forward. Daniel is reading the book of Jeremiah the prophet, and notices something. Specifically, he notices Jeremiah 25:11-12. “This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then, after the seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.”
Do you catch why this would catch Daniel’s attention? This prophecy was given in about 605 B.C., and now it’s nearly 70 years later, and guess what just happened? The kingdom of Babylon was destroyed! Belshazzar was the last Babylonian king! So he’s going, “Wait a minute; part of this prophecy is fulfilled! So if it’s the end of the seventy years that God decided that the Israelites would serve the King of Babylon, maybe now God would restore Israel! If it’s the end of the seventy years, maybe this is almost over! This is why Daniel cries out to God. And the prayer we’re about to read is one of the most heartfelt and lengthy prayers we find in the Bible. But before we read the lengthy part of his prayer, I want you to notice how Daniel describes what he is doing in verse 3:
3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.
That’s how Daniel describes prayer. One of the greatest truths of prayer is this, and this is number 1:
- True Prayer is God-Centered.
Daniel set his face to the Lord God, and sought him! Yes, Daniel had something he was asking for, and yet it is clear from Daniel’s life that he was a God-centered man. And that translated into the way that he prayed! He prayed as a man with his mind and heart set on God, NOT as a man with his mind and heart set merely on what he felt he needed or wanted! That’s one of the biggest mistakes when we think about praying in faith. Praying in faith does mean primarily that we’re set on what we need or what we’re asking for, like believing we’ll get what we ask for! Praying in faith means our hearts and minds are set on God! We believe in Him!
Even Daniel’s very prayer wasn’t a prayer for something he felt he needed or even wanted, although he certainly wanted Israel to be restored! His prayer was asking God for something God had already promised! Don’t you love that? He strongest prayer of faith there is, really the only prayer of faith that there is, is a prayer that trusts in God’s character, especially as one who keeps his promises.
True prayer is God-centered. And when it is God-centered, we see clearly. We see our complete depravity without God’s intervention. We see this in how Daniel starts his actual prayer. Verses 4-15:
4 I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
Talk about open, honest prayer. It is only God-centeredness that brings about this kind of honesty. Being completely set on God’s ambitions and God’s goals and God’s Kingship and Lordship—only when we joyfully submit to Him as Supreme over all things are we then able to be this brutally honest with ourselves.
Before we read on, I just have to stop and say that confession might be the most often neglected kind of prayer. If it’s been a while since you’ve confessed your sin before God, take an encouragement not from me, but from God, first through John and then through James: 1 John 1:9- “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Come before Jesus today, not with a façade, not with your church-personality. Come to him naked! You need no priest; you need no self-created righteousness. In other words, you don’t need to fix things before you come to the Lord. Come to God today, confess your sin and He is faithful and just and he will forgive. Your sin and shame, my sin and shame, is all paid for in full by Christ, if we repent and trust in Jesus our Substitute. Christ’s holiness and righteousness is given to us, as our sin and shame are laid upon him on the Cross. Our death has been defeated by Christ’s resurrection. Death has died. Hallelujah?! You know that’s why we gather, right?!
From James, another part of this encouragement toward confession: James 5:16- “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” I hope we’re always looking to the Scripture to see what the church is to look like, and here’s one thing: confess your sins to each other. I know it’s uncomfortable, I know it’s revealing—maybe you’ll lose face—but we need to confess our sins to each other. To be completely honest, we all need to lose face occasionally. There’s a reason why people in the church often disappoint us. Because we’re all sinners who need Jesus. That’s why we’re here! Let’s not pretend like we have a reputation to keep. We lift up the name of no man here; we lift up the name of Jesus, and follow Him honestly. We confess, and then and only then can we call upon God’s mercy! Summing up some of what I’ve just said, Truth #2:
- Accurate and honest confession makes it impossible to confuse God’s mercy as something that we earn (v. 3-15).
Accurate and honest confession reminds us of our only hope: God’s mercy. Which is what Daniel now calls upon in his prayer. Starting in verse 16:
16 “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”
Don’t miss this! Middle of verse 18: “We do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for you own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” Do you hear how God-centered that is? And do you not hear, as obvious as can be, Daniel calling upon God’s mercy not because of their own righteousness! The basis for God showing mercy is his character as a merciful God! It is not because you and I deserve mercy!
It’s not, “God loves you because you’re awesome.” Look, we are the pinnacle of God’s creation, and we do bear the very image of God. We have some things in common. But listen, the only one we have to thank for God’s love and mercy is God!
We all caught that this is Old Testament, right?! We have one God, from beginning to end, with one character, from beginning to end. From the beginning, his plan of redemption is only because of his great mercy. Until the end, his plan of redemption will only be because of his great mercy. We must never forget this. Daniel certainly does not forget this, even now as Gabriel the angel comes and answers Daniel’s prayer, almost interrupts his prayer, really. This is how interrupts or jumps in. V. 20:
20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.
Before I get to the actual vision in the last four verses, I think there’s something that shouldn’t go without saying here, and for us, it will be Truth #3:
- God hears our prayers immediately.
That might be able to go without saying, but I think it’s good to be explicit. Daniel says, “While I was speaking and praying and confessing my sin, Gabriel came to me in swift flight.” There was no delay in Daniel’s prayer getting to God. Again, that may seem obvious, but I think sometimes it’s easy, without even really thinking about it, to think that our prayers are delayed, when in fact it is sometimes merely the answers that are delayed. God answers prayers in his own time, but it should be a GREAT comfort to us to know that He hears those prayers, immediately. A shorter version of this, something Lauryn has been teaching Jacob a lot lately, is “God knows.”
I know sometimes that can be a frustrating thing, but if we have our faces set toward God, like Daniel did, it should be a most comforting thing, because he is fully aware and sovereign over everything that is happening. So Gabriel comes, and immediately gives Daniel an answer. Gabriel says, “Daniel, you are loved, and I have brought a word to you now. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.” And here it is, starting in verse 24:
24 “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”
For those of you unfamiliar with Daniel chapter 9 and the 70 weeks, what we just read might have sounded like the most confusing passage you’ve ever read, or close: a whole lot of things happening without a whole lot of explanation given. In the Christian world, this is probably the, or at least one of the most debated passages in Scripture as to what, exactly, it’s referring to. J.A. Montgomery calls the journey of trying to interpret and understand this passage, he calls it a “dismal swamp.”
I thought very hard about spending a whole Sunday just on these four verses, and I’m sure some of you may have appreciated that, but, honestly, the reason I chose not to is because I’m not 100% sure where I land on how to interpret these four verses.
I’ve studied it plenty, and in particular, I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time on eschatology, which is the study of the end times. Many believe this speaks very strongly of the end times, especially with this 70th week he talks about in verses 26 and 27. And maybe, as I continue to grow in my understanding of Scripture, and especially as I spent extended time on the question of how, exactly, the end times will play out according to Scripture, maybe I’ll come to land somewhere soon. But, as of right now, I haven’t. I’m not convinced 100% yet by any particular view.
But, for the sake of not just skipping over a passage, let me explain a little bit and then give you the three broad main interpretations of these verses, and then one application that we can take from them no matter what our opinions might be.
Right off the bat, the first few words, “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city.” “Seventy weeks” here is literally translated seventy “sevens.” A “seven” is a period of seven, either days or years. Pretty much all scholars agree that this is speaking of 70×7 years, so 490 years. That’s probably the only thing they all seem to agree on, though. So, 490 years are decreed for what to happen? Verse 24: “to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place (or a most holy one).”
Then it gives what will happen in the first 69 weeks, or 483 years in verse 25: namely, that Jerusalem will be built up again. That’s good news for Daniel, right?! Fantastic! So, somehow over the next 483 years or sometime in that time, Jerusalem will be built up. That may not sound that exciting, but for Daniel, he’s probably just happy that Jerusalem isn’t gone forever! And then, in verses 26-27, Gabriel explains what happens after these 69 weeks. That the “anointed one” shall be cut off (most agree that that’s referring to Jesus). That “the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (many think that’s the antichrist still to come even for us, others think that this is Titus, the Roman general who lead the Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The big debate among evangelical Christians is between two main views:
- The first 69 weeks refer to Christ’s first coming, and then the last week, the 70th week is the 7-year tribulation that is still to come (even for us), and the prince in verse 26 is the antichrist. In this view, right now we are between the 69th and the 70th week, in a gap that’s apparently already almost 2000 years long. This is actually the most common understanding of this passage in the evangelical world today, at least in the last 100 years. If you’ve seen any of the “Left Behind” movies, this is the view that’s represented in those.
- The first 69 weeks refer to Christ’s first coming and his sacrificial atonement, but that the last week described in verses 26-27 refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
To say the very least, even if you do have a strong opinion about this passage, no one can deny that this is a highly unusual apocalyptic-type text, that does not give obvious answers to these questions with simply a straight-forward reading of the text. In other words, this is not a fellowship-breaking issue.
In fact, just a broad thought here when it comes to eschatology, or the study of the end times: It IS very clear to me that this is not something over which to break fellowship with a brother or sister. Someone that interprets this differently than you do is not in sin, unless they’re denying altogether that Jesus is coming back or something like that. Don’t ever leave a church because some of the people around you disagree with you, or even the pastor or elders disagree with you. Where I lean right now as far as how I understand the end times, I actually disagree with I believe all of our elders. We’re ok with that. You know why? Because we all know he’s coming back and we need to live like he could come back tomorrow.
We may disagree on the nature or timing of the rapture, or the nature or timing of the millennium in Revelation 20, but Jesus is coming back, and we all know that God has given us what we’re to be doing while we’re here until he does come back.
I say this so strongly, even though I know many of you may already agree that even though this is an important theological topic (by no means is it unimportant), it is also a secondary issue. Many of you may already agree with that, but I know of 3 churches that I’m personally connected to (as in I know someone there part of the congregation) who have gone through church splits in the last year because of this issue!
There are things that are worth dividing over, true. There really are. The pastor or elders come out as believing something so clearly contrary to Scripture and clearly just compromising the text, denying the Trinity, or the atonement, or suddenly holding to universalism (the idea that everyone’s going to heaven and no one’s going to hell)—these issues, guess what: you need to go. We need to divide. You can’t have meaningful, biblical fellowship with those kinds of differences. But with the end times, you can absolutely have meaningful, biblical fellowship, and not compromising or denying any part of Scripture and yet holding to different views. At least, that’s the stance of Raintree Community Church.
Here’s what we can know from these verses. I know we just spent a lot of time talking about interpretation, but here’s the real point that God is making to Daniel. Truth #4:
- God has set the time left before the end (24-27).
Whether he’s referring here to the end-end, or the end of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the broad truth is still the same: We pray to a God who has time in his hands. At the heart of the prayer of faith, yet again, the object of our faith is not the thing that we’re asking for: “You believe it strong enough and you’ll get it!” No-no. The object of our faith is God Himself. We know he keeps his promises, and we know that he has a plan for his people.
At the heart of prayer is self-denial, and expression of trust in God is has all things in his hands! In that way, it is God-centered. And God-centered prayer is accurate and honest. That means it involves confession of our sin. And when we openly confess, truly and honestly, with no façade at all, we are pointed over and over to the gospel. That God loves us and is merciful to us, not because of our performance, but because of his great character, because he chooses to love us and show us mercy.
If anything, my prayer today, is that maybe our prayers look a bit different after seeing into the mind and heart of Daniel praying for God’s glory and the restoration of his people.