Through the Old Testament in a Year

Today's Reading – Daniel 9 – Daniel's prayer

It is only with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ that God rescues his people from captivity and leads them out into freedom.

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As we have seen, Daniel had made it his practice to pray daily to the Lord God – that was what had got him thrown into the den of lions. But Daniel was not only in the habit of spending time with God in prayer, he was also a man who read the Bible and sought to understand its relevance to his own life and the life of his people. And Daniel had been reading the book of the prophet Jeremiah, from which he understood that the period of the Israelite's captivity in Babylon would amount to 70 years (see Jeremiah 25:11). Daniel realises that this period of time has nearly expired and so he sets himself to pray for the exiles in Babylon to be released and freed to return to their own land.

Have we developed healthy habits of Bible reading and prayer like those of Daniel? Do we seek to understand the relevance of what God says to us in his word and turn it into heartfelt prayer? These notes are intended to help you to develop such habits but you need to go beyond them to develop such habits for yourself. You may be surprised at what God has to say to you and where he may lead you in the adventure of discipleship.

Daniel was clearly familiar not only with the book of the prophet Jeremiah but also with the books of Moses, and perhaps particularly Deuteronomy. He begins his prayer with confession on behalf of himself and God's people generally. He acknowledges that they had turned away from the Lord to false gods; they had rebelled against God's laws and not listened to the prophets whom God had sent with warnings of his judgment (vv. 4-6). The Lord had been righteous and faithful to his covenant in sending them into captivity in Babylon – the covenant contained warnings of judgment as well as promises of blessing (see Leviticus 26:14-45 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

But Daniel knows that, "The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him" (v. 9). Therefore, in accordance with the promises of his word in Deuteronomy 30:2-3, as well as in Jeremiah, he pleads for God to come to the rescue of his people. Daniel calls to mind the way God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, making a great name for himself in so doing (v. 15). He asks that God would now hear his prayer and do it again. He concludes:

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. (vv. 18-19)

In many ways Daniel's bold prayer is a model for our own. It is rooted in a knowledge of God and in the promises of his word. He does not ask simply for blessing on himself and his nation, but asks for God to glorify his own name by showing mercy towards his people.

While Daniel was still in prayer the Lord sent his angel, Gabriel, with a message for Daniel. The strange message with its "seventy sevens" has given rise to all manner of speculative interpretations concerning end times and possible dates of Christ's return – things which Jesus himself warned us against. We are going to avoid any such speculations but suggest simply that Daniel is being warned that the exile of God's people will continue long beyond the imminent return of the Jews to the promised land and the reconstruction of Jerusalem and the temple that was to take place in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. It is only with the coming of the Lord Jesus that God comes at last to save his people from captivity and lead them into freedom – people now from every nation. This is the debate Jesus had with the Jewish leaders of his day in which he told them, "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36, see 8:31-36).

Father God, we thank you for your salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ and the freedom from fear and from death which we enjoy in him. Lord Jesus, teach us to pray. Help us by your Spirit to tell others of your saving goodness that they also might find freedom in you.

Peter Misselbrook