We’ve already seen that Daniel’s prayer is based upon a right view of humanity and a right view of himself. But if Daniel knows that he and his people are sinful, how can he confidently come before God’s throne in prayer?
Well, that’s all because Daniel also has a right view of God.
Read Daniel 9:15-19.
A right view of God
Time and time again in the life of ancient Israel, the people look back and tell stories from their history. They remember events that had happened hundreds of years before. Here, Daniel turns to the Exodus. A story that was retold many times over, so that the people of Israel might learn that their God was in the habit of saving His people.
The Lord who brought Israel out of Egypt did so because it is in His character to rescue those in need. He did so because He loves His children. He did so in order that His name might be established, in order that He might be known by his mighty acts.
The whole history of Israel reveals a God who is eternally consistent in His character. He has always been and will always be a God of mercy. He is a God who delights to save those who don’t deserve it. He is God who delights to listen to the prayers of those who come from a sinful and rebellious people. Daniel’s God, our God, loves sinners!
Spend some time thanking God for times in your life when He has answered your prayers. If you’re a Christian, thank Him especially for saving you, a sinner, and bringing you into His family.
It’s because of who God is that Daniel can go to Him in prayer and expect an answer. That is why we can go to our loving Heavenly Father in prayer and be confident that He will listen. Not because we deserve it, but because of His great love for us.
And Daniel gets an answer to his prayer right there and then,
Read Daniel 9:20-27.
This is probably not the answer that Daniel was expecting! Daniel is given a glimpse of the ongoing, long term plan of the Lord.
Now, much ink has been spilt in trying to fathom the details of these final verses in chapter 9 and people spend their lives trying to determine exactly what a “seven” is.
But we need to look for the overall impression here, to see the big picture of what the Lord is saying to Daniel and to us.
And when we do, we see a repeated cycle of rebellion, atonement and restoration. We see the merciful Lord bringing His people back to Himself. Verse 24 shows us that God’s ultimate aim is “to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness.”
The end point of whatever period of time these ‘sevens’ actually represent, the final goal, is a permanent end to all the rebellion and unfaithfulness that landed Israel in exile in the first place. Transgression will finish, sin will be put to an end, wickedness will be atoned for and everlasting righteousness will be ushered in.
Christians know that there is only one place in history where these things have happened in a lasting, complete, and indisputable way. Only in the person of Jesus are these things finally fulfilled. In Jesus, the pattern laid down in Daniel finally reached its climax.
Spend some time praising God for Jesus, that in Him sin and rebellion have been finally dealt with, once and for all.
Daniel 9 contains one of the great prayers of the Bible. If we are to pray as Daniel does then we need to see the world as he does. As you read his prayer again, keep an eye out for how he has a right view of humanity and a right view of himself.
Read Daniel 9:1-14.
A right view of humanity
Daniel begins his prayer with a sharp contrast. As he draws before the throne of the Almighty, he sees a long history of rejecting God and contempt for Him that stretches back over centuries. Where the Lord is great and awesome and keeps His covenant, the people have sinned, they have done wrong, they have been wicked, they have rebelled, they have turned away and they have not listened. It’s almost as if Daniel is overwhelmed with the scale of Israel’s rejection of God, he simply cannot find enough words to describe their breaking of the covenant.
Throughout this prayer, Daniel recognises that the Lord owes Israel nothing. At every level of society, right up to kings and princes, and in every age, right back to their ancestors, Daniel can see that his people have rejected the rule of the Lord.
That drives him to prayer and to repentance on behalf of his people.
And so if we are to engage in heartfelt, faithful prayer as Daniel does, it will require us to glimpse something of the glory, majesty and holiness of God. To see Him for who He is and, in so doing, to recognise the terrible sinfulness of humanity.
At every level of society, in every period of history, we have shown ourselves to be a rebellious and sinful people. We cannot come to God expecting Him to do us a favour. He has been faithful, we as His creatures have been faithless. We need to join with Daniel in recognising the sin of our people and confessing it before the Lord.
Jot down a few things that you see in the world around you that represent humanity’s sinfulness. Spend some time saying sorry to God for the ways we have rejected Him.
A right view of himself
But Daniel not only has a right view of his people, but also a right view of himself.
Look at how many times Daniel says ‘we’ or ‘us’ or ‘our’. Daniel doesn’t look at those around him and reflect on how good he is by comparison, no, throughout this passage he identifies completely with his people. He confesses their sins as though they were his own.
If we are to seek passionate prayer ourselves, we too must recognise the need for us to be included in the corporate repentance. We may despair as we look at all that is wrong with society. But as we look at our own hearts, there is doubtless plenty there too that we would be ashamed to admit. We need to turn “they” into “we”.
Write down some things in your own life that you want to say sorry to God for. Speak to Him about them.
Daniel knows that he is a sinner living amongst a nation of sinners, and yet he still comes before the holy, almighty, creator God and expects to be able to present his petitions and requests. Tomorrow we’ll find out what it is that gives him such confidence.
Through Daniel chapters 7 and 8 we’ve encountered various world powers depicted as terrifying beasts with wings and horns and teeth. Daniel’s been told that these visions are a picture of what is to come.
At the start of chapter 9, we read that the King of the Medes and Persians is now in charge. In other words, the first part of Daniel’s vision in chapter 8 has come true. Daniel now knows for sure that he is living in a time and in a land of wild beasts. The terrifying animals of the two previous chapters are coming to power!
So what can Daniel do? Should he just sit back and let it all happen? Or is there something he else he can do? Let’s turn to chapter 9 to find out.
Read Daniel 9:1-19
Where does Daniel turn? He turns to the stability and certainty of Scripture, he studies the words of God’s prophets. And his meditation leads him to prayer.
But not just a quickly muttered ‘arrow’ prayer just before he busies himself with the tasks of the day, nor is it a last minute afterthought as he lays his head down on the pillow. No, Daniel takes prayer seriously, he pleads with his God, he takes time, and he alters his lifestyle, in order to fully focus on coming before the Lord of all.
But hang on minute, surely if Daniel knows what’s coming because of the visions he’s seen, if he knows God’s sovereignty and is confident in His victory, why bother to pray? What can it possibly achieve?
Well Daniel knows that, yes, the Lord has ordained the end, but He has also decreed the means of reaching that end. Throughout salvation history, prayer has been central to the way in which the Lord achieves His purposes. God knows the end from the beginning and His will shall be done, but the faithful prayers of His people are an integral part of that will coming to pass. Prayer is one of the primary ways in which God works in and through His people.
But even as we read those words, most of us know in our own hearts that we find prayer difficult. We simply don’t set aside the time we should to come before the throne of God. In times of upheaval, we turn to our own resources, or the help of friends and family, long before we think to bring the Lord into things. And when we do pray, so often we lack any of the passion and zeal that Daniel displays here.
It’s important that we recognise that this wonderful, passionate prayer of Daniel is not possible because he’s some sort of spiritual giant, it’s not possible because he has a super special relationship with God. No, quite simply, this prayer is built on Daniel’s understanding of the visions he has been shown. Daniel’s prayer expresses what he has learned through the revelation that God has given him.
Over the next couple of days we’re going to unpack Daniel’s prayer and see how we might set about praying like he does. But for now, let’s thank God that we can pray at all. That, even in the middle of all sorts of unsettling things going on, we can turn to the Creator and Ruler of the universe and talk to Him. That is truly amazing!
Daniel 7 and 8 make it clear that throughout the history of the world there have been some scary rulers. They also suggest that there’s no reason to think that things will get less scary until Jesus comes back. Rulers and powers will continue to rise up and fight each other for control. The struggle for human power looks like it will go on right up until the final days of this world. No wonder Daniel is ‘worn out’ after seeing this vision and its interpretation!
But the other theme that comes out really strongly in these chapters is that God is still in control. Even when things look like they’re totally chaotic in our world, even when nations go to war with each other and kings and rulers are overthrown. Even in the midst of the hardest times in our lives, personally and nationally, we can be confident that it is Jesus us truly rules.
Look up a few news stories from the last few days that worry you or make you sad. Spend some time praying for those situations and thanking God that He is in control, even there.
The final verse of chapter 8 tells us that Daniel was ‘appalled by the vision’ that he had seen. Perhaps he was most worried about what it seemed to say about how the people of God would be treated by the rulers described in the vision. Daniel and his friends were already finding things difficult living in a foreign land under kings who didn’t worship the God of Israel and the visions he had seen didn’t show things getting any easier. In fact, they seem to show that God’s people can always expect to find things difficult until Jesus comes back. That’s certainly true for many Christians today.
Find out about life as a Christian in some other areas of the world. The Open Doors website, opendoorsuk.org or the book Operation World are a good place to start. Pray for those Christians around the world who suffer for their faith. Ask God to help them to trust Him and to know that He is in control.
The final aspect of Daniel’s vision in chapter 8 is that it shows God knows what the future will look like. We won’t always have access to visions like this and, even when we do, we won’t necessarily understand them! But we can be confident that God knows what’s coming, He knows how world events will pan out and He knows where everything is headed in the end.
Spend some time thanking God that He knows what the future holds. Ask Him to help you to trust Him.
Have you ever set out to walk or cycle up a hill? From the bottom, you look up and see the summit. You make your way up, but when you get there, you look up again and there ahead of you is… another peak. Taller than the one you’ve just climbed, but hidden from view when you started out.
From the air, you’d be able to see both peaks, and any more that followed after the second, but from your perspective at the bottom of the hill it’s often only the first peak that is visible.
And sometimes it’s a bit like that with visions about the future that we find in the Bible. They don’t just have one, simple fulfilment in history. Rather, like a mountain range, they seem to come true initially, before they are fulfilled again in some fuller, richer way. And then maybe again in the future. As we reach each horizon, it helps us to see more clearly what was promised in the original prophecy and points us towards its ultimate working out.
Something like that happens with Gabriel’s interpretation of Daniel’s vision.
Read Daniel 8:15-27.
The final part of Daniel’s vision, the small horn that grows out of one of the four, was interpreted by Gabriel as ‘a fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue’ who would cause ‘astounding devastation’ and ‘take his stand against the Prince of princes’.
This was in part fulfilled by a guy called Antiochus IV, who led one of the four empires to come out of Alexander’s Greece. He brutally repressed the Jewish people and showed utter contempt for the God of Israel. But the language that Gabriel uses in interpreting this part of the vision ought to cause us to recognise that he is also describing a broader, more general picture.
Clearly, Antiochus was an initial fulfilment of this smaller horn, but we must also see in him a pattern of many who will come in opposition to the God of the Bible. They rise up and display their strength only to be trampled by the next ‘great’ power. They dominate for a time, but we can be confident that God has set a limit on the rule of these upstart kings; He alone is King forever.
And so, for us, we must keep this pattern in mind as we consider the powers at work in our world today. As we observe the rise of ISIS and the seemingly perpetual wars in the Middle East. As we consider a Western society so obsessed with money, sex and power that politicians are expected to be mired in promiscuity and greed and are expected to lie in order to gain office. As we survey all of that, we must see the pattern of what the Lord revealed to Daniel repeating itself yet again. Rulers rise and rulers fall, the people of God experience persecution and suffering in every age. But it will not last forever, their power is limited. Those who take their stand against the Prince of princes will, one day be destroyed. Of that we can be sure.
Write down some of the things that worry you in the world today. They might be at a national or international level, or they may be far more personal to you.
Do you recognise that God is King over all those situations? What would it look like for you to trust Him in those areas of your life?
Have you ever tried to understand what was going on in a dream that you’ve had the night before? You can remember all the different elements that were there, the images that you saw and the words that were spoken. But they rarely fit together in a neat and ordered way, they rarely map out a clear and unbroken chain of events.
Today’s passage centres around a second vision that Daniel had. We’ll see as we look in detail at this vision over the next three days that some parts are fairly straightforward to understand, but others, like our own dreams, are bit harder to pin down!
So, let’s begin by finding out exactly what Daniel saw.
Read Daniel 8:1-14.
Chapters 7-12 of the book of Daniel, along with the book of Revelation and a few other chapters elsewhere in the Bible, can be grouped together as the Apocalyptic writings. And, as we saw with chapter 7, they’re unlike any other kind of writing; we don’t really have an equivalent style today. Often they are visions of the future, sometimes the very far future, the last days of the earth as we know it. And they are filled with pictures of incredible animals and references to lengths of time.
But if we come to these passages expecting to be able to work out exactly what’s going on, to tie the descriptions to individual events, either in history or in the future, to plot out a timeline of what will happen when, then we’ll end up disappointed and confused. You see, that’s just not how Apocalyptic literature works.
It’s far better to approach these passage as we might approach an Impressionist painting – expecting to see something beautiful that gives us an impression of the scene and leaves us in no doubt as to the bigger picture, but accepting that we will not see the details, some of the edges my be a bit blurry and there might be a few parts of the picture that we struggle to work out.
Thankfully, in this case, the Bible gives us an interpretation of this dream. Though, as you’ll see, even some parts of the interpretation are a bit confusing!
Read Daniel 8:15-27.
Does that all make sense now?! Probably not. But before we get tangled up in the trickier parts of this passage, let’s review what’s clear from this interpretation:
Daniel encountered two rampaging animals, first a ram and then a goat. And in both cases, the feature of primary interest is their horns - a symbol of power.
Gabriel tells Daniel that the Ram represents the kings of Media and Persia and the Goat is a symbol for the king of Greece. And, up until verse 22, the picture given is actually relatively straightforward to slot into historical events that happened in the centuries after Daniel’s vision. Alexander the Great, the prominent horn of the Greek goat, did indeed destroy the Medo-Persian Empire before he himself was cut down in his prime, and his kingdom was divided between four of his generals.
As we saw in chapter 7, visions like this remind us that God is in control of the rise and fall of world powers. He is the one who rules forever; earthly powers will all fall one day.
Next we’ll have a look at the more confusing part of the interpretation, the ‘fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue’ but for now, thank God that He’s in charge of all that goes on in our world
We’ve read one of Daniel’s visions of the future, where he’s seen the powerful rulers of the world and how they will treat God’s people. Sadly, all across our world today we see examples of rulers using their power to try and intimidate or destroy Christians.
A recent article gave some examples where police in Laos threw Christians out of their homes; how governors in another village told two young believers to deny their Christian faith and how a man was beaten by his family for wanting to celebrate Christmas.
Sadly, there are so many other examples I could have used.
Pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in these situations:
· That they would have confidence in the God who is really on the throne.
· That they would be allowed to practise their faith, and be able to share it with others.
· That their faithfulness would lead even those who try to harm them to turn to Jesus.
But of course, all these things aren’t distant. We can do things we know we shouldn’t out of fear for those who have power over us, because we don’t realise the great power that our God has.
Praise God that through the work of Jesus we can be confident that, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Or as we read in the New Testament, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15). God has already triumphed over evil rulers.
Ask for forgiveness for all the times you have failed to trust that God really is the ruler on the throne.
Pray that in the future, however bad rulers might get, we would have faith in the God who will one day destroy all the evil of our world.
Powerful people can often play on people’s fears to strengthen their position. Propaganda often plays on fears to change people’s opinions. History shows us that it can work really well as a way of someone getting the power they want. Even though we might know that God is truly the one in charge, it’s easy for us to forget that in our normal lives.
It’s easy for us to let fears about rulers blind us to the real ruler. We can still let people in powerful positions stop us from speaking about our faith, or doing what we know is the right thing. Even our friends have great power over us because we feel we need them to like us, or else we might suddenly be the one who no-one talks with any more.
When I look at a passage like this Daniel 7, it really brings home how powerful God is and just how foolish it is to let other people who don’t have real power change the way I behave. But I know that it happens in lots of ways each day.
Who are the people who have power over you?
How do they influence you? Why do you think this happens?
This passage also tells us that God’s people are going to suffer before the end when the real ruler of the future puts an end to all the suffering forever. In fact, verse 25 shows us how God’s people will be delivered into the hands of an evil for a certain length of time.
We don’t know what exactly this means, but we can see lots of examples of evil rulers in the present who hate God’s people. How do you think you would respond before such a ruler?
God gives us the grace we need to face the situations he puts in front of us; and we may never have to face rulers quite so evil as in this passage. But we can still pray that he would give us the grace to face the rulers we do see; and the confidence that the Ancient of Days is still on the throne.
There are a lot of people with power over us: teachers, parents, bosses, governments or other leaders. But what will the rulers of the future be like? Maybe not much will change, maybe one day we’ll all be ruled by robots, or maybe one day you’ll be a ruler yourself.
Daniel had seen the power of the Babylonian rulers in action as he was a part of the King’s court; but now he sees something about the rulers who are going to follow in the future.
Read Daniel 7.
This type of writing is not something we read very often today. It has lots of symbols, and all the symbols have meanings: we’re not really supposed to try and imagine it all literally. The beasts are extremely powerful rulers, as are the horns. The sea was seen as really dangerous by the people of the time. The different animals help us understand who they were symbols of. Leopards were a dangerous beast of prey, known for swift and unexpected attacks; most likely a symbol of Alexander the Great of Greece who was known for such attacks.
As Daniel thinks about these rulers of the future he was disturbed, likely terrified; his face turned pale. When we look at our news today, we too can be scared by the power rulers have in our country, or in other parts of the world. Rulers are often arrogant, proud and violent. These people can decide where we live, take away jobs, or even injure and kill people.
Where is God in all amongst all these evil rulers and dictators?
Well, just when the beasts are getting scarier and scarier things suddenly change in this chapter because in Daniel’s vision he sees an even greater ruler; one who can destroy the beasts and throw them into the fire. There’s some symbolism again here, white hair because of the purity of God.
The Ancient of Days, God who has always existed and will into the future. You see, really, there is only one ruler who matters – he has all the authority and power and we should join with those faithful worshippers.
Daniel also sees the “son of man” here – a man who approaches the throne of God himself and is given authority and power over every nation.
We of course know this is Jesus, the true ruler of the past, present and the future – whatever we might see happening around us.
Despite Daniel's age and position of importance, the other administrators and satraps quickly realised there was no dirt on him so they would need think outside the box – they would create a new law with the knowledge that Daniel’s commitment to God would result in him breaking that law.
In the opening verses of Daniel 6 (take a quick read back over if that’s helpful), we have an excellent example in Daniel of how to honour God in a culture contrary to our beliefs and maintain integrity in the long term. How much do I distinguish myself amongst my non-Christian work colleagues? School mates? Family? How distinctive am I amongst the crowd?
And so we read in verses 6-9 that the King fell hook, line and sinker for the wicked plan of the administrators and satraps. For a month, prayer was to be prohibited to any god or man except Darius (which no doubt appealed to his own pride) and the Lions’ Den would be the fate of all those who disobeyed this decree that had been published and was binding.
Now if you had never read or heard of this story before, what would you expect it to say about Daniel?
“When Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he…” Fill in the blanks!
He what? He went to Darius to protest against this ridiculous law? He expressed his anger and disgust with his close friends? No. Daniel got down on his knees and prayed.
Again, if you’d never read the story before and were guessing how Daniel prayed perhaps your fill-in-the-blank would be something like…
He prayed in the woods? He prayed in the secret inner chamber of his house? He prayed in an not-so-obvious way so that if spotted he could claim he was addressing Darius?
No. He did just as he had done before (v10). He didn’t change anything but carried on with his discipline of prayer, three times a day, in his upstairs room with the windows opened towards Jerusalem.
As he prayed, Daniel was making a public statement by his window, showing everyone that the glory of God mattered more to him than the glory of Darius.
“Daniel would rather pray than save his life. Not praying was a worse prospect to Daniel than being eaten by lions. That is a radical commitment to prayer. Just think of it. Can you say with Daniel: “You will have to take my life before you take my prayer?" - John Piper
A few thoughts to take away from this,
- What is the first thing that you do when you find yourself in a seemingly impossible situation?
- How much are our lives built upon prayer? Is it foundational or on optional extra?
Let’s pray over these things now.