Why was Daniel in Babylon? The obvious answer is that God is sovereign, and in his sovereignty raises up kingdoms and brings kingdoms down. The major theme of the book of Daniel is the sovereign might of a good God who works out his will for his glory and the good of his people. However, what was it that eventually caused Daniel to be carried off from his homeland to a foreign land? He spells it out for us in what is one of the longest prayers in the Bible; Daniel 9:4-5 is a summary of his prayer: “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.”
It was the sins of Daniel’s people of past generations up to his own generation that led to his present circumstances in the region of Babylon. God led his people out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt through Moses, he then gave them a code of ethics in the form of the Law and the Ten Commandments to be obeyed and followed. At Mount Sinai, God entered into a covenant relationship with a people instead of a person (e.g. Adam, Noah, Abraham). He spoke to Israel through Moses, and said to them, “…if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4–6).
While Moses was with Israel, God promised that he would bless Israel as a nation if they obeyed his commandments. However, God also warned that they would experience his discipline in the form of curses if they turned from worshiping him (see Deut. 30:15-18). A little more than eight hundred years before Babylon invaded Judah, God warned that one of the curses that his people would experience would be the forceful removal from the land promised to their forefathers: “The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away” (Deuteronomy 28:36–37).
In many respects, Daniel 9:1-19 serves as a warning for the Church today. Today, we are surrounded by the Spirit of Babylon and the same dangers that faced Israel, face the people of God today. Not only does Daniel’s prayer serve as a warning to the Church today, it also serves as a recipe to show us how we can remain faithful to the God who has redeemed us from the slavery of sin through Jesus Christ.
Daniel Pursued God
Daniel’s prayer came within a year after the Medo-Persian Empire conquered the Babylonian Empire. Daniel’s life was spared during the transfer of power after Belshazzar; the Babylonian king was killed (see Daniel 5) and the prophet was placed in a position of leadership under Darius (see Daniel 6). His prayer was in response to reading the word of God through the book of Jeremiah.
There are several things worth pointing out from the first three verses of Daniel 9. The first is that Daniel recognized that the “word of the Lord” that was spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was indeed the word of God and had the authority of God over his life. What was it from Jeremiah that Daniel was reading? It was Jeremiah 25. Here is some of what Daniel read from Jeremiah:
“You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the LORD persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets, saying, ‘Turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and evil deeds, and dwell upon the land that the LORD has given to you and your fathers from of old and forever. Do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, or provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Then I will do you no harm.’ Yet you have not listened to me, declares the LORD, that you might provoke me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm.” (vv. 4-7).
As Daniel continued to read the scriptures, he was reminded of the many warnings God had provided his people through his prophets about what would happen if they worshipped other gods. It was Jeremiah 25:11-14, that his eyes fell upon and his heart melted:
This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after 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. I will bring upon that land all the words that I have uttered against it, everything written in this book, which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations. For many nations and great kings shall make slaves even of them, and I will recompense them according to their deeds and the work of their hands. (Jeremiah 25:11–14)
What was the prophet’s response to the Word of God? It was not indifference! According to verse 3, Daniel responded to what he read in Jeremiah 25 in four ways. The first thing Daniel did was that he turned his face to God. This is the point of reading the Bible. We read the Bible so that we can see who God is and hear from him. The second thing Daniel did was that he sought God through prayer for the purpose of communicating with God. John Piper said, “Where the mind isn’t brimming with the Bible, the heart is not generally brimming with prayer.” The third thing that Daniel did was that he pleaded for mercy based on the character of God, which he could only do because he sought God through the scriptures. The fourth thing Daniel did was visibly lamented the sins of his people by fasting, dressing in sackcloth, and covering himself in ashes; he did these things because he took the holiness of God seriously. Fasting is the withholding of anything you consume or do regularly for the sake of prioritizing something else, such as prayer. Sackcloth was made of rough material that was uncomfortable to wear which was a sign of repentance. Ashes symbolized complete devastation over sin. Daniel did all three because of his grief over the sins of his people and how serious he considered God’s holiness.
It was not only because he feared the consequences that the sins of his people had upon all of Israel that Daniel prayed, but it was also because he was aware of the promise of God to restore to Israel what had been lost because of her sins. Daniel was very much aware of what was promised to his people in Deuteronomy 30:1-3,
And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.” (Deuteronomy 30:1–3)
Daniel Humbled Himself Before God (vv. 4-19)
So let’s turn our attention to Daniel’s prayer. There are three elements Daniel included in his prayer that teach us something about the way we can and should pray, those elements are invocation, confession, and petition.
Daniel’s Invocation (vv. 3-4)
Daniel’s invocation began with a recognition of who God is. Who is God according to Daniel? He is the, “Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love…” Throughout his prayer, Daniel will appeal to the character of God. Do not miss the way Daniel refers to God here. He begins verse 4 by telling us who he prayed to: “I prayed to the LORD my God…”. Anytime you see LORD in all caps, the Hebrew word used for God is Yahweh, which is God’s most personal name used in reference to his unfailing faithfulness as the God who keeps his promises. However, when Daniel begins his prayer, he addresses God with “Lord” which in Hebrew is Adonai and means “sovereign one.” When Adonai is used in reference to God it is not only acknowledging his sovereignty, but that he is also the master over all things.
Not only does Daniel recognize that God is the sovereign one, but also understands him to be, “great and awesome.” God is great and awesome, in other words… he is omnipotent (all-powerful), which means that there is nothing that is beyond his ability. There is no task too great or people beyond his reach. The God Daniel prayed to has no limitations. The reason why Daniel moves from Adonai to the adjectives of “great and awesome” is because God is his characteristics in infinite measure. Infinite is something that extends indefinitely in that it is endless. What this means is that there is only one God who is good in infinite measure, he is just in infinite measure, he is love in infinite measure, he is holy in infinite measure, he is grace in infinite measure, and he is faithful in infinite measure.
Daniel’s Confession (vv. 5-15)
Notice that although Daniel is innocent of the evils his forefathers, leaders, and kings were responsible for, he includes himself in the blame because he feels responsible for the people under his care. In other words, Daniel’s confession is corporate. Notice the language the prophet has carefully chosen: “…we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules” (v. 5). Then Daniel lists a series of accusations against his own people in his confession:
- “To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame… because of the treachery that they have committed against you.” (v. 7)
- “To us, O Lord, belongs open shame… because we have sinned against you.” (v. 8)
- “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…” (vv. 9-10)
- “All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice…” (v. 11)
- “…we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth.” (v. 13).
How did this happen? How did things get so bad for Israel? Daniel gives us the answer in verse 6, which seems to be not just a problem for Israel, but also in the Church today: “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.” Daniel recognizes that the burden of the blame for Israel’s apostasy was on the kings, princes, and the fathers. In other words, the spiritual climate of the nation of Israel was shaped by her kings and princes and the spiritual climate of the people of Israel was shaped by the fathers. Because those entrusted to the care of the people of Israel did not listen to the word of God, the people rebelled against God by not obeying the voice of God by walking in his laws (vv. 9-10). Therefore, according to Daniel, “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” (v. 14).
Daniel’s Petition (vv. 15-19)
The next thing Daniel does is petition God on the basis of his righteousness, faithfulness, and past mercies… mercies Israel never deserved. I think verses 15 and 16 belong together in the context of Daniel’s prayer; listen to verses 15-16 together:
“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. 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.” (Daniel 9:15–16)
Notice what Daniel does not do in the remaining verses. He does not sugarcoat Israel’s sins, he does not excuse Israel’s sins, and he does not plea for mercy at the expense of the justice or holiness of God. Daniel understood that what Israel received from God by way of judgment, Israel deserved. Listen to Daniel’s petition in verse 18: “For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy” (v. 18b). Daniel then concludes his prayer, “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” (v. 19). Daniel grounds his petition in the righteousness of God instead of the failed promises of his people to obey him.
Daniel interceded on behalf of his people by pleading for God’s mercy based on God’s character. Mercy is experienced when you do not get what you clearly deserve. What I find interesting is that God’s answer came to Daniel again through the angel Gabriel; an answer which promises an “anointed one” who would be cut off, who I believe to be a reference to the death of Jesus for our sins (Daniel 9:20-27 will be addressed in next week’s sermon). However, Daniel’s intercession on behalf of the sins of his own people serves as a reminder of our own need for the mercy of God.
Daniel’s prayer reminds us of how far short we fall from God’s holy standard. Like Daniel and his generation, we need a righteousness that is not our own. We need a perfect righteousness from one who, unlike Daniel, is perfect and able to provide what Daniel could not. Of Jesus the book of Hebrews states: “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:23–25).
When I read Daniel’s prayer, I am reminded of our need of a righteousness only God could provide, so God provided his own righteousness through a cross upon which the Son of Righteousness was crucified in our place:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:31–34)
As I reflect upon Daniel 9, I am painfully aware that the American Church is sick. Like the kings, princes, and the fathers of Israel, we, the American Church “have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.” What we need, what our generation needs, and what every generation that follows us needs most, and what is the remedy to our sick churches is the Jesus who became sin for us, so that we could have the righteousness of God (see 2 Cor. 5:21). That remedy can only be experienced when we find our lives in Jesus and follow the Christ who said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24–25). Amen.
 John Piper, “How to Pray for a Desolate Church,” 1992.