In today’s reading we find Daniel reading through the scriptures much like today we might read the Bible. I think it is helpful to think about the context; Daniel had been in Babylon for sixty-eight years, taken into exile from Jerusalem since the age of fourteen. In chapter 6, Daniel had risen to unprecedented heights of importance in Babylon. In the new regime, he was second only to the king himself. Although many years had passed since he last saw Jerusalem, even as an old man his faith is as fresh as ever. Trials have not broken it (remember the story of Daniel and in the fiery furnace or Daniel and the lion’s den?). Promotion has not eroded it or seduced him to love other things more than his God.
In Daniel’s time the scriptures would have been separate scrolls individually rolled up. And here we find Daniel reading from the book of Jeremiah. It is even possible that as a young boy in Jerusalem before the exile, Daniel may have heard Jeremiah speak. As he starts to read Jeremiah, he suddenly reads something that speaks so clearly to him in exile, a stranger in a strange land. Imagine how his heart was quickened as he read:
““For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”” (Jeremiah 29: 10 – 14)
Daniel’s response is what many people refer to as the finest example of prayer in the Old Testament. It is in this prayer that Daniel pours out his heart to God in confession for the sins of Israel, proclaiming God as wholly righteous in the punishment He had given (vv. 4–15). Based upon Daniel’s discovery in Jeremiah that the period of exile was nearing an end, Daniel interceded in earnest petition for the restoration of the nation in the land of God’s promise (vv. 16–19). Astonishing insight into the depravity of humankind is shown by how Daniel uses four different key words to describe the nature of sin:
- Sin by missing the mark; or, failing to meet the perfectly reasonable expectations set on someone.
- Committing iniquity, or wrong.
- Doing wrong, and acting wickedly.
It is reasonable to conclude from this indictment against Israel that they had well and truly blown it; they were guilty of all four forms of sin. But the merciful nature of God is indicated in v. 18, as Daniel based his plea for restoration not upon the past or even the future righteousness of Israel, but upon God’s great mercies and covenantal faithfulness.
You may remember last week I gave out a sheet along with the noticesheet that featured the ‘ACTS model of prayer’. Daniel’s prayer resonates well with that model since it contains expressions of humility (v. 3), worship and adoration (v. 4), co nfession (vv. 5-15) and petition or supplication (vv. 16-19).
There is no indication that Daniel was officially qualified to take upon himself this ministry of intercession; neither did he belong to a priestly family. Daniel was moved in heart, soul, and mind by the word of God to pray. What we read in Scripture can so often quicken us and inspire us in prayer too – God’s word and prayer frequently go together. And we don’t pray because God needs us to. We pray because we need to. Everyone and anyone can pray.
There are times when our sinfulness breaks the covenant with God and there is nothing in ourselves that can commend us to God. Our only possible plea is the cross and what Christ accomplished through it through which God’s mercy triumphs over judgement.
God is a God of love and a God of mercy. And God did indeed answer Daniel’s prayer and sent the angel Gabriel. When Gabriel comes Daniel is told that from the very first moment that he began to pray heaven has been listening – and Gabriel’s swift coming is the result.
My prayer for you is that as you read the Bible you also might be quickened, inspired and moved in heart, soul, and mind by the word of God to pray. My prayer for you is that you might write the word of God on the tablet of your heart that it would speak into, shape and inform your prayers much like it did for Daniel. A praying Church is a healthy Church, and the backbone of any healthy Church is a core of people who really have a ministry of intercession and a heart for God and his people. And through reading God’s word and drawing close to him in prayer, I pray that you might have a revelation of the enormity of his love, his grace, his compassion and his delight in you. Amen