Biblical Prayer

Biblical Prayer Daniel 9:1-19 sermon notes I. Intro: Praying Biblically It has always fascinated me that there are so many prayers recorded for us in Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. The reason I am intrigued by this fact is probably because Jesus’s disciples still felt the need to ask Jesus to teach them to pray. Luke 11:1 says, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’” Notice three things. First, given that this request comes right after Jesus had been praying, I assume that they must’ve seen and heard him praying, and they recognized something different, something unique about the way Jesus prayed. Second, John the Baptizer had instructed his disciples how to pray. Some of Jesus’s disciples had been John’s disciples, but they still need to receive further instruction from Jesus on the matter. Third, the model or template that Jesus provides in response to this request doesn’t really match anything we see in the Old Testament, at least not all in one place. However, each petition certainly does resonate with Old Testament Scripture. It’s as though Jesus has pulled together certain elements from the Old Testament and helped the disciples (and us!) see how to prioritize our requests when we pray. I suppose he wouldn’t need to point to an example from the Old Testament because they had been listening to him pray. For us, however, we will still find value in the prayers recorded in the Old Testament, and they certainly stand alongside the relatively few occasions where the contents of Jesus’s prayers were actually recorded for us. And, of course, Jesus teaches about prayer several times during his ministry. He uses stories and parables and illustrations to help us understand not only how to prioritize our petitions properly, but also how our attitudes and expectations should be shaped, what our motives should be, and what wondrous access we have to our heavenly Father’s ears. Given how much teaching there is in Scripture about prayer and given how many records we have of what godly people prayed on certain occasions, I am struck, dumbfounded even, when I hear people talk about prayer as though it should be the easiest, most natural thing in the world for a child of God. I’ve probably been guilty of saying something like that. If we’re willing to be honest, most of us would admit how hard praying is. Yet, some people keep trying to define prayer as simply “conversation with God,” as though praying is the same kind of experience as chatting with a buddy over coffee. Some of us would even admit to feeling guilty about how poorly we pray, and we’d further admit that we don’t really know what to do about it. We hear stories about the great “prayer warriors” of the past who got up before the crack of dawn and spent hours in prayer before they even cracked an egg for breakfast. We try to pray for 15 minutes, and we’re quickly ashamed by how easily distracted our minds are. This morning we are going to look at arguably one of the most wonderful prayers recorded in the Bible, and we will seek to take away some practical principles to help strengthen our praying. I have been praying this week that looking at this passage will indeed stir us to pray. We learned how important prayer was to Daniel back in chapter 6. We learned there that his normal practice was to pray at least three times a day, in his home in Babylon, facing the direction of Jerusalem, with his windows opened, and he was willing to continue this practice even when he was threatened with certain death if he were observed praying this way. In Daniel chapter 9, we get to learn the contents of what he prayed on one of those occasions, and it’s possible, though there’s no way to prove it absolutely, that the prayer of Daniel 9 was actually the prayer that got him thrown to the lions in Daniel 6. As we look at Daniel’s prayer, we are going to see two fascinating realities that may challenge the way we all think about prayer. First, we are going to see how structured Daniel’s prayer is. He has recorded these words in a very purposeful manner. This is no “stream of consciousness” kind of spontaneous praying. In Hebrew, the contents of the prayer, from verses 4-19, takes about 3 minutes to read aloud. Second, we are going to see how biblical Daniel’s prayer is. What I mean by “biblical” is that the words and phrases Daniel uses are drawn from his Bible. One fellow has calculated that as much as 85% of the phrases in Daniel’s prayer are unique phrases drawn from specific passages of Scripture. The occasion of his prayer is prompted by his study of Scripture, and the contents of his prayer are saturated with words and phrases and ideas from earlier Scripture. These two facts may challenge us because we are going to find Daniel’s prayer to be deeply emotional and incredibly personal. Some of us may have a tendency to think that structure and planning what we are going to say to God when we pray somehow takes something away from the experience. The prayers recorded in Scripture should obliterate this assumption. Commentator Christopher Wright has some good words on this point: “And yet, of course, just because it is full of scriptural phraseology does not mean that it is not personal prayer. This is Daniel’s own, urgent, intense, intimate engagement with God. But as he enters into that work, the words of his mouth echo the words of Scripture in his heart, the words of God himself. It’s a good model to follow.” God speaks to us in and through Scripture, and we speak back to him in prayer. Let no one convince you that this doesn’t reflect an intimate relationship with God! Twentieth century Scottish theologian, P.T. Forsyth once wrote, “Let us nurse our prayer on our study of our Bible; and let us, therefore, not be too afraid of theological prayer.” Daniel was a man who set the example for this exhortation. One pastor adds to this, “The Word of God is the best schoolroom, in which we can learn the grammar and language of prayer.” That is what we will set out to do this morning, digging into Daniel’s great prayer of confession in Daniel 9. Let’s begin by looking at the setting of his prayer, as it was prompted by his Bible study. Look at verses 1-3. II. Daniel’s Prayer Prompted by Bible Study (Dan. 9:1-3) In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of Yahweh to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. 3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. The year was 538 BC. Darius the Mede is probably the same man called Cyrus the Persian elsewhere. He was Median on his mother’s side and Persian on his father’s side. He “was made king” over Babylon; Daniel uses the passive voice yet again to imply that Yahweh, the God of Israel, Daniel’s God, made Darius king of Babylon. This is the same Darius of chapter 6, the one who would throw Daniel to the lions; this is the Cyrus that the prophet Isaiah had named as Yahweh’s servant, his anointed one, whom he would use to bring the Jews back to the Promised Land and to enable them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But that hasn’t quite happened yet. But Daniel has been reading his Bible. Specifically, he’s been reading the prophetic words of Jeremiah, where Jeremiah had specified that there would be a period of 70 years “before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem.” Said differently, Yahweh had revealed to Jeremiah when the end of the exile would come. We can read what Daniel was reading. A message had been given to Jeremiah in the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign over Babylon, which was 605 BC. What’s fascinating about that year is that it would’ve been the same year that Nebuchadnezzar marched into Jerusalem and kidnapped Daniel and many other Jewish young people. Thus, it’s likely that young Daniel may have heard this announcement, in person, before he left Jerusalem, and now he’s rereading those words in the Scriptures. Jeremiah 25:11-12 is the key passage: “This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 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 Yahweh, making the land an everlasting waste.” The word translated “ruin” is related to the word Daniel uses translated “desolations.” Darius the Mede has just conquered Babylon in fulfillment of this prophecy. Daniel perceives that the time for the end of the exile, the time for the restoration of the people to their land must be coming soon. But another prophecy from Jeremiah is certainly in view here as well. Jeremiah 29 contains the contents of a letter Jeremiah sent to the exiles in Babylon, sometime shortly after Nebuchadnezzar’s second invasion of Jerusalem in 597 BC; surely, Daniel would’ve received it, read it, and recognized it as the word of Yahweh. The key passage from that letter is verses 10-14: 10 For thus says Yahweh: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares Yahweh, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares Yahweh, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares Yahweh, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. Exile is not the last word, not the final judgment for God’s people. Daniel recognizes that the Lord has put a time limit on the exile, but he also heeds the call to pray. Daniel has been in Babylon since 605 BC; the year is now 538 BC and Babylon has fallen. If you’re doing the math, you’ll recognize that it hasn’t quite been exactly 70 years since Babylon first invaded Jerusalem. It’s possible that Daniel knows that the full 70 years haven’t passed, but since Babylon has been conquered, he goes ahead and prays to ask the Lord to intervene early. Or, perhaps we’re to view this 70-year period as a round number, an estimate. Or, perhaps it has a generic, symbolic meaning, a way of referring to roughly one lifetime, as we see in Psalm 90:10, or as in Isaiah 23:15, which says, “In that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, like the days of one king. At the end of seventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute.” Or, with some ancient near eastern evidence for support, many students of Scripture have suggested that 70 years may stand as a figure of speech for a complete period of judgment, thus combining a symbolic and theological purpose. Or, perhaps there is a biblical-theological significance to the mention of 70 years. We do get a theological explanation for why the exile must last 70 years in 2 Chronicles 36:17-21. In verse 18, the Chronicler mentions Nebuchadnezzar robbing the Jerusalem temple, as well as the king’s palace. The first time he did this was in 605 BC. Then, in verse 19, the Chronicler notes the destruction of the temple, which Nebuchadnezzar brought about in his third invasion of Jerusalem, in 587 BC. Then, we read in verses 20-21, “He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of Yahweh by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.” So, the Chronicler seems to give both the fullest chronological information and also provides a theological rationale for why seventy years. We’ll examine the theological rationale more next Sunday. But the chronology of the Chronicler, from 605 BC to the establishment of the Medo-Persian Empire in 538 BC, matches the timeframe indicated by Daniel, almost but not quite exactly 70 years. In any case, Daniel perceives from his Bible study that it’s time to start praying, asking God to do what he promised to do through the prophet Jeremiah. In verse 3, he describes his praying as, “Then I turned my face to the Lord God.” Possibly, this reflects him physically turning toward Jerusalem, even though the temple is no longer there. Furthermore, he characterizes his prayer as “pleas for mercy,” as the ESV has it. The KJV and NASB have “supplications,” and the NIV merely says “petition.” This is actually a “grace” word in Hebrew, emphasizing that Daniel realizes that what he’s about to ask God to do neither the prophet nor the people at large actually deserve for God to do. He’ll say as much in the content of his prayer, but, as he introduces his prayer in this verse, he uses a word that highlights the reality that Daniel and the Jews deserve for God to leave them in exile and continue pouring out his wrath against them. Nevertheless, Daniel prays on behalf of the people. And he fasts. Perhaps this means that at least one of the three times Daniel prayed during the day was a mealtime, so that, instead of eating, he spent time praying. Or, perhaps, on this particular day, he didn’t eat at all. Moreover, while he’s praying, he’s wearing the sackcloth, the itchy uncomfortable garb often worn by mourners in the ancient world. And, he sprinkles ashes on his head. These three gestures together were practiced at times by folks in the ancient world to signify to observers that the person is grieving some terrible loss, or expressing deep humility because of some calamity, or seeking to repent from sin. Now, as we begin to look at the content of Daniel’s prayer, we can see that it breaks down into two main sections. Verses 4-15 give us Daniel’s corporate confession, and verses 16-19 give us Daniel’s actual requests, his plea for grace. Let’s read verses 4-15 and then we’ll break down how beautifully structured this corporate confession really is. III. Daniel’s Corporate Confession (Dan. 9:4-15) 4 I prayed to Yahweh 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, 5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. 6 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. 7 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. 8 To us, O Yahweh, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. 9 To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him 10 and have not obeyed the voice of Yahweh our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 11 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. 12 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. 13 As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of Yahweh our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. 14 Therefore Yahweh has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for Yahweh our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. 15 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. As we read that, you probably noticed some repetition. There is some definite structuring going on here. Daniel has crafted this prayer of confession with several parallels. The confession breaks down into two distinct sections, verses 4 through the first half of verse 11, and the second half of verse 11 through verse 15. The first section is Daniel’s acknowledgment of sin. The structure of the first section looks like this slide. Verses 4-5 provide a summary confession, where Daniel admits that “we” have sinned in every possible way. The rest of this section is structured with these parallels, so that he cries out in direct address to God, using the personal name “Yahweh” as the first word of verse 8, in Hebrew. The references to God’s personal name in this chapter should draw our notice. In all of the book of Daniel, only here in chapter 9 does the prophet use God’s personal name, Yahweh. And you will see it in your English Bibles as “LORD,” all caps, eight times in this chapter. We will consider the significance of this in just a moment. Now, if you’ll move to the next slide, you can see that Daniel shifts to a different kind of parallel structure for the second half of this section, where he acknowledges their exile as deserved punishment as laid out in the Law of Moses, and he emphatically repeats three times: “we have sinned, we have not repented, we have not obeyed.” The exile is described with the phrase “great calamity” in verse 12 and then again with the word “calamity” in verse 14. This word is translated as “evil” in the KJV. In verse 15, he provides a summary conclusion that parallels with the summary introduction of verses 45. Now, let’s take a look at the details. A. Summary intro (vv. 4-5) First, we consider the summary intro in verses 4-5. Here, Daniel says that he prayed and made confession. Why is he confessing here? Going back to the Mosaic Law, God had announced that the people would surely rebel and that he would surely send them into exile. Leviticus 26 stands in the background here. Remember how 2 Chronicles 36 had indicated that the reason the exile needed to be seventy years was so that the land could enjoy its Sabbaths? That goes back to Leviticus 26:34-35. After the Lord had indicated that if they refuse to obey his Word, he would devastate the land and exile the people, so that the land would be laid waste, ruined, and desolate, then he says, “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it.” So, already, within the Mosaic Law, God had indicated that the people would fail to allow the land to have its Sabbaths. More on that next Sunday. But then, in Leviticus 26:40, the Lord says, “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me,…42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.” Daniel knows from his Bible that the promises of restoration from exile are contingent on the people’s confession of sin and repentance. Jeremiah 29 had commanded the people to pray; Leviticus 26 commands the people to confess. Daniel here represents the people. This is corporate confession. In our Western world today, we don’t have a good understanding of this reality. We have a tendency to want to distance ourselves from other people’s sins and failures. We’re quick to point fingers and to rise up in judgment. You get no hint of that from Daniel here. His mentality is, “We’re in this together.” He is certainly accountable for his own personal sin, and he is confessing that, too, but his focus in this prayer is actually taking responsibility for the personal sins of others. He recognizes an important biblical truth that we need to embrace as Christians. My sin impacts you; your sin impacts me. Even if it is private or hidden. That is why Jesus gave us such serious instructions on dealing with sin in the family. Loving speck-removal is a legitimate ministry in the church. See Matthew 7. Paul used the metaphor of setting bones when he instructed the Galatians to restore someone trapped in sinful patterns. See Galatians 6. As Daniel opens his prayer, he addresses God as “Lord.” “O Lord, the great and awesome God.” This is not the name Yahweh; this is the Hebrew title Adonai. He addresses God, first and foremost, as the sovereign master of the universe, ruler of all things, Lord and owner of his people. Commentator Stephen Miller says of this address, “Not only was he able to hear Daniel’s prayer, but he had the power to direct the affairs of world history in order to answer his prayer.” A great and awesome God, indeed! Is that what you think of when you address God as “Lord”? Are you consciously thinking of him as the one who can “direct the affairs of world history” to answer your prayer? Furthermore, God is the one “who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” God is faithful to keep his covenant, both his promises of blessing and restoration and his promises of judgment and desolation. God kept his covenant when he exiled the Jews. Now, Daniel calls on him to keep his covenant and restore the Jews to the land. But notice that his steadfast love, his loyal devotion, is directed specially toward those who love him and who obey his Word. The faithful God must have a faithful covenant partner. Thus far, up to Daniel’s day, the people of Israel had proven over and over again their inability to be that faithful, obedient covenant partner. How, then, will they survive? How will they be restored? Stay tuned. In verse 5, he offers a summary confession of the people’s sin. He uses five verbs to indicate the people’s failure, and he includes himself as guilty. This series of verbs reflects the language of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8:47, where Solomon had prayed to this same covenantkeeping God and anticipated the rebellion and exile of the people, in line with what the Mosaic Law had indicated already, and he asked God to forgive them and restore them to the land, if and when they acknowledged their rebellion and repented. Daniel is seeking to do just that on behalf of the people in exile. I’ve got to wonder how many folks in Babylon were like Daniel in this regard. How many Jews, do you suppose, were aware that seventy years had almost elapsed? How many Jews were ready to acknowledge their sin and rebellion? How many were standing to pray, like Daniel, pleading for grace? Reading the rest of the story, I can’t imagine it was very many. But there’s an important lesson even there: you don’t need a multitude to pray. Sometimes we can slip into the error of thinking that God isn’t going to answer my prayer unless I get 50 others to ask for the same thing. Or maybe God would give the help I need if somebody really holy prays for me, like one of the elders. Or we can get frustrated when other people don’t seem to be praying for the same things that we are, and we can slip into thinking that the reason God isn’t acting is because other people aren’t praying. Can I challenge you to take up the mindset of Daniel here? If you want to ask God to act in a particular way, especially in a way that lines up with his promises in Scripture as you understand them, then get busy praying, and don’t worry about whether anybody else is asking God to do the same thing or not. Daniel may very well have been alone in his praying, and yet we’re going to see how quickly God sent an answer on this particular occasion. Do you think God loves you any less than he loved Daniel? B. Acknowledgment of sin (vv. 6-11a) In verse 6, Daniel begins elaborating the confession, the acknowledgment of sin. In this prayer, including what we saw in verse 5, he uses 8 different Hebrew words to characterize the people’s sin, and he refers to their sin 21 times. But, there are two sides to confession. We speak of confessing sin, but we also speak of a confession of faith, and there is a bit of both in this prayer. In the structural outline of these verses, we see the parallels, the alternation between Daniel highlighting God’s character and Israel’s character, and the opening and closing statement on their primary problem being a failure to listen to God’s Word, a failure to heed God’s Word. In verse 6, he begins by highlighting their resistance to the prophets, and he implicates everyone in the nation, from the top down. Prophets were gifts of God’s grace, sent by him to call the people to repent. Their messages were clear and repetitive. God had given plenty of opportunities for the people to repent before he sent them into exile, and even while they were in exile. Jeremiah labored in Jerusalem calling the Jewish rebels to repent and then instructing them how to live appropriately in exile because they didn’t repent. Ezekiel received wild visions in Babylon and made it very clear to the people that they deserved to be in exile, while also promising a glorious restoration to come in the future. Every bit of verse 6 comes from the language of Jeremiah’s prophecies. In verse 7, Daniel contrasts God with his people. Righteousness belongs to the Lord. Daniel is saying that God was right to punish his people as he did. He was just. He never wronged anyone. By contrast, the people are characterized by “open shame,” or, more literally, “shame of face,” shame that is visible in a person’s expression. At the end of verse 7, he characterizes their sin as “treachery.” This is the polar opposite of “steadfast love.” This is betrayal and rebellion. This is adultery in marriage. This is the language we saw in Leviticus 26. The first word of verse 8 is the divine name, Yahweh. As we noted earlier, this name only appears in this chapter in the whole book of Daniel. The prophet highlights this personal name here because the covenant relationship between God and his people is at stake. It is to these people that he revealed his personal name through Moses, all the way back in Exodus 3. It is this name that the people are supposed to “bear.” They are supposed to be the people called by this name, Yahweh’s people. Yet, they have profaned his name; they have lived in such a way that makes him look weak, makes him look foolish to the nations. Daniel calls on the covenant God by his covenant name to restore the covenant relationship. Another contrast comes between God and his people in verses 8 and 9. The people are characterized, again, by open shame, while God is characterized by mercy and forgiveness. When we pull verse 7 in with verse 9, we find God being characterized by righteousness or justice, on the one hand, and mercy and forgiveness on the other. Isn’t this the grand tension in the character of the God of the Bible? How can he be both just and merciful at the same time? How can it be right for God to forgive sins? How can he extend mercy to sinners and maintain his justice? Ah, Christian don’t you know the answer? Someone greater than Daniel has come to represent God’s people. Someone greater than Daniel has done more than intercede on behalf of God’s sinful people. To paraphrase the words of the apostle Paul from Romans 3:25-26, “God publicly presented Jesus, his own beloved Son, to live in the place of sinners, to die in the place of sinners, to endure God’s frown, God’s anger, God’s righteous judgment against sins, and to turn God’s frown upside down. God had not previously punished his people’s sins to the fullest extent they deserved. (Even Daniel knew that.) In Jesus’s death on the cross, God proves his justice once and for all, demonstrating his ability to justify and forgive all sinful people who trust Jesus. What motivated God to do this? Grace. Forgiveness is offered as a gift to all who would trust Jesus.” The greatest tension of the Bible is resolved in Jesus. It is to God’s mercy, grace, steadfast love, and willingness to forgive that Daniel now appeals. As Daniel addresses the Lord by name, he may have in the back of his mind this very tension connected to his name in Exodus 34:57. When Moses asked the Lord to let Moses see his glory, “Yahweh descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of Yahweh. 6 Yahweh passed before him and proclaimed, ‘Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’” For Daniel, the confession of Yahweh’s character is just as important as the confession of the people’s sin, and it is important for him to hold them together. They’ve experienced the justice of Yahweh; they’ve experienced him not “clearing the guilty.” Now, Daniel appeals to the mercy and grace of God, and he will leave it to God to resolve the tension. In the rest of verse 9 and on through verse 11, Daniel again highlights the people’s rebellion in refusing to obey God’s Word, a problem Moses pointed out of the first generation of Israelites who would enter the Promised Land after his death repeatedly in Deuteronomy. Note the universal language of verse 11: “All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice.” The punishment of exile has been fully deserved. C. Acknowledgment of punishment (vv. 11b-14) Now, in the rest of verse 11, he moves to the acknowledgment of the punishment. The exile has been in accord with the Law of Moses. In Deuteronomy, which became the Law of Moses that the Jews would’ve read and studied, Yahweh didn’t just warn the people of the dangers of disobedience; Yahweh told Moses that the people would, in fact, rebel and break the covenant relationship. Here’s Deuteronomy 31:16: “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them.’” Then, in Deuteronomy 32, we get what is often called “The Song of Moses,” but is better recognized as “The Song of Yahweh,” a song that serves as a witness against the rebellious people. The people were supposed to memorize the song and pass it on through the generations, as though it was to serve as Israel’s national anthem. The song tells the story of Yahweh’s deliverance of the people from Egypt, leading them through the wilderness, and indicates their imminent possession of the Promised Land. But then the bulk of the song prophetically and poetically describes how the people will reject him in the land and turn to idolatry and how he will punish them with exile. It describes much of the “calamity” that Yahweh would bring on his rebellious people, the calamity Daniel mentions in verses 12 and 14. Yahweh has fulfilled the words of his judgment song. Note verse 13. Daniel says that, up to this point, “we have not entreated the favor of Yahweh.” This particular idiom always appears in the Old Testament to describe someone seeking grace or mercy in spite of the fact that “the seeker has no legal right to demand it and does not deserve it.” So, at one level, it makes sense that they haven’t done this. Thus, there is a kind of boldness in Daniel’s prayer here, and this also may hint at Daniel’s aloneness in his praying this way. But look at the way he characterizes the goal of entreating the favor of Yahweh. The hoped-for outcome of seeking God’s grace would be that the people would turn “from our iniquities and [gain] insight by your truth.” They need to ask God for grace in order to turn from their sin. What Daniel is describing is the reality that God’s grace is required for repentance. This is the Old Testament backdrop for Paul’s indication that repentance must be granted by God. It is a gift of God’s grace. The people in exile do not have the ability to turn from their guilt and sin. They do not have the ability to receive life-changing benefit from the truth of God’s Word. There’s a lot of talk these days about “speaking your truth” or “living your truth.” If you are a follower of Jesus, don’t get sucked into the worldliness of talking like that. Christians, we must be people who insist on speaking God’s truth, living out God’s truth. It is God’s truth, found right here in this wondrous book, that must define our lives, shape our living, and influence our thinking. Remember: we follow a man who claimed to be the absolute truth; we worship a God apart from whom truth cannot be rightly understood or known. The emphasis in Daniel’s confession is on the people’s failure to obey God’s voice, to listen to his Word and respond appropriately. That is the very foundation of rebellion against God. Go to the garden in Genesis, and you will see the foundation of sin being a distortion and rejection of the words God had said. Show me someone who doesn’t care about what God has said in this book, and I’ll show you a person who is in rebellion against God and doesn’t know Jesus. 1 John 4:6 says, “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” D. Summary conclusion (v. 15) Well, Daniel provides a summary conclusion to his confession in verse 15 before he transitions to pleading for grace. He addresses the God of the Exodus, looking back to the gospel for those ancient Jews, the events of God rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. As with many other prophets before Daniel, he is anticipating that God will accomplish another exodus, rescuing them from their slavery in Babylon. Let’s now look at what Daniel asks God to do, Daniel’s plea for grace in verses 16-19. IV. Daniel’s Plea for Grace (Dan. 9:16-19) 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. 17 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. 18 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. 19 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.” Consider that Daniel is a very old man. He will not return to Judah, even after Cyrus allows the Jews to go home. This is not a prayer for himself. When God answers this prayer through the angel Gabriel, much of what he says will shock Daniel. But when God works through the Persian king to enable the Jews to go back to the Promised Land, Daniel will not go. When the Jews begin building the temple, Daniel may already be dead. Daniel here prays for God’s city and for God’s people. He again acknowledges God’s righteousness and justice in punishing the people in exile. But he asks him to turn away his righteous anger anyway. The people haven’t changed. They deserve to remain in exile; they continue in their rebellion against God. In verse 17, the word translated “pleas for mercy” appears again, this grace word. He pleads with God to listen, the very thing the people had refused to do. A pastor named Mitch Chase writes about this plea, “Wrath removed would be mercy. A land once again filled with worshipers would be mercy. City walls erected would be mercy. The temple brimming with God-honoring sacrifices would be mercy. Daniel prayed for mercy because he believed what Scripture taught about God.” Daniel’s primary motivation in praying is given right here: “for your own sake.” He is asking the Lord to do all this for the Lord’s own sake. His reputation is bound up with that of his people, and in Babylon, in Persia, they are stinking up his reputation. The land he claimed for his people is desolate, empty of his people; the temple where he said he would dwell is flattened; the people are scattered abroad, most of them enjoying themselves, never intending to go home, not looking for the fulfillment of God’s promises. But, if the Lord would fulfill his promises in the sight of the nations, if he would miraculously, unexpectedly bring the people back to the land, if he would enable them to rebuild the temple to begin worshiping him there again, wouldn’t the nations take notice? Wouldn’t his reputation be restored? And wouldn’t he then fulfill all of the other promises he had made, going all the way back to Abraham, that through his descendants blessing would come to all nations? Daniel draws on the language of Numbers 6:25, the priestly blessing to be pronounced over the people. But here Daniel prays, “make your face shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.” Restore blessing for the temple, he’s asking. Will God dwell in the temple in Jerusalem once again? The answer to that question must come another time. As he moves to conclude his prayer, his petitions become shorter, more staccato, rapid-fire. He is bold enough to metaphorically, anthropomorphically, call on God as though he were a human. “Incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations.” Listen, Lord! Look, Lord! He is not praying to God because of his or the people’s righteousness, but he is pleading to God because of his great mercy. The phrase translated “present our pleas before you” is more literally, “we are causing our plea for grace to fall before you,” a figure of speech describing his prayer as though it were an object he is throwing on the ground in front of the great king, demonstrating his desperate situation and his utter dependance on the king’s favorable response. Nevertheless, Daniel is bold in his praying here. He calls on God to hurry up and answer! And, as we’ll see in a couple of weeks, God does indeed hurry up and answer, even before Daniel is actually finished praying. In verses 20-23, we’ll see that God dispatched his faithful messenger angel, Gabriel, to once again speak with Daniel. And verses 24-27 contain the answer God has for Daniel’s prayer, and we will need to remember that the seventy weeks prophecy is just that, an answer to Daniel’s prayer. Next Sunday, we’ll take a detour to explore a necessary biblical backdrop before diving into those difficult verses. V. Conclusion: Praying the Bible Even more than Daniel the prophet, we should “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” as Hebrews 4:16 puts it. Daniel’s confession of sin is rich. He pulls no punches about his own guilt and the guilt of the people. Honest confession is a mark of a Christian. We should be fearless in our confession of our own sin. Because Jesus has paid the penalty for all of our sin, when we sin, the only appropriate response is to admit it, both to God and to others. Christians don’t hide their sin; Christians don’t minimize their sin; Christians don’t seek to justify their sin. 1 John 1:9 is relevant here, of course: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Because of Jesus’s death in our place and for our sins, God is now just, righteous when he forgives our sin. This ought to blow your mind! This is different than what Daniel experienced; this is better than Daniel’s situation. Daniel could only appeal to God’s mercy and God’s grace to anticipate forgiveness. In the Old Testament, God expresses his justice when he punishes sin. But now that Jesus has offered himself as the final sacrifice, God’s anger against all who trust in Jesus is forever gone, never to return! Christians freely admit when we sin because we know that there is now no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus, because Jesus has fully satisfied God’s justice in our case. As we close, I want to quickly give some practical advice on how to pray the Bible. When people tell me that they have a hard time with prayer, I empathize. I get it; I really do. But, many times, when someone says they’re struggling to pray, I’m not surprised when I find out that they’re not consistently reading their Bibles either. I believe it is God’s design that Bible reading, hearing God’s voice through the words printed on these pages, goes hand in hand with prayer, and I believe that, for many, embracing this understanding of what a normal, conversational relationship with God is supposed to look like can revolutionize your experience of prayer. So, here are four ways to pray the Bible. It’s all about responding to what you read or what you hear in the Scriptures. First, when you read about God’s attributes, praise him. We just glanced at 1 John 1:9, which highlights God’s faithfulness and justice. And so we pray, in response, “Lord, we praise you for your faithfulness and justice. How wonderful that you have resolved the tension of your justice and your mercy in the death of your Son!” When you read about God’s character in your Bible, pause to praise him. Second, when you read of God’s promises, do what Daniel did; ask God to fulfill them! When we read about Jesus’s return, we should pray like Paul, “Maranatha,” or like John, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Also, when we read of God’s promises, we should ask God to enable us to believe them. When we’re going through trials, it can be very hard, in the midst of the pain, to believe that God is really producing benefits for us, the way Paul insists that he does in Romans 5. I have read Romans 5:3-5 while my life was being pressed and squeezed with various difficulties, and I found it very difficult to believe that my suffering was really producing endurance—I wanted to give up! But, I asked the Lord to help me believe the truth presented there, and, eventually, God enabled me to believe his word. Read his promises, ask him to fulfill them, and ask him for faith to believe that what he has said, he will do. Third, when you read of God’s history, thank him for what he’s done. So much of the Bible is history, a written record of God doing things. When we read Genesis 1, we can thank him for creating everything good. When we read Genesis 12, we can thank him for choosing Abraham’s family to bring ultimate blessing to the world. When we read the Gospels, we can thank him for all the ways Jesus revealed God to us. And when we read the Passion narratives, we can thank Jesus for dying on the cross and rising from the dead to accomplish our salvation. Read God’s history, and thank him specifically for the wonderful things he has done. Finally, when you read God’s commands, ask him to enable you to obey them. There’s certainly overlap in all these things, especially this one, since God has promised to enable us to obey his commands! When we read 1 Corinthians 6:18, where Paul commands us to “flee from sexual immorality,” we can ask God to enable us to flee from sexual immorality in all of its forms. When we husbands read the commands for us to love our wives, we can ask God to enable us to love our wives, because we sure won’t do it as Christ loves the church if God doesn’t help us. When wives read the commands for them to respect and submit to their husbands, they can ask God to help them obey those commands, because we husbands sure won’t always make it easy for them. Also, to bring us fullcircle, when we read commands in the Bible and we realize how we’ve failed to obey them, we can confess to God our specific failures, and then we can ask God to enable us to repent. Now, if you’ve never tried something like this, it might sound like you’d never get through with your Bible reading. You’d read a verse and then stop to pray. And that’s not always a bad idea. We don’t always need to be so goaloriented with our Bible reading, feeling as though I must read a certain amount every day. It’s good to read slowly sometimes. However, the suggestions I’ve given are not intended to be practiced all at once, all the time necessarily. Instead, read a chapter or a couple of chapters, and respond in prayer to what you remember from your whole reading. You may find your praying shaped by what you read in lots of different ways. If you want to think more about how to do this, I recommend a book by Donald Whitney entitled Praying the Bible. He uses the Psalms as a guide and suggests other strategies besides what I’ve shared today. Let me close by sharing a couple of my favorite quotes about prayer. I’ve collected a number of bite-sized quotations from my reading over the years on the topic of prayer, and there are some real gems. From Timothy Keller’s excellent book entitled Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God: “Our prayers should arise out of immersion in the Scripture. We should ‘plunge ourselves into the sea’ of God’s language, the Bible. We should listen, study, think, reflect, and ponder the Scriptures until there is an answering response in our hearts and minds…If the goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God, then it is only by immersion in the language of the Bible that we will learn to pray, perhaps just as slowly as a child learns to speak….Without immersion in God’s words, our prayers may not be merely limited and shallow but also untethered from reality. We may be responding not to the real God but to what we wish God and life to be like.” From Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life, which Pastor Ken reflected on in some of our video devotionals last year: “Don’t hunt for a feeling in prayer. Deep in our psyches we want an experience with God or an experience in prayer. Once we make that our quest, we lose God. You don’t experience God; you get to know him. You submit to him. You enjoy him. He is, after all, a person.” Two final quotes from Miller: “We look at the inadequacy of our praying and give up, thinking something is wrong with us. God looks at the adequacy of his Son and delights in our sloppy, meandering prayers.” “Prayer mirrors the gospel. In the gospel, the Father takes us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of salvation. In prayer, the Father receives us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of help.” Let’s pray together now.
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