Daniel’s Example of Prayer Daniel 9:1-19

The Book of Daniel was written to give the Jews in Exile in Babylon encouragement and hope. It records the lives of four Jews, Daniel and his companions, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, as examples for believers in every age who struggle against opposition and persecution. It tells of God’s miraculous deliverance from the blazing furnace and the lions’ den. The Book’s central themes are faith in God and faithfulness to God. And the vital thread throughout the book is Daniel’s life of prayer.
In Daniel 2 we saw our hero in companions in great danger. King Nebuchadnezzar had experienced a troubling dream and all the wise men in Babylon including Daniel and his friends were facing death if they could not tell Nebuchadnezzar what the dream was, and then interpret the dream for him. So Daniel prayed
Daniel 2 17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.
The reminder is clear for believers in every age. When we face problems or challenges, we should pray. We should plead with God. And then we should pray some more. And then we should pray again. They prayed for mercy and they also put their trust in God that he would reveal the dream and its meaning to them. They all pleaded with God.
19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said:
‘Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors: you have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.’
Daniel’s prayer here begins by recognising God’s greatness – he is the God of heaven. He recognises God’s wisdom and power. God is Sovereign over kings and over nations. Daniel acknowledges that any wisdom or insights he may be given comes from God. And quite rightly Daniel thanks and praises God.
God gave Daniel prophetic wisdom to understand mysteries. We should not forget the close relationship between us speaking to God in prayer and the Holy Spirit speaking to believers in prophecies, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, dreams and visions. Here In Daniel chapter 2, and then again in chapter 4 and again, in chapter 5 we see God speaking to Daniel.
Then in Daniel 6 our hero of faith was challenged by a decree from Darius which would forbid him on pain of death in the lions’ den from praying to the Almighty God of Israel.
Daniel 6 10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
Before we see Daniel praying about the crisis he face, we are shown his pattern of prayer. Daniel prayed three times a day. I have often quoted the wisdom of John Dalrymple.
“The truth is that we only learn to pray all the time everywhere after we have resolutely set about praying some of the time somewhere.”
As well as having set times for prayer it can also be good to have a customary place to pray. It was Daniel’s custom to worship in his attic (or upstairs room). The windows looked towards Jerusalem. Daniel knew that God is everywhere and so God would hear his prayers from anywhere, even in Babylon. But the Lord, Yahweh, had made his presence known particularly in Jerusalem, and in the Temple where the ark of his covenant was brought.
We can note the attitude of thanksgiving which filled Daniel’s prayers, even though here the context was grave personal danger. It is always right and good to give thanks and praise to God, whatever our personal circumstances at the time. We can also see from Daniel getting down on his knees how earnest he was in all his praying.
So the Book of Daniel teaches us from Daniel’s example of prayer. Which brings us to chapter 9 where Daniel gives his testimony on prayer in his own words.
In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom—2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
We find Daniel pleading with God. He pleaded in prayer – the broad term which would include praise and thanksgiving, worship and adoration. And this more general prayer turned to petition – specific requests. As Spurgeon said, “Asking is the rule of the Kingdom.” James 4:2 reminds us of the importance of asking God for particular things in prayer. “You do not have because you do not ask.”
I pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting.
In the Old Testament, fasting in prayer was a way of showing God how important the subject of the prayer was. Fasting was an expression of strong emotion – I really care about what I am asking for. And then Daniel prayed in sackcloth and ashes. That practice was an outward expression of grief and mourning and of true and sincere repentance. The prophet Jonah mourned and repented in sackcloth. The practice is illustrated by Jesus’s words in Luke 10:13.
13 “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.
Daniel is praying.
3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
And this is the issue which brought Daniel to such intense prayer.
I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.
God had promised that the Jews would only be in Exile in Babylon for 70 years.
Jeremiah 25 8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: ‘Because you have not listened to my words, 9 I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. … 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years.
12 ‘But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will make it desolate for ever.
So Jeremiah revealed that all the events of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple and the Exile in Babylon were God’s judgment on Israel for rebelling against God and worshipping idols and false gods. But at the end of the seventy years God promises to bring his chosen people back to the promised land and to Jerusalem again.
Jeremiah 29 10 This is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 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 hope and a future.
These were God’s promises to his chosen people Israel. And Daniel knew that the time was coming when these promises were due to be fulfilled. He had been a teenager when he and his friends had been taken to Babylon ten years before the Fall of Jerusalem. When Darius took the throne Daniel was probably at least 80. So probably around 65 years had already passed. The time was approaching for God to take the Exiles home again. Maybe it was imminent – maybe this was the seventieth year. Daniel was burdened! Would God keep his promises? So he prayed.
4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:
‘Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
Daniel confessed on behalf of the whole people, acknowledging their rebellion and their rejection of God’s laws. Recognising that God’s people had ignored his servants the prophets. So their punishment was entirely deserved.
But the God of the Bible is the God of the covenant. Did you notice that this is the only chapter which uses the name of the God of Israel, Yahweh, the LORD (shown in our translations spelled with capital letters). Usually this Book talks about the God Most High, but in this prayer Daniel speaks of Yahweh.
4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:
‘Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments,
Daniel recognises God as righteous and holy but confesses the sin and shame of the nation.
7 ‘Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. … 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him, … 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
‘Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. … 14 The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.
Daniel is clear that God’s chosen people Israel deserved to be in Exile. They deserve all God’s punishments. They had been warned but they still sinned and turned away from God. And so disaster fell on them. But still Daniel reminds God of his righteous character.
9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him;
Daniel is appealing to God’s loving kindness and reminding him of the covenant he made with Israel. God had created them to be his holy nation when he rescued them from slavery through the Exodus.
15 ‘Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. …
17 ‘Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favour on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.’
Daniel was not asking for something for himself. He was praying for Jerusalem, the city of God on her holy hill. He was praying that God would be glorified once again in his chosen people who carry his name. Daniel was praying that God would bless the Jews once again, as he had promised.
Daniel is reminding God of his covenant promises. Israel’s sins were great, but God’s mercy is greater. Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay. This makes me believe that the 70 years are almost up. Daniel is reminding God of the promises he had made through Jeremiah.
So Daniel gives us an example of how to pray. Confessing our sin. Casting ourselves on the mercy of God. Claiming his covenant promises for ourselves and for the church.
But we must be very careful not to wrench these verses out of their context in history and apply them wrongly in the world today. People do make that mistake when they use this example as a prayer for our nation. Because God made his promises to his chosen people of Israel. Not to Britain. They were the people for his possession – our nation is not. No nation on earth is. The promise of restoration after 70 years of exile was made to Israel in the sixth century BC, not to the United Kingdom in the 21st century. As we saw this morning from 1 Peter 2, it is the church which is the spiritual temple, God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession. So what this chapter does give us is a pattern of how to pray for the church. Christians are the exiles learning to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. Christians are the aliens and strangers in the world longing for God to bring us home to him. Even when the church has failed in holiness and failed in witness,
9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him;
So it is right and good for us to pray for the church as Daniel prayed for Israel.

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