Summary: Daniel is shown to be a man who depended on the Scriptures and prayer, the secret of his relationship with God, equiping him for a prophetic ministry.
DANIEL 9 - A PRAYER AND A PROPHECY
There are two themes in this chapter - prayer and prophecy. The setting of the narrative is in the reign of King Darius of the Chaldeans. Daniel was a thinking person and he began to wonder what lay ahead for his nation, and as he did this, he revealed the kind of man he was. He offers a useful model for us to follow. We see first he was:
A MAN OF THE WORD
In his desire to discover God’s purposes for his beloved people Israel, we find Daniel poring over what he describes as "the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet" (2). This is significant. Daniel was a man well versed in visions and their interpretation, but they were periodic happenings, the timing of which were not under his control. When he wanted some guidance from the Lord, he did not wait until a vision came. No, he went to the divine source already available to him, the word of the Lord. Daniel’s life was moulded by the revelation of God as it had been committed to writing in "the Scriptures".
Daniel’s conduct from when we first met him as a young man exiled from his homeland was measured against the law of Moses regarding the dietary laws to be kept by the people God had set apart for his service. The written word of God was especially precious to him now that he was in Babylon, deprived of the temple worship. It must have been a cruel stroke to be cut off from this means of grace, because its ritual and teaching and sacrifice had been the means of bringing them into the presence of God. But God had not left the exiles without a means of access into his living presence.
The exiles discovered to their great joy that the books, or perhaps I should say "the scrolls", of the law and prophets were an equal place of encounter with the living God. As they listened or read, in groups or even alone, they found themselves listening to the same living voice as their prophets and priests had so often claimed to hear and bring them. Why was this? It is because the inspiration of the Spirit of God which first brought the Scriptures into being lives on, and when they are approached in reverence and trust, the same Spirit makes them alive and relevant in the current situation.
This is why we are encouraged to read the Bible every day, to feed our souls with the living bread. We can thank God that our "books" are much more complete and clear in their witness to him than were those that Daniel had before him in Babylon. Visions, of course, are not to be despised. On the other hand we must be careful as they may seem to offer more excitement and reality and current relevance than the written word of God. In charismatic circles it often manifests itself in "pictures" formed in the mind which are seen as a form of prophecy. They can be helpful in receiving a word from the Lord, but Daniel’s experience and example show us that the Scriptures are a more excellent and certain way. The New Testament teaches that visions and prophecies must always be subjected to the standard of the Scriptures.
Daniel’s particular concern was that the exile of the Jews in Babylon was now in its seventh decade and he remembered Jeremiah’s prophecy that the exile was to last for seventy years. The nation of Judah had refused to listen to God’s repeated warnings of continuing in their sinful ways. As a consequence, Jeremiah had to pronounce a verdict: " Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: I will summon ... my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon ... I will completely destroy. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland ... and will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years" (24:8-11).
As the date for return seemed to be getting nearer, Daniel was concerned to know more. What was the starting date of the seventy years? He wanted to calculate the end date because Jeremiah had gone on to say, “When the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation ... for their guilt" (12). This prophecy had indeed been fulfilled - Nebuchadnezzar had swept over Judah and devastated the country and seventy years later, Babylon itself had suffered in turn at the hands of the Medes and Persians. Daniel’s problem was that God’s people were still in captivity and he was longing for the end of "the desolation of Jerusalem" (2).
The thing that troubled Daniel was that there was no sign of any repentance on the part of the exiled Jews: in fact, far from turning to God, the other exiled prophet, Ezekiel, complained that the people’s hearts were hardened and in rebellion against God (2:3,4). The deliverance of God’s people and their promised restoration to their own land seemed as remote as ever. The written word of the Lord was the starting place for Daniel’s encounter with his God, and then we learn that Daniel was also: