Summary: In a time of crisis Daniel spent time in prayer and fasting and God met his need in a theophany reassuring him of God’s provision for his people unto the end of the age.
DANIEL 10 - A VISION OF HEAVENLY THINGS
The final three chapters of Daniel are the account of God’s last word to his servant. Chapter 10 gives us the circumstances by which the vision came to Daniel. This final encounter was a traumatic experience for the servant of Jehovah. If you read the biographies of the men and women who have performed great service to the kingdom of God, it often seems the case that when God chooses a person to do some great work for him, the burdens of office, the trials to be faced and difficulties and hardships to be endured, are in proportion to the honour and privilege of serving God. This may be some comfort to us in our much humbler service for the Master.
Daniel tells us that at the time of the vision (2) he was going through a three week period of mourning. It’s fashionable for the evangelical wing of the church to call some of its services "celebrations", but there is an equal need of those of contemplation where we slacken the pace and try to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church, where we repent of our sins of omission and commission. Certainly, it was when Daniel was on the reverse of a "high" that God revealed himself to him.
At this time in the history of Israel, some of the exiles had returned to their homeland to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, but were being obstructed by their Samaritan neighbours and heathen opponents. This threw the people into a state of despair and oppression. When the news reached Daniel he too was filled with grief because he knew the real reason for their failure - it was because of the people’s sins. He gave himself to a period of mourning, which he went on to describe as a period of abstinence, "I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions" (3).
In normal times Daniel would have enjoyed the conventional types of eating and drinking and of anointing his skin, but at this time of crisis he felt moved to abstain for a period. It was his way of identifying himself with the spiritual need of his people, of showing his sincerity and humility before God. This is a principle well established in the Old Testament and carried on into the New Testament. Some form of fasting or abstinence, which need not be total, has been described as "an outward expression of sorrow, and separation from ordinary worldly enjoyments, in order to give one’s self to prayer". When Jesus encountered a particularly difficult case of demon oppression which his disciples failed to cope with, he said it could not be achieved "except by prayer and fasting" (Mat 17:21).
The Christian, too, may be called upon from time to time to deprive himself of legitimate enjoyments in order to be prepared in spirit, mind and body to receive a word from the Lord and to engage in his service. Although effective service for the Lord can only be done by the power of the Spirit this does not diminish in any way the effort we have to put in ourselves in prayer and preparation, in understanding the Scriptures. It is often been said that sermon preparation is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration!
It was quite possible that Daniel had been joined by friends in going into a retreat, for the vision came as he "was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris" (4). It was the time of the year when the Jews commemorated the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was particularly appropriate for mourning over Israel’s calamities, since these two feasts were annual reminders of the bondage of Egypt and of the way that Jehovah had brought about a marvellous deliverance. There is a lot to be said for a regular review of our spiritual condition, of standing back from what occupies us in our earthly existence, to contemplate the eternal.
What happened that day was more than a mere dream or an ordinary vision. It completely swept Daniel off his feet. It was very much like the experience that Paul had on the Damascus Road when he was suddenly confronted by the risen Christ. The people who were with the prophet did not see the vision but "such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves" (7). Daniel himself was completely drained of strength and as he fell to the ground helpless he passed into a deep sleep. What had he seen to cause such a traumatic experience? The vision was really a heavenly visitation which completely overwhelmed him so that he was hardly able to distinguish between the divine and angelic beings who talked and ministered to him. What is clear is that first of all he saw: