What to expect when you pray like Daniel (Daniel 9:20-27)
This article is based on a talk given by David Couchman at Above Bar Church, Southampton, on 20th April 2008. It may be reproduced in print or on other web sites, subject to the copyright notice below.
1. God will answer (v. 20-23)
In verses 20-23, God sends the angel Gabriel, in reply to Daniel's prayer. In fact, right from the moment Daniel started to pray, God has been answering his prayers. Verse 23 says that as soon as he began to pray an answer was given.
Not only that, but Daniel himself is a precious treasure to God. At this point, you might think, 'well, Daniel was someone special. I can see why God would answer his prayers. But would God answer my prayers?
Well, if you come to God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, he loves you and treasures you just as much as he ever treasured Daniel. In the New Testament, Ephesians 3:12 says that in Christ and through faith in him, we can approach God with freedom – knowing that he will not turn us away – and confidence – knowing that he will hear and answer our prayers. Ephesians 5:1 calls us God's 'dearly loved children.' When God looks at you and me, he doesn't see the messed up people we are. He sees his Son Jesus. That's what Jesus accomplished for us when he died. And because of this, when you come to God in prayer, you can come with freedom and confidence. He will answer.
2. He may not answer how you expect... or when you hope (24)
Daniel was hoping that the time was up and the Exile was going to come to an end. But God doesn't answer Daniel's prayer in the way he was expecting. Verse 24:
'Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.'
The real problem wasn't the Exile. The real problem was the people's sin and rebellion against God that led to the Exile in the first place. God says, 'I'm going to deal with that problem. So you can't miss it, he says it in four different ways, in verse 24:
- to finish transgression
- to put an end to sin
- to atone for wickedness
- to bring in everlasting righteousness.
But it isn't going to take seventy years. It's going to take seventy times seven years.
However you interpret these numbers – and people have come up with lots of different interpretations, what is clear is that God is saying 'it's going to take much longer than the seventy years foretold for the end of the Exile.
This must have been discouraging for Daniel. Daniel had to lift his eyes off his immediate problem – the Exile – to the bigger issue – the people's sin.
Perhaps sometimes when we have a problem, and we pray, we ask, 'Why doesn't God do something about it?' Maybe we look at the problems in the world today, and we might ask, 'well why doesn't God do something about HIV/AIDS or Global Warming, or economic meltdown?'
And God's answer is: I have done something, and I am doing something. But the underlying issue that causes so many of these problems is human sin and rebellion against me. I'm doing something about that, but it's going to take longer than you think.'
When we pray, God may not answer how we expect – or when we hope.
3. The heart of his answer is always Jesus (25-26a)
When God answers our prayers, the heart of his answer is always Jesus.
OK, at this point you might say, 'where on earth did he get that? This is the Old Testament. Jesus isn't even mentioned in Daniel Chapter 9.
Many of the Jews at the time of Jesus read their Bible – our Old Testament – in a Greek translation called the Septuagint. If you read the Septuagint of Daniel 9:25, this is what it says:
'Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Christ, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.'
The 'Anointed one' in our Bibles in verses 25-26 is literally 'the Christ.' In Hebrew, it's the Messiah.
And when Jesus came, he understood himself to be this Messiah, the Christ, the figure promised by God to Daniel and to Isaiah and the other prophets.
God says to Daniel: 'I'm keeping my promise about the seventy years. Jerusalem is going to be rebuilt, but in a difficult time. (And that's exactly what happened, in history.) But then some time after that, the anointed one – the Messiah, the Christ – will come.
Then look what God says to Daniel. This is an amazing prophecy, hundreds of years before Jesus came. Look at the beginning of verse 26:
'After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing.'
I'm going to send my Christ, my Messiah, who will deal with the problem of your sin. But this one – my ruler – is going to be cut off and have nothing. It's going to look like he's failed.
And of course, that was exactly what happened when Jesus came. On the face of it, he didn't succeed. He wasn't made ruler: he was put to death.
We'll pick up the story in a moment, but let's just see here that at the heart of God's answer to Daniel's prayer is Jesus. God's plan for dealing with our sin, our rebellion against him, and all the harmful results that follow from that, is Jesus. Jesus is at the centre of all God's purposes for the world. God doesn't have any plans that aren't centred on Jesus.
When God answers our prayers, we can expect that Jesus will be at the heart of his answer to us too. His purpose is to exalt Jesus. He won't answer our prayers in a way that doesn't do that. What he does in response to our prayers will always be to lift up Jesus – in our lives, and in the world. That's what we should expect when we pray.
4. Things get worse (26b-27)
At the beginning of verse 26, we saw the Christ being cut off and left with nothing. The second half of the verse says:
'The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.'
And this was what happened in history, in AD 70, when the Roman army came and destroyed Jerusalem and flattened the temple.
And God says, from then on, things will get worse. The second half of verse 26:
'The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.'
Daniel is praying for an end to the Exile. God says, 'Yes, Jerusalem is going to be rebuilt. But then it's going to be destroyed again, and wars and desolations are decreed.'
The whole time from the Christ being cut off and the temple being destroyed until the end of the world is summed up by 'wars and desolations.' This is where we are today – in the second half of verse 26. As long as the world rejects God, and rebels against him, our problems will not solved. As long as the world thinks it can fix things without God, things will get worse, not better.
Verse 27 is difficult:
He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.'
Who is the 'he' here? It seems to be talking about some kind of powerful ruler who will arise at the end of history, who will be really hostile to God and his people.
The New Testament paints exactly the same picture. Iif you want to follow it through, you might like to look at thse references:
- Read what Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4. There are clear echoes of Daniel chapter 9.
- Read what John says in Revelation 13
- Read what Jesus himself says in Matthew 24, where he actually refers to what Daniel says about the 'abomination that causes desolation.'
So the Bible's picture is of things getting worse, and some kind of powerful, hostile ruler. But ultimately, he fails. God is still in control. God is still working out his plan, and at the end of verse 27, 'the end that is decreed is poured out on him.'
Things will get worse and worse until God steps in to wind up history, to judge humanity, and to bring in the new heavens and new Earth. Don't expect God to put everything right.... until he puts everything right.
So what can we expect when we pray like Daniel?
- God will answer our prayers
- God won't necessarily answer our prayers how we expect, or when we hope
- Jesus is at the centre. He is at the centre of all God plans for the world, and his answers to your prayers will always centre on Him
- Things aren't going to get better and better. As long as people think we can solve our own problems without reference to the God who made us, the world is going to be a pretty ugly place. God won't put everything right... until he puts everything right
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