Daniel 9 Bible Study: Lessons from a legend

Book of Daniel Bible Study Chapter 9 Part 1

Daniel 9: Lessons from a legend

by I Gordon

A few studies back in the Daniel series we looked at the lessons that could be learned from the life of Nebuchadnezzar. I think I called it 'lessons from a loon'. Well, I don't think, I know that was the title. In contrast, this chapter is lessons from the great saint Daniel and it's appropriately called lessons from a legend. As we shall see in this chapter, even heaven thought of Daniel as a man 'highly esteemed' and to the best of my knowledge there is nothing negative recorded in the Holy Scripture about this man.

Now this study will focus on Daniel's intercessory prayer for his people Israel and we'll look at verses 1-19. The next study will be about the amazing prophecy that Daniel was given in response to his prayer. But don't jump ahead! The prophecy may be more scintillating but always remember that it is in answer to Daniel's prayer... so let's have a look at this prayer and see what we can glean from it for our own life.

Daniel's study and action

Daniel 9:1-3 'In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom - 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. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.'

So here is how it all started... with Daniel reading the words of the prophets! The year is 538BC and Daniel is a young sprightly 80ish year old. But he is still looking to see what he can learn from God's word. And he notices something... something important! He notices that Jeremiah  [1]  gives the amount of time that the Jews would be exiled in Babylon. To be specific, Daniel would have noticed the two following passages:

Jer 25:8-12 'Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: ' Because you have not listened to my words, 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...  This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.  '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.' 

 Jer 29:8-14 'Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you... They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,' declares the LORD.  This is what the LORD says: 'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 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  . Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and will bring you back from captivity...' 

There are two things that stand out from this:

  1. Wisdom, hope and steadfastness come from God's word. Like Daniel, don't stop reading it! In Daniel's 80 years he had seen whole kingdoms and empires rise and fall around him, yet he wasn't shaken. The confidence he received from God's word held his life steadfast  [2]  and assured him that God was in control.
  2. God expects action. He expects our response to His word. Read the Jer 29 passage again. Daniel could have just read verse 10 & 11 (verse 11 especially seems to be everyone's favourite) and just thought 'sweet, God will restore everything after 70 years... let's see what happens'. No, God said he would be found when His people sought Him with all their heart. So that is exactly what Daniel does!  [3] 

Daniel's awesome prayer of forgiveness

Daniel 9:4-10 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:  'O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong.  We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 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.

 'Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame  - the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you.  The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him  ; we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets.'

Now there are a few things that stand out to me in this prayer.

Learning from Daniel's Prayer
  1. The first is pretty obvious and sort of hits you between the eyes as you read it - Daniel sure does call a spade a spade when it comes to sin! There isn't a lot of watering down or blame  [4]  shifting going on! He is brutally honest about the condition of their current state.  [5] 
  2. Over and over Daniel associates himself with his people Israel. Daniel himself was a righteous man (even God places Daniel in the 'top 3' of godly men in Ezek 14:19) yet he identifies himself with his fellow Jews in this intercessory prayer and speaks of their sin as his own. In the space of this one prayer, Daniel associates himself with his people 32 times. In a sense it gives us a small picture of the one who would one day not only intercede for fallen humanity but would totally identify himself with their sin by taking it upon Himself and destroying it at the cross!
  3. Daniel recognises that it is God who is righteous and that the shame is upon the people. I know... that's not exactly rocket science! It's a pretty plain obvious point... yet we can get this around the wrong way at times!  [6]

How do you judge where God's people are at?

Daniel 9:11-14 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. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem.  Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning  from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him

There are two points that I want to focus on in this part of the prayer.

  1. What is the measure that Daniel uses to judge where Israel is at? Does he compare them to the Babylonians? Does he compare them to what they were like in previous generations? No, not at all. The only measure that is suitable to use is one that compares their current state with the word of God. I'm not sure if you have noticed but the world is slip sliding away from God's truth and laws. The church is following behind. There is certainly still a gap in morality between the world and the church so we look at that gap and think everything is ok. And yet all the time the slide continues. Daniel was correct in judging their condition based on what the word of God (which for them was the law of Moses) said. It is a fixed reference point that will always remain constant and true.  [7] 
  2. Daniel speaks a lot about sin in his prayer. But do you know what Israel's sin actually was at this time? You see, you could be mistaken for thinking that Israel had a lot of immorality or violence or theft or adultery etc and you would of course be dead wrong. That wasn't the case. They were actually quite religious at the time of the exile into Babylon. They still had the priesthood, the temple, the prophets (both true and false)... the wheels were turning and everyone carried on with their religious duties... but their hearts were long gone. More in the mighty fine print if interested.  [8] 

God and His people are one

Daniel 9:15-19 'Now, O 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. O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill.  Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have  made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.  'Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O 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.  O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.'

In the last part of the prayer Daniel moves from confession to supplication. There are two related points that I would like to make here:

  1. Israel had become a reproach to the people.
    The nation of Israel was meant to be a light to the other nations. They were to show the way to the true God through their words and deeds. But what had happened? Well, Daniel correctly identifies and prays that they had become an object of scorn to all those around them. The Hebrew word used here means a source or cause of shame and disgrace. Instead of attracting the people, the Israelites where doing the opposite! Through their lives and current state they were actually repelling people from coming into a true knowledge of the true God.
  2. God and His people are inseparably linked.
    In the first part of the prayer Daniel associated himself with his people. In the last part he associates God with His people! Israel alone worshipped the true God yet because of their sin, Jerusalem now lay in ruin and the people in exile. So what did this mean for the God of Jerusalem? In the eyes of the Babylonians it meant the God of Israel was weak or false. So notice how Daniel repeatedly reminds God that it is 'your people', 'your city', 'your holy hill'... If God is to act it is for 'your sake' and because of 'your mercy' for those that bear 'your name'. In other words, God and His people are inseparably linked. Like it or not, when God's people become a reproach it is also brings shame and scorn for God Himself. If God were to act, it would be because of his grace and mercy towards His people and because of regard for His own name. This principle applies to God's faithfulness to Israel in the last days as well. Look also at a promise of God to Israel to restore them fully in the last days and note why God will act:

     Ezekiel 36:19-26 I dispersed them (Israel) among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. (20) And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, 'These are the LORD's people, and yet they had to leave his land.' (21)  I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.  (22) Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says:  It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. (23) I will show the holiness of my great name  , which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. (24) 'For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. (25) I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. (26) I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 

So what about God's people, the Church, today? Is God's name glorified by what the world sees of the church? When another Pastor is caught in adultery... when the world watches and sees that that the only thing televangelists are interested in saving is $'sss... does not the name of the Lord suffer? If the world watches you (and if it knows you are a Christian then it does!) what does it see? Does your life draw or repel those from coming and knowing the Lord?


Daniel's action and prayer is that of a godly man. There is no disputing that. We have seen that he started by reading the word of God and that was the basis (and only true measure) for assessing the condition of his people. Though he himself was separate from their actions, Daniel fully identified himself with their sin as he interceded on their behalf. As he prayed, he used 'we', 'us' etc 33 times to associate himself with the sins of Israel. We saw also that his prayer and supplication was based on the mercy and compassion of God. I believe we can see something of our own condition in the actions of the wayward Israelites and the need to search our own hearts is ever real. We need to guard against being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and from drifting away from our first love.

So would such a godly prayer be answered? You bet it would... In bucket loads! In fact, I don't think even Daniel would have believed God's response to his prayer as we shall see in the next study.

[1] ↩ Oh to be Jeremiah! Called by God as a 20 year old to preach and prophesy to bring Judah back to God, his message was so popular that they banned him from the temple. Not a good start! Then the king liked his prophecies so much that he ordered all written documents from Jeremiah destroyed! Finally they threw him in prison. No wonder they called him the weeping prophet. Nobody repented or turned to God from his preaching... no converts, no success. And yet, when he stands before his maker he will hear 'Well done good and faithful servant! Enter into your rest!' Always remember that the scripture tells us we will be rewarded on the basis of our labor, not our results. (1 Cor 3:8)

[2] ↩ In like manner, there are two things that the New Testament says act like an anchor for our soul... The first are the promises of God and the second is the fact that it is impossible for God to lie. Check out Heb 6:16-20. This is our anchor that keeps us from crashing on the rocks when the storms of life arise.

[3] ↩ Maybe you have been saying things like 'God doesn't feel that close anymore', 'I'm just going through the motions and I don't seem to have the same passion for the things of God anymore', 'I just feel dry... a bit dead... I don't seem to have that first love for the Lord like I did'. If that's you, what do you think you should do? What do you think Jesus would tell you to do? The reason I ask is because I was reading the messages to the churches in Revelation again the other day and the above thoughts and comments would have been heard in the Ephesus church. And we know what Jesus told them to do... 'Repent and do the things you did at first.' First and foremost they had to repent. Have you thought about repenting if you find yourself in this situation? My guess is probably not. And also note the second thing... action! God expects a response. 'Do the things you did at first' Jesus says - Maybe you need to think about what these things were for you when you first became a Christian.

[4] ↩ Because I found these amusing, here are a few real excuses written in accident reports:

5. I hit a stationary truck that was coming in the other direction
4. An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my truck and vanished.
3. In an attempt to kill a fly, I drove into a telephone pole.
2. The pedestrian had no idea which direction to go - so I ran him over.
1. The telephone pole was approaching fast. I attempted to swerve out of its path when it hit me.

[5] ↩ A read an email a while back that this prayer reminded me of. Minister Joe Wright was asked to open the new sessions of the Kansas Senate. This was his prayer:

Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good,," but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values. We confess:

We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it Pluralism.
We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism.
We have endorsed perversion and called it alternative lifestyle.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.
We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.
Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent to direct us to the center of your will. I ask it in the Name of Your Son, the living Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The response was immediate with a number of legislators walking out in protest. In the space of six weeks his church logged more than 5,000 phone calls but only 47 of those calls responded negatively. Wright later said 'I thought I might get a call from an angry congressman or two but I was talking to God, not them. The problem I guess is that you are not supposed to get too specific when talking about sin.'

[6] ↩ Just thinking of the age in which we live and how people think nowadays. We live in a generation that is openly taught to esteem itself... to love ourselves... to promote ourselves... declare positive things about ourselves. Hence we don't like to take the blame for things. And that can carry over to our Christianity. In our propensity to blame others we can even blame God. Daniel knew that God was righteous but shame on us. I think sometimes when we are going through difficulties and wondering why that is, we can reverse the truth and think 'well, I've been doing everything right, living a good God-honouring life and all I get is this! I've been righteous but shame on you God. Shame on you!' Obviously we don't exactly get up on the church stage and give that kind of 'testimony' but the thoughts could still be there. If you have thought that then I suggest that Daniel was actually correct in who was righteous and who had shame!

[7] ↩ Went swimming in a river last summer and it had a current that was deceptively strong. As you just relaxed and looked at everyone else around you, it was hard to grasp how fast you were moving (or that you were moving at all!) But if you set your gaze upon a fixed reference point it became very noticeable how quickly you were cruising along. It is no different for Christians and the church. Fix your reference on the world (which is sliding as well) and you won't notice the pace of decline. Fix it on God's word which is constant and the current state of the church can be judged.

[8] ↩ Please have a read of Jer 2:1-13. It starts with God recounting the devotion of His people, His bride, in their youth. It ends with the climax of the issue -
''My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. 

The sin of Israel was in forsaking God while maintaining a false religion which looked similar in outward appearance but was devoid of the true God and the life-giving water he provides.

I broke my hand in four places a few months back and one thing I had to learn the hard way is that when something is out of alignment the surgeon often has to cause a lot of pain before it can be set back in a position where it can heal correctly. In some cases bones have to be re-broken before they can heal properly. Well, Israel as a nation was well out of alignment at this point and the Heavenly surgeon called for some extreme breaking. It makes you wonder how long He will allow the church in the west to carry on in its slide without applying some corrective pressure.