Daniel 9: The Prayer that Got God’s Attention

Introduction: I was in college during the Jesus Movement era, and a movie came out in those days that was one of the first really successful Christian-produced films. It was called A Thief in the Night, and it had a big impact. It emphasized the urgency of Christ’s coming. The film introduced the song, “I Wish We’d All Be Ready.” Well, that film was produced by a man who passed away just last year. His name was Russell S. Doughten, Jr.  He was a graduate of the Yale Graduate School of Drama. I recently read an account of how that movie came into being. Doughten said that on his very first day at Yale, he took a course in the Old Testament and his professor began by saying that the Bible “is not true.” He made fun of those who say it is true. That challenged Doughten to seriously study the Bible and biblical backgrounds. The more he uncovered the facts, the more convinced he became that his professor had been wrong. The prophetic portions of the Bible particularly moved Doughten. He said—and I’ve not analyzed this to see if his percentages are correct—that 28 percent of the Bible is prophecy. Of that 28 percent, approximately half involves prophecies that have already taken place, such as the predictions of the first coming of Christ. Everything happened exactly as the Bible predicted. Since only God knows the future, said Doughten, the fact that these writers had a 100-percent batting average means they were inspired by God in what they wrote. It also means we can have confidence in the remaining events involving future prophecy, which are chiefly connected with our Lord’s Second Coming.

Doughten graduated from Yale and joined a Christian production company. He continued to study prophetic themes but he found them confusing. Then he discovered the prophetic charts of Clarence Larkin and he went to the Bible and kept studying biblical prophecy. And the more the studied, the clearer it became to him. Out of all this came A Thief in the Night. His film really advanced the cause of prophetic teachings in the church and led to the Left Behind series of books and films that have had such a wide impact.

Here is what Doughten said: “As I read Larkin and considered the charts, I went to the Bible and re-read the prophecies of Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, Isaiah, Zechariah, Thessalonians. Peter, Matthew, and the prophetic statements of Jesus in all the four gospels, searching for the truth about these prophecies… The more I studied the more I became convinced that not only were the historical events and facts of the Bible true, but also, the prophecies about Jesus’ first coming actually did happen as they were prophesied. That seemed to be strong evidence that the scriptural prophecies of the future would also occur according to God’s sequence of events revealed there. I was amazed to find that studying Biblical prophecy brought more certainty that the whole Bible was truly God’s Word, that it is based on historical facts written by faithful men urged by the Holy Spirit in such manner that all parts interrelated in ways that verified not only the parts but also the whole. I found that it makes the best sense when taken literally.”[1]

Review: Well, tonight I want to tell you about another man who opened the Scriptures and earnestly studied the prophetic portions. His study also led to great things, and his name was Daniel. In Daniel, chapter 1, we read about how Daniel as a young man (perhaps he was 14 or 15 years of age) was seized during the first Babylonian invasion of Judah in 605 B.C. Do you know who was preaching in Jerusalem at that time? It was the prophet Jeremiah, who, at the time, was an older man. He had started preaching as a youth and had been the major prophet of Judah and Jerusalem for years. It’s almost inconceivable that Daniel would have missed the sermons of Jeremiah. Perhaps he had sat in childhood, listening to him. Perhaps his childhood exposure to Jeremiah had a lifelong impact on him. I well remember sitting in church as a little boy and listening to my pastor. His sermons had a great impact on me. Perhaps the same was true with Jeremiah and young Daniel. But Daniel was seized and taken far from home while the elderly Jeremiah remained in a city under siege. Well, the years passed. At some point, Jeremiah passed away; and Daniel became a powerful statesman in Babylon. Many more years pass—66 years—and in Daniel 5 we have the dramatic story of the handwriting on the wall and we read of how the Babylonian Empire falls to the Persians. Daniel would have been about 80 years old. What did he do? He started studying biblical prophecy as recorded by the old preacher of Jerusalem and perhaps his mentor, Jeremiah. And that brings us to Daniel 9. The events in this chapter happen in 539 BC, just after the fall of Babylon, when the prophet Daniel is approximately 80 years old.

Verse 1: In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom….

While there is no outside historical reference to a ruler by the name of Darius, it’s very likely this is another name of Cyrus, whom we know very well from both biblical and secular sources.

Verse 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…

Here Daniel uses the word “Scriptures” to describe the writings of Jeremiah.

…that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.

There are two sermons in which Jeremiah specifically predicted a seventy-year captivity for Israel—in Jeremiah 25 and in Jeremiah 29. So we can be pretty sure the exact places in the writings of Jeremiah in which Daniel was studying.

Verse 3: So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:

There are many different kinds of prayers in the Bible. There are prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of praise, prayers of petition, prayers of intercession. But there are a few prayers that are prayers of confession. And there are two types of confessional prayers. The first is a personal confession for personal sin, and the greatest example of that is Psalm 51, which is a heart-throbbing confession offered by King David after he had sinned in his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. But there is also corporate confession, and perhaps the greatest illustration of that is here in Daniel 9. When you study the character of Daniel in the Bible, you find that he’s one of the only men in Scripture about whom nothing bad is ever said. That doesn’t mean he was sinless, but he never did anything that brought reproach to the name of the Lord. His life was a remarkable display of faith and prayer and devotion and holiness and steadiness and maturity. And yet, here he is, composing one of the most powerful prayers of confession in the Bible. He was confessing the sins of the Jewish people and interceding for them.

Verse 4: Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 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 ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

Verse 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. We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with same, Lord, 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.

Verse 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.

And now, we realize that Daniel had studied the writings of Moses as well as the writings of Jeremiah. Daniel had become as astute student of all the Scriptures he had. By this time he had very much of the Bible. He had very much of the Old Testament. And he was a student of the Old Testament. And here’s something important. He wasn’t a student of the Scriptures because he needed to prepare sermons. He wasn’t a preacher. So far as we know, he wasn’t a teacher. He was a politician. He was a statesman. He was a Prime Minister. He wasn’t a prophet, at least in terms of his vocation. He wasn’t a prophet like Jeremiah or Isaiah. Daniel was a prophet in that his writings contain prophecy, but we’re never told of his being a preaching prophet. He was a political leader by vocation, but he studied the Bible because it made him a better politician. We don’t study the Bible just to find sermons or prepare lessons. We do it whatever our profession because it makes us better in our profession, whatever it is. When you study the Bible it makes you a better schoolteacher. It makes you a better medical doctor. It makes you a better attorney. It makes you a better sales clerk.

As Daniel studied the writings of Moses, he realized Moses had warned the people many hundreds of years earlier. Moses had said, in effect: “God is going to give you a special land, but if you rebel against Him and disregard Him and sin against Him, He will drive you out and make you exiles from the Promised Land.” That’s exactly what had happened. But then Jeremiah had preached, “When the Lord drives you out of the Promised Land, it will be for seventy years. Then He will open the door for you to return.”

Those truths in the books of Deuteronomy and Jeremiah gripped Daniel’s heart and led him to pray this powerful prayer at the onset of the Persian era.

Verse 12: You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on 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 on 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 on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything He does; yet we have not obeyed Him. Now, beginning with verse 15, Daniel makes his request:

Verse 15: Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with almighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 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 ancestors have made Jerusalem and Your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

Verse 17: Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of Your servant. For Your sake, Lord, look with favor on Your desolate sanctuary. 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. 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.

Conclusion: We can feel the intensity of Daniel’s prayer. He was earnest. He was intense. He was sincere. Well, this is a prayer that really got God’s attention. In fact, while Daniel was still praying, the Lord sent Gabriel with a message—the famous message about the seventy sevens, which is the foundation stone of biblical prophecy. Look at verse 20: While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for His holy hill—while I was still in prayer… (the Lord answered). We’ll look at how He answered next week. But just notice how eager the Lord was to respond. Notice how quickly He answered. He’s eager to answer our prayers. Daniel got into the Bible, found the record of sins and confessed them, found the promise of God and claimed them. He prayed earnestly, and while he was still praying the Lord moved quickly to provide the answer. But for now the thing I want to emphasize is the power of confession. Chronic disobedience is extremely self-destructive. Our nation has been head-over-heels in chronic disobedience for many years. In our own lives, we can experience areas of chronic disobedience. But Jesus came and died on the cross to forgive our disobedience and give us restoration. And the secret is to do as Daniel did. As we pour into the Scriptures and as we study the Bible, it leads us to confession. We see how far we’ve fallen, or we see something we’ve failed to do, or we see something we’ve done that we need to confession. And as we confess, the Lord hears, and He answers, and He restores.

[1] “Chapter 1: Presenting Bible Prophecy Through Fiction” by Russell S. Doughten, Jr., in Revelation Hoofbeats, edited by Ron J. Bigalke, Jr., (Eternal Ministries, 2003), 51.