The Role of Prayer in Spiritual Warfare

A Study of Daniel 10

Introduction: What in the world is going on in… Syria… North Korea… China… Russia… Israel… Egypt… the Central African Republic… the United States of America? There are incredible forces of evil surging through our planet. Yet the church of the Lord Jesus is making tremendous strides and there is much good in the world. And however we look at it, the nation of Israel is in the bulls eye of history. How do you explain all this? Is there a grid that will help us make sense of the world? Yes, it’s the book of Daniel and especially a mysterious and deeply powerful insight in the chapter we’re studying today—Daniel 10. This is the beginning of the end of the book of Daniel. Chapters 10 through 12 bring his book to a conclusion. Tonight I’m going to read and annotate this chapter with you, and then I want to give you ten concluding thoughts on the subject of prayer and spiritual warfare. Let’s begin with Daniel 10:1

Verse 1: In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia…

That would be 536 B.C., two years after the first exiles had returned to Jerusalem to try to rebuild the temple and just as they were running into insurmountable difficulties.

…a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision.

Daniel had a revelation or vision of a great war or a series of conflicts. It does not say “a great battle,” but “a great war.” A war is made up of a series of battles and may stretch over many years. Daniel gets a bird’s eye view of a great war that will engulf Israel over a period of time. This vision was very disturbing. It bothered him very deeply and he evidently prayed for the ability to understand and interpret it. He prayed about this for three weeks, or twenty-one days.

Verses 2-3: At that time, I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.

Now, it’s helpful to remember the historical moment when all this happened. The first exiles had returned to Jerusalem, as I said. Cyrus has issued a decree allowing the Jewish people to return to their ancestral homeland. He had issued an edict allowing them to rebuild the temple. That was a tremendous victory and a great encouragement. But the Jewish remnant had gotten off to a very disappointing start as we read in Ezra 1-4.

  • Only a small number (about 42,000) had returned.
  • They had made little headway.
  • The were facing great political opposition, and, in fact, the government had shut them down.

The story of all this is given in Ezra 1-4, but Daniel was keeping informed about it all in real time. He was no doubt praying for them. We don’t know why he didn’t return with these exiles, but he was very elderly and he must have known God needed him to remain in the Persian capital. So he stayed and prayed and kept informed. And during these days he had his extensive dream or vision about the terrible war to come. He was terrible disturbed and prayed for understanding.

Verse 4: On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.

Who is this person? Some people believe this was the appearance of the preincarnate Christ, because it is similar to the vision we have of the glorified Christ in Revelation 1. That may be the best interpretation, but if so the one who speaks later in the chapter is a different person, an angel, because he speaks of being detained by demons and needing the help of an archangel. That would never be true of Christ. So perhaps Daniel has a vision of the preincarnate Christ and then a different person, an angel, speaks to him. The other possibility is that this is an angel who both appears and speaks throughout the chapter.

Verse 7: I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves.

Something similar happened to the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus (see Acts 22:9).

Verse 8: So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale, and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.

Daniel was so overwhelmed he blacked out.

Verse 10: A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.

The angel proceeded to explain to Daniel why his prayer of three weeks had not been answered. What the angel said in these next verses is very dramatic. The words part the curtain into the invisible realm just a little bit. They speak of the nature of spiritual warfare and the conflict in the heavenly places and the nature of prayer.

Verse 12: Then he continued: “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.

In other words, God issued the answer to your prayer three weeks ago when you began praying.

Verse 13a: But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days.

When Daniel prayed and asked for information, the Lord sent an angel with the requested data. This angel had information given him by God, and he was sent from heaven—from the throne—to convey that information to Daniel. But he was intercepted. He was interrupted. He was hindered and held back by someone called the Prince of the Persian Kingdom. This foe evidently wasn’t a human being, for the delay and conflict took place in the passageway between earth and heaven. So evidently a demon assigned to the Persian kingdom opposed the angel who was bringing Daniel’s answer to prayer, and the stalemate lasted three weeks.

Verse 13b: Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.

Michael and Gabriel are the only two good angels mentioned by name in the Bible. Michael is an archangel who evidently possesses great power and authority. He was dispatched to help the angel of Daniel 10, and he prevailed. After a three-week delay, the answer got through.

This is narrative; personal testimony. These are facts of history and a story of what happened. But we have some theological explanation of this event given to us in the book of Ephesians. See Ephesians 1:18-21; Ephesians 2:1-2; and Ephesians 6:10-12)

Verse 14: Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.

I’m tempted to pause here to turn to the book of Ezra, which tells of what was happening contemporaneously in Jerusalem. As I said earlier, while Daniel was still in Persia the Jews were encountering great resistance in Jerusalem. They started rebuilding the temple, but the local Palestinians opposed them. They tried to stop them, and they finally succeeded in getting a royal decree, forcing the work on rebuilding the temple to stop. We get the idea here in Daniel 10 that it wasn’t just human opposition. There was demonic involvement. Zerubbabel and the 50,000 returnees didn’t know it; they couldn’t see it. But behind the human opposition was demonic opposition. The ESV Study Bible says: “This information showed that the Jews were not simply facing human opposition and enmity at the early court of the Persian king but powerful spiritual beings operating in the heavenly realms.” See Revelation 16:12-14

Verse 15: While he was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless.

Daniel was bewildered by the level of physical and spiritual opposition against Israel.

Then one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing before me, “I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I feel very weak. How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.”

Daniel had a panic attack. The overwhelming nature of this angelic visitor and his message sent Daniel into a full-fledged panic attack—bewildering anxiety, weakness, shortness of breath, shallow lungs. This is an accurate description of a panic attack.

Verse 18: Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. “Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.” When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Speak, my lord, since you gave me strength.”

Verse 20: So he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come…

In the succession of world empires, there was Babylon, Persia, and then Greece and Rome. This passage seems to teach there is demonic activity involved with geopolitical power shifts.

…but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth

We don’t know what this “Book of Truth” is, but it appears to be God’s blueprint for history, especially as it relates to Israel. Part of the contents of this book will be disclosed to Daniel and to us in the next two chapters of his book. What follows in Daniel 11 and 12 are incredibly detailed predictions about the conflicts that will befall the nation of Israel during the days of:

  • Persia
  • Greece
  • The Tribulation
  • The Millennium

Conclusion: Much of this is in the realm of mystery and I don’t want to be too dogmatic or to draw implications beyond the text. But it seems to me we can make these ten statements about the nature of prayer and of spiritual warfare:

  1. There is more angelic and demonic activity in this world than we know. There is more demonic influence among world governments than we realize. There are evidently demons assigned to world leaders and to ungodly rulers. Demons have a great deal more to do with the history of the world than we realize. That explains so much that seems otherwise inexplicable.
  2. When we pray we’re entering a spiritual zone. Our prayers penetrate a spiritual zone. We are communicating through the air over hostile territory.
  3. When we pray we’re setting ourselves in direct opposition to demonic activity in this world. When Daniel prayed for the discouraged returnees he was interceding on their behalf, and the answers to his prayers were greatly opposed by demonic forces. When we pray for God’s work, when we pray for missions, when we pray for the progress of our church when we pray for spiritual breakthroughs in the lives of others, we’re setting ourselves in direct opposition to Satan’s agenda. When we pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying for something that is in direct conflict with Satan’s schemes.
  4. There is no danger that our sincere prayer may not get through to God. We have a direct open line to heaven through the blood of Christ. We have a clear channel. We have an open line on a high frequency. When we pray in Jesus’s name, we have a connection with no static. We can come boldly to the throne of grace.
  5. God hears our prayers instantly and He may answer them immediately.
  6. In a way we cannot understand, our answers may be delayed because of warfare in heavenly places.
  7. That’s why we keep praying in Jesus’ name and claiming the biblical promises given to us in the Bible. We must persevere in prayer because Jesus told us we should always pray and not give up.
  8. Our prayers will play a role in a great conflict of the ages being played out on the stage of world history and in the advancement of the kingdom both on earth and through the church and in individual lives.
  9. God has given us the life and story of Daniel as our great example in power praying. The Bible is our prayer manual.
  10. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. The most powerful demons are rendered powerless by the smallest child who prays in Jesus’ name.